How to measure progress without stepping on the scale.
In my late teens and early twenties I was addicted to dieting, addicted to the scale. I even worked as a Weight Watcher “counselor” for a brief period of time. At my worst, I weighed myself daily, sometimes more. If I lost weight or maintained, I could sorta relax, although that came with anxiety about how to keep the weight off. I felt good about myself if the number was down, and bad about myself if the number was up. Gaining any weight, even if just a pound or two, worsened my moods. I remember feeling ashamed, guilty and disgusting. This always led me to cutting back on portions and or skipping meals, snacks etc. The message to myself was that I had to get my weight back down, or else…I wouldn’t let myself feel good about myself until I saw that number go back down. What a vicious cycle that just kept me spinning in a loop of suffering.
When we diet, we often use the scale to track progress. The scale is a powerful dieting tool that gives us a false sense of control over our bodies. We use it to gauge progress and to reassure ourselves we are on track and in control.
Unlike dieting, learning how to eat intuitively is not measured by inches shed or pounds lost. In fact, weighing yourself undermines the Intuitive Eating process. When we use the scale as a measure of progress, this encourages unhealthy attitudes towards food, eating, body image and self-worth. Furthermore, weight in and of itself is a poor barometer of health.
This is why I quit working for Weight Watchers, and have been practicing from a weight-neutral and weight-inclusive perspective instead. What this means is that I am much more concerned with your thoughts and behaviors surrounding food and your body, compared to only focusing on the number on the scale. This also means that I look beyond your body size and weight to redefine what health actually means. Health encompasses so much more than just the number on the scale.
As an Intuitive Eating coach, I get asked these questions a lot:
- If I’m not weighing myself, how do you measure progress?
- How do I know if Intuitive Eating is really working?
Here are 18 ways to know if Intuitive Eating is really working (without having to step on the scale!):
1. You reject your own diet mentality.
You challenge the idea of “good” and “bad” foods and instead take a more neutral approach to foods. Progress means moving away from black and white thinking patterns to the grey area where forgiveness and flexibility live. You embrace the “all foods fit” model of eating. You no longer feel guilty or ashamed for eating foods you love. You eat these foods with pleasure and permission and then move on with your day.
2. You are connected to your physical hunger cues.
Instead of counting numbers on the scale or calories, you use the hunger scale awareness tool as a way to count your hunger/fullness cues. This is the first step in reconnecting and restoring trust back to your body. With practice, you’ll gain confidence and body trust to tell you when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.
3. You eat more variety of foods.
Diets force you to eat a limited number of safe foods (so boring!), and now that you are out of the cage that is diet hell, you get to eat all the things! This feels incredibly liberating for most. You may have avoided cheesecake for years, and now because of the permission principal, you can decide to eat it or not. You start to really taste food freedom, and feel so much more in control around all foods.
4. You obsess less about food and stop second guessing your food choices.
You begin to think about food less as you let go of the rules of ‘I shouldn’t eat that’ or I’m bad for eating that. Your mental space is freed up considerably and this feels very freeing and empowering. You finally can take joy in eating without berating yourself afterwards. Food doesn’t have control over you and your day isn’t dictated by how “good” or “bad” you eat. You stop second-guessing your food choices. You’re able to feel confident with the foods you choose and don’t spend time obsessing or thinking about food after the fact.
5. Your cravings diminish.
Cravings are often driven by intense hunger and or restricting certain nutrients. When your body knows and trusts that it will get enough to eat and that there are no forbidden foods, then you’ll see your cravings decrease dramatically. It’s normal to have some cravings (hormones) and it’s best to honor these. Deprivation driven and scarcity cravings will one day disappear for good.
6. You can keep an abundance of ‘trigger’ foods in your home.
Your formally forbidden foods are now as abundant as celery, eggs and milk. Progress comes when your old “trigger foods” can be in your house and you don’t go crazy eating them all at once. In fact, you might even forget they are there, or go days or weeks without eating it. I had a client tell me how shocked she was to find stale Girl Scout cookies in her cupboard. Prior to learning IE, she would have eaten that entire box in one sitting.
7. You replace the food police with a kind loving inner parent.
You learn how to challenge the internalized food rules and criticism. You develop nonjudgemental awareness of your thoughts and can reframe them so they begin to lose their grip over you. You can finally eat foods you want with no agenda and can eat without feeling guilty or feel like you need to compensate afterwards.
8. You rely on fullness signals to tell you when to stop eating.
You can sense what “comfortably full” feels like in your body and, more often than not, finish eating when you get to that point. You trust your body to tell you when to stop eating. You discover which foods keep you full and which ones don’t.
