Dara Duff-Bergeron: Sweaty Mummy


When Not to Weigh

The Scale Might Be Hiding Your Success

Let me tell you a little story.

There are some weight-loss & weight-maintenance behaviours that are proven, study after study, to be very effective:

  • keeping a food journal
  • planning your meals
  • telling your friends and family about your goals
  • choosing exercises you enjoy

and, last but definitely not least:

  • weighing yourself regularly.

I generally recommend to clients that they weigh themselves first thing in the morning, during the brush-your-teeth, have-a-pee, hop-in-the-shower morning routine. In my opinion there are 3 ways to track your weight:

  • once per day
  • once per week
  • not at all

Many people find regular weigh-ins keep them motivated and provide a daily or weekly check-in to assess how their behaviours are helping or sidelining their weight goals. That's what the research shows and that's the truth for most people I encounter, as well. But some people—women in particular, I believe—are simply never satisfied with the number they see on the scale. Some women stand on the scale every morning, stark naked and nervous, awaiting the day's fate.

Will I be lower than I was yesterday and feel successful and confident? Or will I be higher than I was yesterday and feel I am worthless, incapable of sticking to my goals and destined for failure?

Is this ringing any bells for you? If so, keep reading. If not, keep reading and keep this in mind when you teach your sons and daughters about weight maintenance.

There are plenty of ways to evaluate your fitness level. How many push-ups can you do in a minute? How quickly can you run or walk a mile? How do your clothes fit compared to a year ago? How do you feel in your body? How is your energy level?

Weight is just one indicator of fitness and it is by no means the most important indicator of fitness. I was reminded of this by my lovely client, S, yesterday at our weekly session.

S has been hovering around a strong, lean and healthy weight that she is mostly accepting of...but let's just say she has probably never wanted to scream it out loud in a public place. Her weight matters to her, like it does to a lot of women. She has been menopausal for several years now, as long as we've been training together, basically. Her weight has climbed about 5 pounds higher than her pre-menopausal weight, though she is more toned and fit than ever.

We have kept food journals. We have changed protein-to-carbohydrate ratios. We have eliminated alcohol and sugar. We have increased strength training, decreased cardio, changed cardio, changed strength training, increased rest, recovered from injuries. S has even had non-surgical fat removal by a plastic surgeon (Don't even get me started on this... know only that I cannot have the final say in someone else's treatment of her body.). Still, she remains around that new, 5-pounds heavier weight.

After returning from a month of holiday, resting, working out and even actually abstaining from alcohol after the wine-soaked holiday season we all just enjoyed, S was still around the 5-pounds heavier weight. I braced myself to once again tackle her diet, rearrange her exercise program as much as she would allow me, and try to talk to her as a friend and coach about what she might be able to do to change it and...mostly...why she really should not be so stressed out about it. Our usual conversation ends with me saying something like this:

"You are fit. You are lean. You are healthy and vital and active, and many women your age would be overjoyed to have your figure and your fitness level. Is it really worthwhile for you to never have a glass of wine again just in order to see that certain number on the scale?"

I braced myself for this same conversation and felt a sinking feeling. I don't believe S needs to lose weight. The truth is, one of the hardest parts of my job is trying to convince women who have been brainwashed by media that quantifying their fitness level and their self-worth into a number on an electronic device is just. not. worth. it. It can feel a little like banging my head against a wall. A giant, slick, glossy, celebrity-covered wall.

But lo and behold! After 5 years of training together I felt the most immense sense of pride when S pre-empted me and proclaimed:

"And I am NOT keeping a food journal! I am going to start drinking wine again and I am going to have a handful of peanuts or a square of chocolate once in a while. I am done with it."

I asked her if she had weighed herself. She hadn't weighed herself in days. She was still around the same mark, not gaining, not going hog-wild, not headed to a future of obesity and adult-onset diabetes. She decided she would evaluate whether her size was okay based on how well she could fit into her wardrobe—if her clothes got too tight, she would rein in her diet for a while. As long as she was active and not feeding her body junk food, and her clothes were fitting, she would be satisfied.

It took S a long 56 years to get to this level of self-acceptance. She is a beautiful, popular, intelligent, wealthy and fit woman with a family, lots of interests and a million reasons to be proud of herself. I'm so glad she finally realized it.

We high fived. I beamed. She shook her head and I saw tears behind her eyes.