For so many people, the scale rules all. While the scale can be a useful tool in your health and fitness journey, it’s certainly not the end-all-be-all. After all, the scale can’t tell you if you’re getting stronger, have more energy or can run as fast as your kids.
If you want to shift your focus away from the number on the scale, consider one of the following non-weight-related goals that have helped women live healthier, fitter lives. They just might inspire you to take on the fresh perspective you need to get motivated and empowered to be your healthiest self yet.
For years, digital marketer Amy Ogbonna focused her health and fitness efforts on looking a certain way. The thing is, aesthetics couldn’t make up for the fact she felt unfocused and fatigued throughout the day.
“I was always aware that I needed to improve my sleep,” Ogbonna says. “For much of my adult life, I’ve considered myself a night owl — and as years have passed, I’ve paid the price for my lack of sleep more and more.”
These days, Ogbonna sticks to a routine that ensures she’ll score quality zzz’s. “I put my phone on ‘night mode’ after dark, spend the last 30 minutes before bed screen-free, and leave my phone in the living room overnight,” she says.
Ogbonna says shifting her focus from burning maximum calories or looking a certain way to supporting the rest she needs has helped her understand health and fitness are about training and eating for life — not a particular event. “It doesn’t matter if you look good for a party if you’re going to feel terrible leading up to, during and after that party,” she says.
A special education coordinator, Lindsay Anderson has always given 120% to her job. To keep the stress of long days at bay, though, she realized she needed to set goals that would hold her accountable for taking care of herself, too.
“I’ve also always needed another ‘thing’ to work toward outside of my job,” Anderson says. “First it was grad school, then training for a half-marathon and now, this year, it’s to exercise at least three times a week.”
Every Sunday, Anderson looks at her schedule for the week, plans out when she’ll take workout classes and marks them in her planner. On those days, she brings her workout gear with her to work, so she can head straight to class from there.
“Trying new classes and finding workouts I enjoy helps me stay consistent and feel all-around happier,” Anderson says. “I really enjoy having something healthy and motivating to focus on other than work.”
Like many women, social media manager and New York City resident Arielle Weg fell into a cycle of setting — and giving up on — scale-focused health goals. “I would say ‘I’m going to lose 20 pounds,’ without getting more specific or creating a plan,” says Weg. “It wasn’t empowering in any way — and I always fell flat after a few weeks.”
Come New Year’s 2019, Weg was ready to set a more attainable, positive goal that had nothing to do with her weight. “I’d always wanted to be a runner, so I decided to finally commit and sign up for a 5K with a friend,” Weg says.
Weg used a running app to coach her three weekly runs — and instead of stressing about the scale, focused on eating to fuel her workouts and appreciate her body while running. “There’s something amazing about feeling your body get stronger and knowing that you ran better than you did last week,” she says. “The thrill was so much more satisfying than any number the scale could provide.”
Before becoming a mom, Boston-based marketer Lindsay Dougherty was motivated by maintaining her physique and feeling strong and confident. Since getting pregnant, though, “a number on the scale or how much I can lift are the last things on my mind,” she says.
Through the trials and exhaustion of motherhood, Dougherty set her sights on finding ways to clear her head and feel empowered. Often, exercise does the trick.
“I want to use the little spare time I have doing things that make me feel great, and nothing is more satisfying than going for a quick run or taking an energizing class,” says Dougherty. “My body did the most wonderful thing imaginable in making my son, so I just want to keep it strong and healthy!”
Writer and podcaster Olivia Pennelle spent years suffocated by diet culture. “I always felt too big, too tall and not lean enough. I used to find motivation in fitness magazines, but it was more out of self-loathing than empowerment,” she says.
To finally shift her approach to diet and exercise, Pennelle decided to work toward a nutrition coaching certification. “Now I understand the huge potential margin of error with calorie-counting — and that the scale doesn’t really reflect my fitness,” she says.
After working on her nutrition certification, Pennelle has a greater appreciation for her body’s strength and resiliency — and enjoys eating intuitively, following her hunger cues instead of rigid diet rules.
“I gained a huge sense of freedom after throwing out weight- and calorie-related goals — I even ditched my scale,” she says. “I no longer feel like I’m fighting myself. Instead, I choose what works for me and my body.”
Kelsey Cannon, a writer and brand manager, spent her early life worried about not looking her best and gaining weight. When she joined a CrossFit gym — and embraced the competitive spirit of others — that changed.
“The healthy, yet supportive stream of competition inspired me to push myself in ways I wouldn’t otherwise,” Cannon says. “I picked up those heavier weights or squeaked out that last burpee before time expired.”
So, Cannon leaned in — and decided to focus her fitness routine on competing with her gym-mates and herself. “It really helped shift my focus to performance instead of appearance,” she says. “We support each other and push each other to be better.”
A year later, she’s as dedicated to her workout routine — and the fittest and most confident — she’s ever been.
Afton Doe, a communications advisor who lives with depression and insomnia, long focused on the external appearance of her body. “I was only focused on physical results — and if I didn’t see them, I’d push through exhaustion or pain to try to achieve them,” Doe says.
After learning that research suggests exercise could support both of her mental health concerns, Doe realized her approach to health and fitness was actually backfiring — so she reset her priorities.
“Now I am more gentle with myself,” she says. “I aim to go to the gym three days a week, but don’t force myself anymore.” For Doe, viewing exercise as medicine and a means to better well-being has helped her enjoy gym time more — and feel all-around happier and more in-tune with her body and mind.
Health and fitness have always been top-priorities for personal trainer Alexandria Bizub. However, for years, she denied her strong, athletic build in an effort to be as lean and thin as possible. “No matter how lean I got, though, I was never fulfilled,” Bizub says. So, when she decided to embrace her natural strength, everything changed.
“My current goals are to get as strong as possible and be proud of the muscle I am building,” she explains. To support this shift in focus, Bizub started competing in powerlifting — and is now even tracking to beat a couple of state records. “I find this extremely empowering,” says Bizub. “I’m going to be recognized for how strong I am, not for what my body looks like.”
By focusing on her own strength, Bizub feels better able to motivate her clients to strive for feeling good, too.
For much of her life, Jacqueline Uveges, a social work student, had the tendency to tie to her confidence and worth to her physical appearance. Eager to maintain a healthy exercise routine without sliding down the slippery slope of body- or weight-related goals, Uveges decided to work toward something completely new: a marathon.
“I started out training for a 5K by running one mile, and slowly increasing my distance each week,” says Uveges, who just wanted to finish that first race without walking. From there, the self-esteem boost that came with completing her 5K inspired Uveges to sign up for a half-marathon. “I was totally sold on the high that came after sticking to a plan and working hard,” she says.
Today, Uveges runs five times a week as she prepares to check that marathon off her bucket list. Her legs feeling stronger and clothes fitting differently have been nice bonuses, she says.