9. You eat more mindfully and prefer to eat in this way.
Mindful eating is the ability to eat without distractions and to really enjoy and savor the food. You practice pausing before you eat to ensure you are eating intentionally and not reactively. You are almost meditating with your food; you are fully aware of how the food smells, how it tastes, what kind of textures, temperature, etc. You pause while you eat to notice how the food feels in your body. You prefer not to distract yourself while you eat because that would detract from the pleasure of the experience.
10. You know what satisfaction is and isn’t.
You start to take more risks with your eating, expanding the variety of foods you eat. You realize that foods you used to eat when you were dieting, no longer are appealing (maybe they taste like cardboard) and you realize, you don’t have to suffer eating crap that doesn’t taste good. You make more and more choices based on what you think is going to satisfy you, instead of what is safe or healthy or low calorie. This is a time to have fun in the kitchen, reclaim your love of baking/cooking again as you try new recipes and flavors.
11. You eat mostly for physical rather than emotional reasons.
Food is one of many different coping mechanism- not your main one. You discover a variety of different ways to cope when difficult emotions surface. You have a greater tolerance for sitting with discomfort. You commit to not abandoning your experience when you feel stressed, sad, anxious, bored, lonely, etc. It is safe for you to be in your body with all of your messy and not-so-messy range of feelings.
12. You stop binge eating and overeat less frequently.
When you reject the diet mentality and give yourself unconditional permission to eat ALL foods, this allows you to stop eating at comfortably full. There is no need to binge or overeat anymore because you know you can have that food again tomorrow, so why would you need to binge on all of it now?
13. You stop mindlessly snacking and grazing.
You are able to honor your hunger cues and would prefer to eat when hungry. Hunger is the best seasoning after all! You develop the muscle of patience to wait until you’re hungry for the next meal or snack. You look forward to being hungry at the next meal, so mindlessly snacking or grazing loses its appeal. You also find that eating more satisfying meals as opposed to snack foods, decreases the urge or need to snack in between meals.
14. You resign from Clean-Your-Plate-Club member.
You can leave food on your plate, and you can even waste food. You stop eating when comfortably full, which means, sometimes there is food on your plate, sometimes not. You can always take a doggie bag of leftovers home.
15. You honor your own boundaries around food situations.
If someone pushes food on you at a social event, you firmly say, ‘No thank you, I’m not hungry.’ Or, ‘Thank you, I’ll take that home for later.’ You can say no to food as easily as you say yes to food that is offered. Just because there are free food samples at Cosco, doesn’t mean you have to taste it all. You can let go of free food or food that’s sitting out in the break room because you know you can always have that food later (when you’re hungry).
16. You have better poops and more energy.
With regularly spaced meals and snacks throughout the day, your metabolism increases. This helps recalibrate your hunger/fullness cues, increasing the transit time of digestion, hence better poops! You know exactly which foods you need to eat to get through that meeting or what foods you need to eat to fuel your afternoon workout.
You’ll start to notice your strength increase in your fitness routine. You feel stronger in yoga, you can lift more weight at the gym; maybe gardening or walking up the stairs is easier. You feel overall stronger, healthier and have more energy.
17. You embrace joyful movement.
You move your body because it feels good and is fun, not because you need to burn off calories or as punishment. You connect with the idea of ‘joyful movement’ and find ways to move your unique body as a way to take good care of yourself. You do something most days because it feels good, reduces stress, helps you sleep better, helps you take a break from the computer, etc. You no longer need to run or do activities that don’t truly bring you joy (totally okay if running does, but some people swap out punishing activities for less intense ones as part of their healing).
18. You start to master the art of not giving a F*@.
The beauty of intuitive eating, is that as you come back home to yourself and start trusting your body and how to feed and take care of yourself, these benefits transfer over to other areas of your life. You begin to feel more confident in your ability to trust yourself in other areas of your life. You’ll see shifts in your day to day interactions, how you act in your relationships, how you show up at work, etc. There is a deep healing that happens which is so profound. You will set yourself free and in doing so, you’ll give a lot less f*@ks about what people think about you. Because, you know your truth. You know and trust the path you are on and you don’t owe anyone any apologies or explanations. Unless of course you want to school them about intuitive eating, then go for it! May the force be with you!
Remember that change takes time and is often frustratingly slow with intuitive eating. As we say, it’s a process, where we take two steps forward, and one step back, all the while moving forward. The fast track to freedom is radical self-love, kindness and compassion towards yourself.
So, be gentle as you heal from years of deprivation and dieting. It can take many months and for some several years for intuitive eating to feel more automatic, easier and effortless. With time, it will happen. Keep track of your wins, successes and progress. Write them down so you can see concrete proof of your progress, progress that has nothing to do with the number on the scale!
Keep going! You got this!