How to Emphasize Non-Scale Victories (NSVs)

Nutrition expert Annika Weeks, NDTR, weighs in on how to thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition -- without relying on the scale to measure success.


Ask anyone what mental image comes to mind when measuring weight loss and most people will say “stepping onto the scale”. Whether just for curiosity or used as a common instrument for measuring health and fitness, does it matter what the scale says? Is it possible to emphasize non-scale victories while promoting positive diet and exercise changes?


Weight is subject to fluctuations, and so while helpful in certain cases the scale is not the most accurate way to measure health and eating pattern success. Plus, it can’t tell us whether pounds added on are in muscle or fat. Meaningful ways to measure results come in all shapes in sizes, and recognizing non-scale victories can help create sustainable results.



Non-scale victories (NSVs) are meaningful moments worth celebrating regardless of the weight that the scale measures. Weight is one of the most common measures used to track nutrition progress, yet it is notoriously unreliable as a measure taken alone.


The following definition comes from dietitian Jason Machowsky and captures the concept perfectly:


“An NSV is any success you’ve had in the past day, week or month related to eating better or being physically active that is not related to your weight, but is still meaningful for you.”


NSVs make nutrition accessible, attainable, and inclusive for each and every one of us. They focus on internal and individual measures of health instead of external indicators.


When it comes to nutrition, tracking weight measures over time and taking non-scale victories into account can do wonders for goal progression and health perspective. NSVs can include many results of life changes, but most notably are health improvements influenced by positive changes made.


Why the scale is not the only measure of success

While the scale can be helpful in measuring results over time, relying only on the scale as a measure of your weight or nutritional progress is far too limiting. Weight is influenced by many factors, including the following:

  • Carbohydrate intake (i.e. carb-loading for athletic performance)

  • Sodium levels

  • Stress levels (i.e. cortisol)

  • Hydration and elimination levels

  • Time of day

  • Time of the month

  • Hormones

  • Sleep patterns and habits

  • Bowel movements

  • Digestion

  • Genetics

  • Family history

  • Age

  • Gender

  • Body composition

  • Food and fluid consumption

  • Exercise and sweat loss


A fluctuating weight is completely normal -- in fact, in some people, an increase in weight means they are well-nourished and well-hydrated.


Why are non-scale victories important?

If the scale is the only measure of momentum along a journey to healthy eating, weight loss can plateau. Just like weight can fluctuate with different factors, our self-confidence can do the same. Developing the perspective to see non-scale victories can motivate you to keep going on your health journey.


In fact, dietitian Daphne Olivier says non-scale victories “may even be more important because many of these non-scale victories are what keeps you going even when you reach your goal weight.”


Hyper-focus on the scale can lead to idolizing a number. NSVs take into account that the body is complex and that making the dial move isn’t a meaningful way to live. Noticing NSVs can help prioritize healthy eating and make for a more balanced plate.


NSVs are a better way to see the big picture:

[This] scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. That’s it. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength, or love.”
-Steve Maraboli

6 Practical Tips for Measuring Success Without the Scale

Identifying changes day to day can help make health and lifestyle changes more manageable. Measuring health in terms outside of weight changes is important to sustaining long-term success.


Listed below are six tips for keeping the conversation focused on non-scale victories, followed by indicators of what NSVs might look like:


  1. Focus on food behaviors - relationship with food, less disordered eating habits (i.e. binging or avoidance), mindful eating, listening to your body, responding to hunger and fullness (satiety cues), learning cooking or kitchen skills, distanced from dieting, identifying where you are on a hunger scale, not using food as a reward or punishment

  2. Point out non-weight related physical changes - healthy skin or nails, better breath, feeling less bloated, more defined muscle tone, more confidence or “glow”, lessening of symptoms, less aches or pains, medical markers (bloodwork) and test results are improving, decreased reliance on medication (under medical supervision), improved digestion

  3. Mention moods and emotions - happier, more confident, outgoing, increased patience and less irritability, decreased stress and anxiety, better attitude, optimism, decreased cravings, increased sense of self-esteem or self-love, feeling more “in control”, centered, or grounded, development of healthier coping mechanisms, developing or strengthening sources of social support, a newfound love or appreciation of healthy foods and habits, belief in and investment in positive health practices

  4. Fine tune brain function - improved focus, increased performance, better reactions and decision-making, improvements in memory, clarity, increase in productivity or efficiency, clearer communication, adaptation to new environments, planning toward the future, developing new skills

  5. Spend time talking about sleep hygiene - improved sleep quality, fall asleep and stay asleep easily, less reliance on medication for a good night’s sleep, less snoring or other symptoms (i.e. apnea, sweats), easily wake up and less likely to hit the “snooze” button

  6. Measure efficiency in terms of energy - increase in activity level, energy levels staying steadier, no mid-afternoon slump or need for caffeine/sugar to stay awake, more energy to play with kids/grandkids, being able to do more of the things you love or are passionate about, reaching fitness goals or milestones, increased endurance

References


Caspero A. Finding Your Happy Weight. Foodandnutrition.org. Published November 13, 2014.


Holwegner A. The magnetic power of the scale. Healthstandnutrition.com. Published September 22, 2011. Published 2019.


Hunt J. How Often Should You Step on the Scale? Jenniferhuntnutrition.com.


Joy R. 15 Non-Scale Victories to Celebrate for Weight Loss. Heathline.com. Published January 6, 2021.


Ligos L. Breaking Up with the Scale. Thesassydietitian.com. Published May 16, 2018.


Machowsky J. Measuring Fitness Results Beyond the Scale. Foodandnutrition.org. Published May 22, 2014.


Olivier D. Non-Scale Victories. Theunconventionaldietitian.com. Published September 16, 2020.


Palinski-Wade E. Take a Break from the Scale -- and Be Healthier Because of It. Foodandnutrition.org. Published May 17, 2017.


Warren B. Non-Scale Victories You NEED to Hear. Bethwarrennutrition.com. Published January 18, 2021.


Warren B. Why You May Want to Throw Out the Scale. Bethwarrennutrition.com. Published May 8, 2020.


Warren B. #MyWorth: Why The Trend Is Moving Away From The Scale And Why You Should, Too. Bethwarrennutrition.com. Published January 8, 2018.