The Weigh to Go?


It’s widely believed that weight and health go hand in hand, but this isn’t necessarily always the case.  In one study, 5,440 participants were assessed for early signs of heart disease: triglyceride levels, blood pressure, high-density cholesterol, fasting blood glucose and signs of insulin resistance. (4)

Researchers found that one third of adults of ‘normal, healthy weight’ had more of these early signs of degenerative disease than one third of those who were considered ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’. So the relationship between weight and health isn’t quite as clear-cut as we are often lead to believe.

This is at least in part due to the fact that the weight of a person shows nothing about their body-fat percentage – which refers to how much lean mass they have as a percentage of their storage fat. The point is that lean mass is dense, heavy… and keeps your body young and healthy. The more lean mass you’ve got, the better, and a great many people lose lean mass on diets, believing this is good because they are losing ‘weight’. However, what they really wanted to lose was fat.

A great example comes from one of my seminars. One woman there had been working with my book and CD for some months before she came to do a seminar with me. She said she had already dropped two or three dress sizes over this time but was dismayed when she weighed herself recently and found that she hadn’t lost any weight at all. She shook her head and said, “I told myself, this isn’t working!!!” But she was confused because she couldn’t deny that she was wearing smaller sizes.

What had happened was that she had been eating food that gave her body the nutrients needed to build and maintain her (heavy) lean mass, while burning off her fat, which didn’t weigh nearly as much.


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  1. Marilyn

    My husband and I have been weighing ourselves every day for the past 5 years. As per the report you quoted, it was VERY encouraging while we were dropping pounds but did not prevent us from regaining them later. I don’t think we read anything more into the numbers on the scale beyond what we weigh that particular moment and it confirms our intuition re. what’s working and what isn’t. Currently we don’t expect any huge overnight changes but as people who have carried 100+ extra pounds for decades, we feel it’s better to know than NOT to know – those times in the past when we threw out the scales, we managed to gain a lot of excess weight while remaining in denial about it.

    • I do understand your point about gaining weight without realising, and doing this because you aren’t weighing yourself regularly. The solution is to discover what else – other than weight gain or loss – might be at stake in terms of what and how much you eat. As just a few examples: any symptoms of systemic inflammation, level of energy throughout the day, feeling in control (or in integrity?) about your eating. It’s important to make the effort to attune yourself to benefits such as these; they are more effective than weight loss as motivation, for many reasons. And, they will be different for different people, so find what’s real for you.
      To put this another way, if you pay less attention to weight loss, you will need to replace that motivation with something else. Otherwise, your motivation to eat less is simply weakened.

  2. Miranda

    In my old dieting days the scales were a foe in my battle to get my overeating under control – whatever they showed. If I lost weight I gave myself permission to overeat because I had earnt it. If I had not lost weight again I overate because the diet wasn’t working anyway. All this changed when, having attended your seminar, I focused on changing my motivation from weight/looks to health/how I felt (in both body and soul). Now I do a weight check about once a month and that works for me as I have maintained a 40kg weight loss for three years. I have noticed that my urge to weigh myself usually comes hand in hand with an urge to overeat.

  3. Debbie

    Weighing and overeating are inextricably linked for me. I found that I would weigh myself almost as a stick to beat myself with if I’d had a period of overeating. Then in horror I would be motivated for a while to diet and daily weighing would ensue which gave me the feedback I needed to feel rewarded for the deprivation I was undergoing. When the deprivation was ineffective i.e. I’d put on weight….massive rebellion ensued because the thought went why should I carry on depriving myself when it isn’t working.
    Now my compulsion to weigh myself is a good barometer of whether I feel I am giving myself the freedom to make choices….If I feel restricted then my desire to weigh is strong because I want to sooth myself with the reward of weight loss…..on the flip side if I am making unrestricted healthy choices the desire to weigh disappears and I have a sense of calm that I am nurturing my body and keeping it strong and healthy for the future. I don’t need the scales to tell me it…I feel it.
    The key for me to know if I have truly internalised your advice is the compulsion to weigh…..If I feel that compulsion I have to go back to your books and question myself as to what has triggered me to feel restricted in my eating.

