How to Banish the Scale Forever -- And Still Get Skinny!

Jennifer L. Nelson

The holidays are upon us, and if you're anything like me, you're already dreaming of the ideal weight you'd like to be when you welcome family into your home, embark on your holiday travels, or hit the town on New Year's Eve.

It's the time of year when we reunite with relatives who don't see us every day, and who are thus more likely to notice a little extra muffin on a muffin top ... and aren't afraid to say so. In front of everyone.

While it's great to set weight loss goals to keep yourself on track amidst the plethora of pumpkin pie in the coming weeks, I implore you to reconsider setting any that require you to lose X number of pounds by Thanksgiving, to weigh X pounds by the first night of Hanukkah, or to wear a size X on board your New Year's cruise.

Better yet, toss your scale out the window and start setting other healthy lifestyle goals that have nothing to do with a three-digit number or a date on the calendar.

In my experience, setting timed scale goals does nothing but monkey with your mojo. Sometimes despite our best efforts, the scale just doesn't cooperate -- and there's nothing worse than failing to meet your own expectations. Take it from the person who planned to reach 100 pounds lost by my 24th birthday. And then by my 25th. Yet these 10 stubborn pounds are still clinging to my body for dear life, and I've had to find other sources of motivation to keep on keepin' on in the form of something I like to call NSVs: non-scale victories.

Setting concrete goals can keep us focused, but if they're unrealistic or -- worse -- unsafe, then they're a recipe for disaster. I've encountered many folks who announce they're going to lose 50 pounds in six months, or to be a certain weight in time for their high school reunion ... in six weeks. Then when they don't meet their goal, they get discouraged and stop trying. I, too, have done it over and over again, only to feel like a failure and ultimately quit until my next round of dieting: I wanted to wear a single-digit size to my senior prom (didn't happen), shed 50 pounds before my European study abroad trip (not even close), and weigh less than 200 pounds for my college graduation (nope).

I've been a victim of scale obsession for far too many years, and the fact that I've lost weight on weeks where I've eaten nothing but take-out, but gained a pound on weeks where I spent hours with the elliptical and religiously counted my Weight Watchers POINTS, proves that the scale isn't always the best representation of our efforts. We can't always control what that stupid plastic box is going to tell us because it captures just one moment in time, and that moment can be affected by a long list of factors: what you ate the night before, the time of day, where you are in your menstrual cycle, the kind of pants you're wearing now, the temperature outdoors, the color of your nail polish ... you get the idea. But we can control what we eat, how often we exercise, and our attitude about the times when life gets in the way of our weight loss efforts.

So, now that your bathroom scale is shattered in the driveway (you did chuck it out the window like I asked, right?), I have a few suggestions for some other ways to continue your journey towards a healthier lifestyle and keep tabs on your success. I promise that once you stop agonizing over numbers and self-imposed deadlines, you'll tune into a whole host of your amazing accomplishments and NSVs.

1. Pile on the exercise minutes.  Adding just 10 more minutes to your gym session or an extra mile to your afternoon jog. Vow to master the moves in your Zumba class, or wear a pedometer and try to take 10,000 steps per day. When you're ready, you can sign up for a 5K or invest in some personal training sessions to boost your fitness level even further. Most gyms are already rolling out their holiday promotions, so take advantage of them!

2. Spend some time in front of the mirror. Do your abs look tighter? Are those push-ups paying off? Is your face slimming down? When we're busy obsessing over a number on the scale and racing the clock, it's all too easy to miss the subtle changes to our bodies as we shed pounds. Embrace the new you by setting a slightly narcissistic goal: to take a few moments each week to stare at yourself in the mirror and recognize improvements to your appearance, even if it's just that your complexion is clearer from all that water you've been drinking. I, for one, was beyond thrilled when I saw my collar bones for the first time!

3. Try a new healthy recipe each week. There's nothing wrong with dining out, but these days you're probably spending less time at the drive-thru and more time in front of the stove. So give yourself kudos when the kids compliment your balsamic chicken or your husband -- hater of all things healthy -- devours every last bite. Set a goal to try one new healthy recipe each week, search for more complex creations, or to experiment with ways to turn your favorite dieting disasters (green bean casserole, anyone?) into healthier holiday fare with simple swaps and substitutions, like using low-fat dairy or doubling up on veggies.

4. Don't underestimate the power of loose jeans. I love seeing a smaller number on the scale as much as anyone, but is there anything more exciting than having to buy a belt to keep your pants up, or asking a tailor to take in your dress before a special occasion? When you hit the mall to start your holiday shopping this month, vow to spend 15 minutes in your favorite clothing store and revel in trying on smaller sizes. If you're not quite there yet, experiment with styles you usually assume will be unflattering. You might just surprise yourself -- even five or ten pounds can make a difference in how the latest trends fit your figure.

5. Smile and say thank you. You know those compliments you've been getting lately? The ones where friends and family openly ask if you're losing weight, and casual acquaintances stare at you and ask if you're wearing a new outfit or doing something different with your hair? Make it a goal not to squirm or turn five shades of red when a co-worker (or, heck, the Starbucks barista) tells you how slim you're looking lately. Believe it or not, it took me 40 pounds before people started commenting on my weight loss -- and if I spent a little less time feeling uncomfortable with all the attention, and a little more time channeling those compliments into motivation to look even better, who knows where I'd be now?

6. Take frequent progress photos. Sometimes it's difficult to physically see your own weight loss, so make the decision to start taking progress photos once a month or for every five or 10 pounds lost. It's incredibly empowering to check out my old photos from when I was down 20 pounds, or 50 pounds, and compare them to how I look today. How could you possibly be discouraged by lackluster scale results when you can actually see for yourself how far you've come? Ask your hubby or your kids to be your photographer if you don't have a self-timer on your camera, and strike a pose!

7. Look for other measures of success. Okay, okay, so technically your dress size and waist circumference are numbers. And this post promises to give you ideas for setting healthy living goals and recognizing your weight loss success without them. But I know from experience that even when the scale doesn't show significant losses for a few weeks, I've usually lost at least an inch or two around my waist, thighs, or arms, or I may even be ready to entertain the idea of smaller jeans. So break out that tape measure (proceed with caution, though -- it can be as addictive as the scale), or keep a pair of your "skinny" jeans in sight to try on from time to time. Better yet, take into consideration some other very important numbers next time you visit your doctor: even just a 10 percent decrease in body weight can translate to improvements in cholesterol and blood pressure readings, and help ward off future weight-related maladies.

What are some ways you set goals and track your "NSVs" without setting foot on the scale?

Image via AlanCleaver/Flickr

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