Written by Dr. Candice Dutko
It has been a little while since I have focused on the scale. At different parts of my weight loss journey, I prioritized the scale differently. I had moments where I allowed it to influence how I felt about myself. Over time, I have moved further away from that and have placed the priority on how I feel in my day-to-day and how my training is going. For example, how have my workouts been feeling? Am I earning some PRs (personal records) in the gym? I have devoted greater priority to those metrics versus the number on the scale. As a result of focusing on fueling my performance, a difference in the scale has become a side effect of my efforts.
During the month of June, I had to focus a bit more on the number on the scale because I had to be under a certain weight for when I was due to compete at United States Strongman Nationals at the end of the month. Weigh-in day was Friday, June 24th, and competition day was Saturday, June 25th. I had known since late Summer 2021 that I had qualified for competition in June 2022. I had used the approximately 9 months prior to gradually start working on my weight and was more diligent about my nutrition.
From January 2022 to the end of May 2022, I had trickled down in weight from about 175 pounds to 165 pounds. The goal for competition day was to be 165 or under. My focus in June was to inch my way down another 2-3 pounds or so to give myself a buffer for weigh-in day. As a woman, I have to consider the challenge of my monthly cycle impacting my weight and low-and-behold…my next cycle was going to fall in-and-around that time. Therefore, I wanted to have a little wiggle room.
Throughout the months of January through May, I weighed myself periodically. Sometimes Tuesday and Friday, and as the months got closer, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I did this to keep tabs on where my weight was so that I could allow myself enough time to make an adjustment if need be. I didn’t want to find myself in a situation like if I were to wait until say May or early June to check-in on that and have to severely “diet down” to achieve my goal. Although I was weighing myself and collecting that data, I still ultimately prioritized my performance in the gym. In the past few months, I have had a good string of PRs…some things I haven’t PR’d in a long time. My workouts were feeling better and better.
As of about June 2nd, I started weighing myself every morning. I viewed the process as time limited as I only need to be this extremely focused for about three (3) weeks. Initially, I stuck to my current macro goals. If I didn’t see the number on the scale go down over the course of the next 2-3 days, I adjusted my macros slightly.
Fortunately, for the most part, I wasn’t really hungry. In the morning, I would carefully plan out my day to ensure my workout was still supported, but not leave me so short the rest of the day that would lead to me potentially wanting to snack. For the most part, I did well with that. However, I found myself thinking about food way more often than I usually would. During months where the scale was not my main focus, if I thought about food, it was about new recipes or meals I wanted to try. It is usually a positive experience where I feel like I was enjoying the opportunity to be creative and try new things. During this time however, I felt like I was always just thinking about food, period. I might not have been hungry for it, but I was thinking about it.
Typically, I enjoy the flexibility of my nutritional approach and I ensure that I make sure to enjoy some things I don’t always have the opportunity to eat. For example, at my daughter’s softball games, I enjoy some nachos with cheese. Or, at another field we play at, I enjoy their funnel cake sticks. With a stronger focus on the scale, I found myself not taking the time to enjoy some special treats…even if they were something I would really only have once a week. During the month of June, I said “no” to those things and reminded myself of my goal.
Speaking of treats, I had a big internal debate on whether to forgo my weekly Friday pizza or not. I questioned whether I should give up something I enjoy in pursuit of my goal. I ended up developing a strategy to still incorporate it into my nutrition…but, there was a part of me that wondered whether my failure to make this sacrifice would compromise me achieving my goal for weigh-in day.
I found myself more aware of the calendar than usual…I was counting down the days. Whenever I found myself struggling, I just reminded myself of how many more days I had to go.
Especially in the last week or so prior to weigh-in day, I found my sleep becoming more and more disturbed. More often than not, I get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night, usually uninterrupted. During that last week or so, sleeping through the night became a rarity and I started waking up in the middle of the night more frequently. I would notice my thoughts drifting to wondering what the scale would say in the morning.
In trying to search for the positives for this experience with focusing on the scale, I found maybe two. One was I am proud of myself for being able to dial things in more tightly in order to achieve a goal. Back in 2019 when I competed at the same competition, I struggled to dial in my nutrition and I did not meet my weigh-in goal and had to compete in a higher weight class. Although I kept trying to “re-dedicate” myself over and over leading up to that competition, I couldn’t manage to stay focused. As I pursue other meaningful performance goals for myself, I have this experience to fall back on, that when it truly mattered, I was able to focus and make some compromises to achieve that goal.
The second possible benefit was that I learned a bit about my body’s response to food and other activities that will help me coach others through the process. For me, the negatives of dwelling on the number on the scale outweigh (no pun intended!) the positives.
I am proud of myself for accomplishing my weigh-in goal; however, I have no desire to weigh myself for at least a month. I feel like I need time away. I am fortunate that I don’t have any upcoming competitions where that will be a factor and I can return to letting my training performance be the main indicator of progress and utilizing my fueling to support improvements in that area. I live for the moments in the gym where I do something I never thought possible and/or I grow stronger in a particular lift or movement. Those are way more meaningful to me than a number on the scale. When I focus on those things, I have greater enjoyment in eating to fuel my body and I am happier in my day-to-day.
My advice to my clients, as well as anyone who is on a weight loss (or gain!) journey, is DON’T dwell on the scale. Find those other “metrics” in your daily life that you can observe improvement in. For example, how is your energy day-to-day? Are you growing stronger in the gym? How do your workouts feel? Have you been able to learn more skills? Has your sleep improved? How does your body feel each and every day? Are you starting to achieve a more-defined body composition? These are just some examples and you are really only limited by your imagination and your priorities. Focus on the process supporting these goals…such as through proper fueling, rest, and recovery…and you will likely see progress with the scale. There are very few instances where you benefit from solely focusing on the scale…so carefully consider whether that should be one of your goals anyways.