    • Reen

      This is a really helpful post because it has alerted me to one of my behaviours- I will weigh myself and get the tape measure out and find a new app to record said measurements- as if somehow seeing these numbers will magically change what I do at the choice point of -do I or dont I eat the lovely cake someone brought to work!
      The conclusion is this doesnt help.
      The reductive reasoning still becomes, with this approach- if I do X then I will lose weight rather than if I do Y then I will eat less.

  4. Ursula

    I find I’m still preoccupied with my weight and body fat percentage as a means of being healthy, ie. too much body fat = health problems in the future. I’ve recently being trying intermittent fasting, but I don’t think this is necessarily helpful, especially in managing my addictive desire. Also, I’m a bit of a fitness fanatic, I do a lot of exercise (because I genuinely enjoy it) so I kind of need to eat! I generally eat healthily, fairly “low-carb” but still get cravings for sugary “treats”. “Carbo-loading” before a long run also presents me with problems…….. that sets me off on a major binge, which then makes me obsess over my body fat, and then I’m tempted to throw in the towel……….

    • Alice

      I’ll be really interested to read Gillian’s take on this. I used to do a lot of exercise too and I suspect that it can provide a lot of justifications for addictive eating. For example, I am not convinced that carbo-loading before a long run is necessary for most enthusiastic amateurs, or at least not to the extent that many of us do/did it: your body can only store so much glycogen after all! Have you read Eating Less? I’d have thought you could use times and plans in the context of eating more carbs before a long run to try to gain control over the urge to binge you habitually feel afterwards. Just a thought! Like I say, I hope we get to hear from Gillian on this. Actually, the interaction between exercise and justifications for addictive eating might be worth a blog post of its own…?

  5. Chancery

    On the whole, I’d say the scales are NOT useful. While I was (very) sick with gallstones, they were very affirmative because weight was dropping off me – and here was the concrete proof. But after I had to concede defeat and have my gallbladder removed, and went back to a ‘normal’ diet, i.e. one with fat in it, weight came back on, on average, at around 2lbs a fortnight. NOTHING I did, or did without, to be more accurate, stopped it. Looking at my diet during my illness, it was, of course, inevitable that all the weight would come back, and to a large extent I knew that. I HOPED it wouldn’t be true and that if I only did X or Y then I could surely avert disaster. But I couldn’t. The weight came back and every week my scales cheerfully told me so. They became like a constant voice of defeat and failure: NOTHING you can do, or ever will do, will help. Nothing.

    I’ve kept weighing myself, dedicatedly, every week, but the weight has slowly, inch by inch, returned to my pre-illness weight, just like every ‘What happens to dieters after they stop dieting’ study predicts. So, other than reaffirming that I am unable to eat like a ‘normal’ human, and that, yes, dieting does indeed help to make you fat/ter, the scales have done nothing for me but cause anxiety, misery and a reaffirming of personal inadequacy and/or poor genetics.

  6. Alice

    Wow: as someone with the typical history of yo yo dieting since my teens, Debbie’s comment really struck a chord. My relationship with the scales was just like that. I threw them out years ago, having concluded that it was no good for my mental health to be so obsessed. However, this only meant that I was less unhappy about my weight – it didn’t alter it (although I think it did make some difference to my eating as I stopped counting calories too – I tried intuitive eating at that time and it made some difference – I think it has some useful elements such as reintroducing freedom of choice, but like Gillian I am ultimately sceptical and see it more as a goal than a starting point for taking control of overeating). I have been trying to follow the approach in Eating Less for a few months now and I hadn’t made the connection between the urge I sometimes have to weigh myself if I’m somewhere that does have scales, and an underlying feeling that I am imposing some sort of regime upon myself – so I am really grateful for that insight, Debbie. I do struggle with finding an alternative motivation beyond weight loss, partly because I am one of those overeaters whose problem is more with quantity than quality. I can eat quite a lot before feeling any ill effects; I am quite active and generally in good health so although I have managed to reduce the number of episodes of massive overeating, and rarely eat sweet things any more (since I now recognise that the urge to eat pudding at the end of a meal is no more than an oft-reinforced habit) I struggle to reduce my portions any further because I really cannot detect much benefit in the short term. I do recognise that my health will probably benefit long term, but I find that a much more abstract and less effective motivation than “I will feel sick in an hour and sluggish in the morning if I eat this chocolate”. So I think perhaps I am still looking to the scales to check that I am being “rewarded” for choosing to eat less than I would like.

