We often make a lot of fuss around the decision to embrace a healthy lifestyle, and for good reason! Breaking bad habits, committing to fitness and wellness, and focusing on building new routines are extremely important.
But the change is often the most exciting part. You go out and shop for healthy foods, sign up for a gym membership or an upcoming road race, buy new workout apparel, and jump right in.
The trouble is, there will be bad days and weeks during the journey. You’ll step on the scale and notice that the numbers have stayed the same or even gone up. Or you’ll slip up and overeat or skip a workout and wonder if it’s even worth it to keep going.
The key is to really embrace one of the words in my first sentence: lifestyle. Don’t go on a diet, don’t put all of your success in one measurement, and remember that it’s so much more important how your body performs than how it looks.
A friend of mine recently published a book called Body Kindness and I think there are so many important takeaways in it. Her entire mission is to get people to “spiral up” to embrace joy and she shares this message:
“It’s not about your weight. Or your pants size. It’s not about how many calories you burn. Or how hard to work to avoid delicious food you love. It’s about awareness. It’s about self-compassion. It’s about mindfulness.”
So, let’s dive into that and look at some of the far-reaching benefits of a healthier diet and increased activity beyond the number on the scale.
You know how just walking up a set of stairs can leave you out of breath? Or lifting a heavy grocery bag can have you gasping? The day you start working out – just moving a little more than you currently do – you start to improve your lung capacity, which means you can breathe more efficiently and work less hard to get air in and out.
That’s huge! When your body has to work less to pump your heart and inflate your lungs, it can use that energy for other things.
Plus, when you embrace a healthier lifestyle, you’ll likely find yourself getting sick less often and recovering more quickly, standing taller, feeling better, and possibly (with your doctor’s permission and oversight!) you may even be able to stop taking medications that lower your blood pressure or treat obesity-related diseases.
Don’t be afraid to look for non-scale victories that have nothing to do with what you can see, and everything to do with how you feel. Your mood may improve drastically when you start working out (hello, endorphin rush!). Maybe that leads you to join friends for lunch once a week, or start attending a social event that hasn’t been appealing in the past.
I highly recommend keeping a journal and making notes every day about how you feel, or about one great thing that happened to you other than your weight. On the bad days, you can look back and see how happy you truly are and on the good days, these affirmations will help you to feel positive and proud of what you’ve done!
But let’s be honest. Just feeling great may not be enough of a change when what you really want is to get healthier. Remember what I said about improving what your body can do, beyond how it looks or what it weighs?
Here’s an easy fitness and wellness assessment that you can do every month to track progress. I can almost guarantee you: if you start to eat healthier foods, move more, and cut out bad habits, you will see changes, even if the scale doesn’t always reward you the way you want.
Make sure that you take these measurements at the same time of day on the same day of the month and that you’re wearing the same clothes. Our weight can fluctuate throughout the day, and for women, we may experience bloating based on our menstrual cycles or even the foods we eat (hello: salt!).
If you have a fitness tracker – and it doesn’t need to be an expensive or flashy one – some of these measurements will be done automatically, like counting your steps or measuring the hours and quality of your nightly sleep.
Some of the other measurements will look at your strength and endurance improvements. Remember, these metrics are just for you to look at (although if you work with a personal trainer or dietitian, this will be helpful to share with him or her as well!). Maybe you can’t do more push-ups from month to month but you’re able to do half on your toes instead of your knees after a few months. Perhaps you don’t drop to a lower clothing size but notice that you’re able to tighten your belt an extra notch or two.
These are all important non-scale success stories, so track them proudly.
Plus, while you’re measuring the things you can do, celebrate the things you no longer do! Bad habits are hard to break, so if you’ve been able to quit smoking, or binge-eating, or biting your nails due to anxiety, take some time to count that as a massive success.
And finally, just because you’re not basing your success on the scale doesn’t mean there aren’t some numbers that you can track.
A scale only measures how heavy your body is, but it doesn’t show you that your biceps have gotten bigger while your waist size has gotten smaller. It doesn’t show you that your body fat percentage or BMI may be improving, even if your weight stays the same or even goes up!
And that is why, as a trainer, I think keeping measurements in the mix is important.
So, once a month, put on clothes that fit tightly to your body (you don’t want to skew the results because you’re accidentally measuring a loose shirt or shorts), grab a measuring tape – a flexible one like you might find in a sewing kit, and one that measures by the quarter-inch or millimeter so you can be as precise as possible – and track which body parts have gotten smaller, which have gotten larger, and in general look for positive changes that may not be seen on the scale.
I find that it’s much easier to do this with a friend or partner, so this is also an opportunity to find someone who can help you stay accountable and lean on when things get tough. Make a standing date to take each other’s measurements – maybe right before a walk or meetup at the gym! This also ensures that the measurements are consistent from month to month, since you won’t be explaining to someone each time where and how to measure.
Again, I have to stress: track these measurements so that you can see the signs of success that often get overlooked when we only step on the scale. If you find yourself getting stressed out and defeated by your measurements, stop taking them and go back to focusing on the health benefits that you’re absolutely experiencing.
You’ll likely notice that you feel different in your clothes as your measurements change, and that’s a great thing. If you are more confident and have more energy, you’ll project that in every area of your life (and hey, it’s contagious, so just by getting healthy, you may encourage people around you to do the same!).
Here’s the big takeaway. It’s time to love our bodies. Regardless of size, weight, or shape, we are valuable, lovable, capable, and strong. Don’t let the scale be a measurement of your happiness.
If you’re feeling like you are ready to make a change and embrace some healthier behaviors, I will be your biggest cheerleader. But keep your why in mind. You get healthy to live longer and as you do, to enjoy a healthier, happier future. You get healthy to do things you couldn’t before: walk a 5K, do 10 push-ups, play on the playground with your kids or grandkids, carry the groceries in without getting winded.
You can do amazing things with your beautiful body. I believe in you!