by guest blogger Pam Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, best-selling author and expert on health, fitness, and nutrition
On a particularly lovely spring day, my patient Kris sat on the edge of the chair in my office, smiling and appearing anxious to share something with me.
Without skipping a beat, she said, “Hey, Dr. Peeke, watch this!” With that, she crossed one knee over the other and grinned from ear to ear. “One of my dreams was to be able to cross my legs at the knee, and to top that, do it wearing non-stretch jeans. Well, the other day I did it, and I couldn’t wait to show you!”
I immediately took a picture to commemorate the moment and high-fived her for her accomplishment. This simple thing, which so many of us take for granted, was a huge milestone for Kris. She’d labored for months practicing healthier lifestyle behaviors to decrease the extra 100 pounds that was seriously impacting her health and mobility. Having lost the first 50 pounds, she was less impressed with the scale numbers and more focused on the jubilation she felt about her leg-crossing milestone. Kris was in the midst of savoring one of her many non-scale victories.
For years I have shared my belief that the most effective driver of the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is never a number on a scale. If a number is all you care about, think about what you’re actually doing: You stand on a piece of metal, look down past your body, and stare at that number. This very act can foster dissociation from your body. It’s a number identifying quantity. What about quality? Are your muscles stronger? Are you filled with more energy? Are you aware of how your body feels? Metal can’t answer these questions.
Another patient called me one day to say that she was finally being active outdoors. For the first time in her life, she was aware of the feeling of sweat trickling down the back of her knee. She’d never paid attention to her own sweat before. This excitement spurred her to walk longer and faster that day. No numbers. Just the body’s own tears of walking joy.
Here’s one of my favorite ways to achieve and sustain a healthy non-scale body consciousness. I call it my CLOTHES-O-METER. Many of my patients simply use this tool and ditch the scale.
If you’re overweight and are looking to become healthier and fitter, first, you have to practice healthy lifestyle behaviors—mentally, nutritionally, and physically. Next, grab a pair of jeans (women like the jeans-o-meter) or belt (men like their belt-o-meter) that’s too tight now but will fit once you’ve shed 5 to 10 pounds of excess fat. That’s your current CLOTHES-O-METER.
Try it on once a week. If you’re consistently living your healthy lifestyle and it’s feeling looser, you’re decreasing excess fat and toning your muscles. You’re actually shape-shifting and becoming more fit and compact. Keep doing this until those jeans fit great and the belt is comfortable.
Now, do you need to continue to get healthier and fitter? If not, then stick with your present CLOTHES-O-METER and use it to keep you on track. If you feel you need to improve, then select another CLOTHES-O-METER and keep going. Who needs metal when you have fabric? Your closet holds many non-scale victories.
Kris told me that she no longer has to buy clothes she’s never tried on (she hated the full-length dressing room mirrors). She used to purchase a bunch of clothes, try them on at home, and return the ones she didn’t like. Now she stays at the store and tries things on, no longer filled with shame, blame, and guilt. Seeing a more fit and toned body fills her with pride and greater self-esteem. She doesn’t care about being a skinny woman; she’s worked hard to improve her health, and she cherishes her moments of glory at the store. Health is her goal, and she’s basking in a healthier light.
One of my longstanding patients, a 65-year-old retired executive, called me at my office one day and insisted on coming in immediately to tell me something very important. Patricia blew through my office door in no time, wearing her gardening clothes, so excited she couldn’t sit down. “So, I walked up six stone stairs in my backyard in order to prune my rose bushes. As I was working away, I turned my head and encountered a huge garden spider hanging several inches from my face. Startled, I fell backwards. Because I’ve been working out and have dropped 30 pounds, my arms were strong and my body was more limber, so I didn’t fall down the steps potentially hurting myself badly. Instead, I hung on and finally stood up. Now I get it. I never fully appreciated what I’ve really accomplished until today. I may have saved my own life.”
Let’s all pause and appreciate the 5K you can now walk or run, the fun you can now have chasing your kids or grandkids in the park, the stairs you can climb without speed-dialing 911, the airplanes you can comfortably sit in without requesting an extender, the yoga poses that are no longer mission impossible, and the vibrant energy and joy of life you now experience because your health and wellness have improved.
Celebrate these and countless more non-scale victories every single day. They—not metal numbers—will pave the way to lifelong health and wellness.
Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, is a Pew Scholar in nutrition and metabolism, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Maryland, and a fellow of the American College of Physicians. A triathlete and mountaineer, she is known as “the doc who walks the talk,” living what she’s learned as an expert in health, fitness, and nutrition. Her current research at the University of Maryland centers on the connection between meditation and overeating. She is the author of many best-selling books, including Fight Fat after Forty. Her new book is the New York Times bestseller The Hunger Fix.