Do you feel dread when you think about stepping on a scale? Does seeing how much you weigh impact your mood for the rest of the day? If so, you’re not alone. Lots of people have a complicated relationship with their body and weighing themselves only makes it worse! Consider these reasons why it’s time to give up the scale for good.
As an anti-diet registered dietitian, I know that our culture places way too much emphasis on weight. It’s no secret that in the Western world, the picture of beauty and health is usually a thin, white person. This narrow ideal is deeply rooted in problematic systems of oppression including racism and sexism.
This blog post will help you begin to debunk some of the common myths about weight and explore your relationship with the scale.
If this brings up some challenging thoughts and feelings, it’s a great idea to explore this topic with a professional! Many people have a difficult relationship with their body and benefit from professional support, such as from a psychotherapist and registered dietitian who specialize in body image.
Here are 7 reasons to consider breaking up with your scale!
Weight Doesn’t Equal Worth
Contrary to what our thin-obsessed culture tells us, our worth has nothing to do with how much we weigh. And yet, when we step on the scale and see a number that is higher than we think it “should” be, it can ruin our day and make us feel like we aren’t good enough.
Ditching the scale is one way for you to reclaim that power and remind yourself that your weight does not define your worth and that you value yourself in so many other ways.
If you have the urge to step on the scale as a proxy for how “good” you are, consider redirecting that urge to jotting down a list of your values and considering all the ways you live out those values. You might even take it a step further and write a list of all the things you like about yourself!
Weight Doesn’t Equal Health
You might be wondering, “But isn’t it a good idea to monitor your weight for health reasons?” And it’s understandable why you may think that. So much of mainstream health information overstates the relationship between weight and health. And doctors love to blame just about any health issue on weight.
Here’s the truth: You can’t know anything about someone’s health just by knowing their weight.
There are numerous factors that impact health, many of which are outside our control. These include social and economic factors like education, employment and income, environmental factors like housing and air and water quality, as well as access to quality healthcare. Finally there are lifestyle factors, which include smoking, drug and alcohol use, physical activity, and what we eat.
These factors can tell us much more about health than our weight. And research shows that larger people (folks with a body mass index in the “overweight” or “obese” categories) who engage in key health behaviors (not smoking, moderate alcohol use, eating fruits and veggies, regular physical activity) aren’t at any higher mortality risk than people in the “normal” body mass index category. And just being at a “normal” body mass index doesn’t guarantee good health — those behaviors are important no matter your weight!
The reason I use quotation marks when describing the body mass index (BMI) categories is because the BMI is a terrible tool and also doesn’t tell us anything about health. Yet, it’s still commonly used in research and in healthcare.
You Can Care about Health Without Obsessing about Weight
If you have the urge to monitor your weight as a proxy for monitoring your health, consider other ways you might check in on your health status. How do you feel? How are you managing stress? Are you eating consistent, balanced meals? Are you drinking enough water? How are you sleeping? How is your energy level? Are you getting routine medical check-ups* and screenings? How’s your bloodwork?
Everyone should have the freedom to pursue health (or not — health is not a moral obligation) in ways that are meaningful and enjoyable to them, without the constant pressure to pursue thinness. Because health and thinness are not one in the same!
Please note that if you are someone who is in eating disorder treatment and your care team is monitoring your weight for purposes of weight restoration, that is an appropriate use of the scale.
[*Note: Due to weight stigma, many larger folks avoid medical appointments. This is one reason why we may see worse health outcomes in larger folks — not because of the size of their body but because of how they are treated for the size of their body. Check out these resources from fat activist Ragen Chastain about being weighed at the doctors office.]
RELATED: 6 Things You Can Do for Your Health Instead of Trying to Lose Weight
Frequent Weighing is Unnecessary
You may have heard that you need to weigh yourself weekly or even daily in order to keep your health in check. This is horrible advice that unfortunately is common in the diet world. It keeps us absolutely obsessed with our weight and doesn’t necessarily translate to healthy behaviors!
In fact, what I see in clinical practice is that weighing oneself is more strongly linked with harmful dieting behaviors than with sustainable healthy lifestyle behaviors.
What’s more, fluctuations in weight are totally normal. Weight can vary depending on time of day, if you’ve emptied your bladder or bowels, where you are in your menstrual cycle, and so much more. And of course, our bodies are not meant to stay the exact same size, shape and weight over our entire adult life. Bodies change and that’s not necessarily a bad thing or indicative of a health issue.