    • Ursula

      Hi Alice, yes, I’ve got the book “Eating Less” and I’ve found it extremely useful especially regarding the element of choice and being free to eat too much, but also thinking of the consequences. I’m a bit of a perfectionist however, and I still do struggle with “getting back on track” once I’ve started to eat too much – I tend to think “what the hell I’ve blown it anyway, I’ll start again tomorrow.” In the moment I forget I’ve got choices! I think I’ll try experimenting with “natural” carbs like bananas and sweet potatoes before a run. Also, as you suggest, using Times and Plans to increase my carbs beforehand and afterwards. I struggle to know the difference between natural and addictive hunger too, especially after a long run (or other exercise).

  7. Amanda

    First off I want to say I am huge fan of your book “eating less”. I gave up smoking years ago, and would say “I need to figure out how to apply the same mechanism to eating”. But as we all know you have to eat so its a bit more complicated than that. I have a gastric band, lost weight, and gained it all back. Its deflated so i have minimal restriction, but i like its presence because it makes blind scoffing really difficult. Since then I had some success on my own by following the same rules slim-but-could-be-fat friends follow. But then I read your book and bought a fit bit. I’ve lost 50lbs so far and no signs of stopping (I weigh my self every day). I’ve gone from being scared to walk down to the shops to doing a 5k run last week and am doing a 15mile night walk in the highlands next week. Am so much fitter for my kids, life is more pracital and I’m assuming all sorts of reduced health risks :). For now I am going to continue to weigh my self because I feel like I am facing the consequences of the previous day’s decisions. Some times its hard when I’ve not lost anything after working physically very hard, but I’m learning it’s actually linked… Immediately after intense exercise I puff up! I can’t get my rings off. Then 2 days later I pee a lot and the weight jumps down. But the day that comes that I feel the scales are hindering my motivation I’m going to quit them. I’m at the stage where the loss is slowing, but no plateau yet…. I also have a motivation cork board with doodles I did during the reading of your book, and a line borrowed from the 12 step program. “I’ve only got to worry about the decisions I make today”. ” today” gets me through. It’s the denial of the craving that is the same key as the stop smoking. Your book has made the connection for me, and now cravings, like the cigarette cravings are dwindling away… I have the choice and mostly these days I’m like my other slim friends that also have to work to stay that way (I’ve about another 50lbs to go and I quit over eating in May). Thanks for reading and thanks for your book. You’ve given me years back…. Xxx

    • I can see from your comment there are a few things you’re not quite understanding about this process. If by any chance you struggle to maintain your weight loss later on, just remember this and get in touch with me. You might have difficulties later on, and you might not; everyone has their own unique way of getting to grips with this process.

      When your fingers ‘puff up’ by the way, your body is retaining water to protect you from toxins that have been released by the exercise. Your extremities (fingers) are the safest place to keep the toxins, away from vital organs. Then you pee them out, which is good news. I’m just saying this to encourage you to keep drinking water to help that elimination.

      • Amanda

        Thank you. I will bear this in mind, I’ll be straight back to you if I am in trouble. Addiction is always lying in wait to catch you out. I’ve been working hard on my self esteem and I just don’t sit and stuff my face any more. And the periods of discomfort at riding out cravings are so little now… Good choices = self esteem squared.

        I did my night walk… 15 miles, or 6 hours of pumping my legs as fast as I could (I have little bruises on my legs!)… I puffed up like a balloon as usual, but last night on the cross trainer, it was a lot easier! before the walk my legs would get the burn really quickly and I’d have to do some pushing to warm up! Last night of I went. And finally I feel a change in my fitness. That is awesome.

        Thanks again for reading. I have been avoiding telling people about the book, I absolutely do not proselytise to other over eaters (I am so looking forward to the day when someone says “so how did you do it?” and I can tell them about the book), but sometimes I have these bursts of externalising my thoughts. I’m an extrovert you see and its tough keeping a lid on when I’m excited. I want to be part of a group where people have read the book, and have acknowledged an eating problem, rather than a weight problem. I want to talk to people that don’t talk about diets and the shame for eating a square of chocolate. I actually don’t want to tell people how much I have lost. I don’t want and avoid all “how much have you lost” conversations. My mum has finally stopped asking.

