Health & Fitness, Wellbeing

I’m No Longer Hostage to Fluctuations In My Weight … and Happier For It – Denise Li

Why do so many of us allow a number on the scale to dictate our happiness, wonders Denise Li.


Despite telling myself I will avoid doing so, I stepped on the scale this morning. The number was slightly higher than when I first arrived in Belgium a few weeks ago. Previously, this would have precipitated a full-blown freakout on my part: Vowing to cut out sugar and dessert, making sure I work out more than usual, going on an insane guilt trip every time I put food into my mouth, etc.

But today, I found myself calmly assessing the situation.

Since arriving in Belgium three weeks ago, I have encountered, eaten and drank copious amounts of the following:

1. Fries and mayo

2. BEER!

3. Fries and creamy hot sauce

4. Chocolate

5. More chocolate

6. Giant-ass waffles

7. Deep fried sausages

8. Fries and some unidentifiable sauce

9. A snack known as bitterballen (deep fried balls with an oozing liquid centre … yes, I laugh every time I eat it too cos I’m mature like that)

I also happen to be with a man who has made it his mission to keep me well-fed during the six weeks I’m here (“We know what happens when you get hangry …” he says), and we’re not impervious to the “happy couple weight gain”.

As I ran through in my head all the factors that made me gain weight, I found myself doing something I have never done before: Shrug it off.

Why? Because I refuse to let a number on the scale dictate my happiness. Because I know my body well enough to know that the weight gain is temporary, and that it will go back to what it was when I return to Singapore and revert to my usual schedule and workout routine. Because I know that the number on the scale really doesn’t mean that much in the grander scheme of things: I am still keeping myself healthy through regular exercise and MMA training. Because I know I really don’t want to give up Flemish stews with bottomless fries and chocolate just so I can be at my perceived “ideal” weight on the scale.

It’s funny how one little number can rule over so many of our life choices. I spoke to someone recently who had established a pretty good workout routine. She was incorporating a lot of weight training, in addition to regular cardio workouts. From how she described it, it was a really well-rounded training routine that I believe more women should do. The problem? She had just decided to stop weight training because it was causing her to gain weight.

I had experienced the exact same thing a few years ago and I know how demoralising and scary it can be. When I first started working out a few years ago, I started bulking up two months after I’d started my thrice-a-week muay thai training regime. A lot of clothes suddenly didn’t fit. When you’ve finally committed to a regular exercise regime, putting on weight – the opposite effect of what you’d wanted – is really the last thing you need. It is downright discouraging. But I decided to stick with my regime, and a couple of months later, I leaned out. The reason for the initial weight gain was because I gained muscle before I lost fat. I think this is especially true for a lot of women.

A lot of people have asked me how I manage to stick to my workout regime. It really comes down to this: I don’t plan my workouts based on numbers on a weighing machine. The number on the machine doesn’t tell you: How fit you are; your proportion of fat to muscle; whether you are able to complete your first 5k, or survive a gruelling session of boxing training. Once you realise this, you’ll find OTHER reasons to work out:  For the love of it, for the increased levels of energy, or because it helps build mental toughness, for instance. These will be the reasons that’ll motivate you to stick to your workouts over the long run.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys training in MMA, and doing conditioning workouts. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets and Instagram @smackeral83.

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