22/09/2011 13:31 BST | Updated 19/11/2011 05:12 GMT

What NOT to do When You Weigh Yourself

"If you can meet with triumph and disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same"

These lines from the Rudyard Kipling poem "If" are ones that should be taped to every dieter's set of scales, since they capture one of the big challenges of weighing yourself.

I used to discourage my clients from checking their weight frequently. I've since softened my stance because people love to see the progress they are making as their weight falls.

But the reason why looking at the scales too often when you are losing weight can be unhelpful is because of your response to what the scales tell you.

You know what it's like. For most people, stepping on the scales is a fraught event, because it seems like a scorecard of whether you are on the right track or not. And for some people this means not only getting disillusioned when they haven't lost weight but also complacent when they have.

The problem with getting disillusioned when you haven't lost weight is that some people respond by thinking "What's the point?" and "I'm not getting anywhere". Even for people who acknowledge that they need to be patient when losing weight, seeing that the weight hasn't dropped can bring out feelings of impatience, doubt and frustration. In some cases, one bad reading can be enough to make someone give up trying to lose weight altogether.

The converse of this is getting too excited about a positive reading. Of course I encourage my clients to celebrate their victories but occasionally a sense of complacency creeps in. It makes them feel that they don't need to make as much effort. This can also be unhelpful, because it makes people lose focus and slows the momentum of weight loss. Again, not a good result.

So how do we deal with this?

  1. Don't have a deadline for weight loss. If you absolutely need to lose weight by a particular date, then you are going to get understandably distressed if you don't feel you are making enough progress. Unfortunately, normal weight loss doesn't follow a timetable. The best way to avoid this is to give yourself lots of time to lose weight.
  2. Don't get too invested in one weight reading. Weight can go up and down on a particular day for many reasons that are unrelated to your weight loss. The overall trend is more important than the one-off reading. If your weight is generally headed downwards, don't let one reading put you off.
  3. Acknowledge that a plateau (where your weight doesn't budge for a few days or weeks) is a normal part of losing weight. As long as you are doing all the right things (reducing what you are eating and being more active) you will eventually see results. It just requires a little patience, but it will be worth it in the long run.
  4. Recognise that managing your weight is something you will be doing for the rest of your life. So there's no reason to focus too much on the short term reading on your scales.

Remember that overall, despite our society's fixation with weight, no one actually really cares about the number on the scales. What we care about is being healthier, our clothes fitting better, having more energy, looking in the mirror and feeling good and generally feeling good.

The apparent triumph and disaster we see on the scales really are imposters. The true progress in losing weight happens in the actions you take, and the results you feel. This is where your attention should be.