  8. Imelda

    I’ve just finished reading ‘Eating Less’ and I honestly feel like I finally have the tools to begin to solve to a problem which was really getting out of control. I feel I am in control of what I eat for the fist time on my life. I just have one question. I have realised that wheat does not make me feel well. But what is the best thing to have for breakfast if wheat is out?

    • The best thing would be for you to do an online search for ‘wheat-free breakfast’ and see what’s there. There are eggs, of course; also fruit with cheese or yogurt if you eat those. A search for any ‘Paleo’ recipes will produce wheat-free ideas (although Paleo means many different things to many different people, it’s always wheat-free).

  9. Mazzy

    I have your books, Eating Less and Ditching Diets. I found them to be very useful so far, and thank you. I’m on a second read of Ditching Diets. The part about keeping quiet with regard to weight/diet and lowering the value of weight loss vs. other factors really resonates with me, though I have a tendency to forget this. I keep going back to “weight this, weight that.” When I try to diminish the weight aspect of it and increase the eating aspect, I do honestly feel psychologically better, and I eat better. So, the concept works for me, if I can remember it!

    I have ditched the scale many times per the advice of Intuitive Eating, only to gain tons of weight, therefore, ditching the scale entirely makes me quite nervous. The last thing I need is to gain more than my current 210 pounds. I have read, studied, tried to adopt body acceptance, etc…I get it, but it doesn’t truly sink in for me – I just cannot accept being morbidly obese, despite that being my reality. At the end of the day, I am disgusted by my own body weight! So, for a while, I went back to weighing myself on a daily basis, which does affect me negatively at times – particularly when my weight goes up and I feel I did not “earn or deserve” it (as though it was some kind of universal punishment – a concept I don’t believe in).

    The benefit of weighing daily was that I would “know” ahead of time whether my body was retaining liquids due to an impending health issue, such as a cold, etc. However, I could believe this even if I were not eating healthfully, or I could “punish” myself if I was – even if I was truly retaining for some reason.

    So the scale really isn’t that helpful as a daily gauge. As a compromise, I am now weighing myself once a week, which seems to be a decent solution for the time being. I don’t see those daily fluctuations, but I’m also remaining an observer and a participant, and use the weekly weigh-ins as a “loose” gauge as to whether the way I’m currently eating/viewing food is causing a positive effect. I’m not sure how else I would gauge it, until my clothes feel loser.

    Right now, I’m suffering from Spring Fatigue, and even my better eating habits are not helping with how I physically and emotionally feel. I have noticed some benefits, such as lighter periods, less gassy feeling at night, more pride, etc. But, I do honestly still struggle to keep those as my major influences in changing my eating habits. Despite trying to reinforce these other changes as primary motivators, I still find I revert to weight loss as my main reason for doing this. Not image, but weight loss. I don’t believe I’m as concerned about how I look as I am about how I feel in a smaller body (such as bending over to shave my legs! And other hygiene related activities…). Do you have more advice about how I can make the other factors more important than weight, or am I close to being on the right track?

    I have read and studied books on RET/CBT, so I am not a stranger to the concept of shoulding myself to death, or all-nothing thinking, and I have worked hard to change thoughts, and treat myself better. I also do not believe in punishment/reward systems, and work toward a more natural way of dealing with the world, so I am on board with a lot of the concepts in your book. I will keep re-reading so it all sinks in more. Thanks for your help!

    • The best way to make other (health) factors more important than weight is to get into educating yourself about nutrition. There’s a huge amount online – YouTube videos by Dr Rhonda Patrick or Dr Joseph Mercola are some of my favourites – and I recommend many books in the two books of mine that you have read. There’s an insane amount to take in, you’ll be on a huge learning curve, but as you go you’ll understand more. Then, as you make some of the changes they speak about, even just for a while, you’ll see the benefit in your own life and body, and that’s the key. (And you lose weight too!)

  10. VideoP

    Okay so, i ve been eating a load less to lose weight. i know it sounds bad but my brother did it and he lost 20 pounds in 2 months. but im wondering, what is a better way to lose weight? a fast and easy way

    • Research tells us that the faster the weight is lost, the more likely it returns. The work I do is all about long term success; how to change the way you think about food so that weight is lost in a way that will last in the long term.

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