When planning a wellness program, many organizers and participants fall into the trap of focusing on numbers on the scale. Weight loss challenges such as “Biggest Loser” or “Dieting For Dollars” are widely popular, despite extensive research on their lack of efficacy. In reality, the most significant health accomplishments often happen off the scale, and employees will benefit far more from focusing on these non-scale victories than becoming fixated on the number of pounds lost, especially when being incented to do so in a short period of time.
Below are four of the best victories beyond the scale that program coordinators can encourage and celebrate with their participants.
#1 Participants Feel Better
A welcomed “side-effect” of making healthy habits such as opting for wholesome foods or sleeping eight hours each night is a significant improvements in energy throughout the day. Especially for participants who did not focus on health before the program, feeling more alert and energized throughout the day is a tell-tail sign that they are moving in the right direction.
Having more energy also expands to the domain of productivity and engagement. Employees who feel more energetic or lively will more likely to be productive at work and can fully engage in what they do. While the scale might not be able to capture this improvement, a short survey will allow the program coordinators to detect these changes.
#2 Clothes Fit Better
A gram of fat takes more physical space than a gram a muscle. Wellness programs participants who are focusing on cutting down on junk food while working on their strength and endurance training are likely to slim down while not seeing the impact on the scale. In this situation, program coordinators can encourage their employees to focus on and notice how their clothes fit better or maybe even become baggy.
A more concrete way of capturing this slimming process is to take non-scale measurements such as hip or waist circumference. Participants with reducing waist circumference should surely celebrate – waist fat (visceral fat) has been shown to be very dangerous to the health because it increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Reducing the size of the belly is a clinically-proven way to improve health as well as physical appearance.
#3 Participants Can Do More
Improvements in physical abilities are very encouraging signs for participants who focus on fitness and therefore should be celebrated. Common improvements are physical endurance and strength, such as being able to run or walk further/faster than before, lifting heavier weights, walking upstairs without getting winded, etc. For companies that offer onsite classes, co-workers can see each other’s improvements and celebrate these milestones together.
Outside of the gym, employees might talk about being able to enjoy their time with their spouses/children more because they have more energy. Older employees might be able to catch up with their active grandchildren thanks to this new-found source of strength and endurance.
#4 Healthy Habits Become Easier
While resisting that bag of candy might be hard at first, if participants stay disciplined, they will soon find it much easier to stick with the plan. For example, sugar and junk food cravings might start to subside and healthier cravings for things like fruits, vegetables, or whole-grain products might start becoming more common. This is a sign that participants are getting over their sugar addictions.
Similarly, going to bed early or making the trip over to the gym might start feeling more natural and become an important part of their day. Participants who see the initial benefits of regular exercise, healthy eating, and improved sleep will want to keep up their streak and maintain their schedule.
Health and well-being are a lot more than just dropping pounds and should not be defined by how much weight participants have lost. There are many other (and much better) ways to track and appreciate progress besides the scale. In well-designed programs, participants are constantly moving forward with actions, attitudes, skills, and choices that will pay dividends for a lifetime in the form of good health and a healthy weight. Help them focus on non-scale victories, and the pounds will naturally take care of itself.