You don’t have to check in on your weight, even periodically. You can toss your scale. It might be scary to imagine what that would be like, but I promise that you can do it. And it doesn’t mean that your health is going to suffer! Not sure what to do for your health if you don’t focus on weight and dieting? Start here.
Weighing Yourself Can Negatively Impact Mental Health
I’ve heard countless stories from my clients that they have a terrible relationship with the scale and it makes them feel anxious and depressed. I’ve been there too. Can you relate?
This is such an important consideration because most of the time when I hear people saying they need to keep their weight “in check” for their “health” what they really mean is their physical health. And they completely disregard the impact this has on their mental health.
And to set the record straight, you don’t need to keep your weight “in check” for your physical health (see the section on health above!). In fact, focusing so much on weight can totally backfire and lead to worse health outcomes.
When you consider all aspects of your health and well-being, how does tracking your weight impact you?
Weighing Yourself Can Lead to Harmful Behaviors
At its worst, weighing yourself can trigger eating disorder and self-harm behaviors. If you get urges to restrict, binge, purge or self-harm before/during/after weighing yourself, it’s time to reach out for support.
Share this with your healthcare providers. You can also call, chat or text the National Eating Disorders Association hotline. There are state-specific self-harm hotlines you can find with a quick internet search as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Weighing Yourself Interferes with Body Trust
Do you use your weight as an indication of what or how much you “should” or “shouldn’t” eat? When we do this, we’re shutting out our body’s innate wisdom. If that sounds a little woo to you, stick with me.
Believe it or not, we all have internal cues that help us feed ourselves. Think about babies — they know when they’re hungry and they know when they’re full. And they usually aren’t shy about it! This is because we are born with this inner wisdom, this intuition, that helps us nourish ourselves.
However, as we grow up, external factors such as our culture, our healthcare system, and rules that our well-meaning parents put on us have a dampening effect on that intuition. And we begin to lose connection with and trust in that intuition. We start to believe that we have to control what we eat. We think we need to use willpower.
What if we didn’t need control or willpower to help us nourish ourselves?
What if I told you that you can reconnect with that inner wisdom and relearn how to eat intuitively without having to rely on a scale or other external factors to dictate your food intake?
Intuitive eating is an evidence-based framework developed by two registered dietitians in 1995 with more than 150 published research studies. It involves 10 principles to help you learn to trust your body with food again — without weighing yourself! If this sounds interesting to you, I highly recommend checking it out.
The Scale Is a Distraction
What are you taking your energy and attention away from when you’re caught up in worrying about your weight and the scale? Probably some important stuff.
Consider how much mental space your preoccupation with size, weight and appearance takes up. Is it more than you want? If so, consider what you can start doing to free up some of that space for things that align with your values.
What would you do if you weren’t so concerned about your weight?
Ditching the Scale is Liberating
Have you ever put off doing something until you reached a certain weight?
A super powerful way to break up with the scale is to start doing those things now. Don’t let your weight hold you back*. Show yourself that you no longer let thin ideals hold you back from living your life.
Wear the bathing suit. Participate in the fitness class. Go on the vacation. Sign up for the dating app.
[*Note: Due to weight stigma, it may be difficult or uncomfortable for larger folks to do certain things such as find their size in a clothing store, fly on airplanes, go to the theater, ride on roller coasters, etc. This is a systemic issue, not a body issue. Consider ways you can do as much as you want as comfortably as you can given the circumstances. AllGo has great resources for fat folks! You might also consider joining a support group for fat folks, such as this one.]
What To Do Instead of Stepping on the Scale
Have the urge to weigh yourself? Consider why you feel compelled to know your weight at this moment. What would that information do for you? Get curious about what is going on for you. Try this:
- Close your eyes
- Take 3 deep inhales and exhales, directing your breath sideways into your ribcage and down into your belly
- Ask yourself, “How am I right now?”
- Then ask, “What do I need right now?”
You can then offer yourself from self-compassion by acknowledging how you feel and responding to your needs through self-care. You might also benefit from some sort of distraction to help get you out of that weight-focused mindset.
When we’re able to do a quick check-in like this, we disrupt that jump from urge to behavior and can take a moment to ground. Often when we want to know our weight, what we’re really looking for is validation of some sort. Of worth, of beauty/attractiveness/desirability, of health, of achievement. The scale can’t actually bring you those things.
How we feel about our weight goes much deeper than surface-level. Body image is complex. Which is why I recommend that my nutrition counseling clients also work with a psychotherapist who has experience with food and body issues.
If you are struggling with body image, stepping on the scale, or any level of disordered eating, it’s time to get some support! If you’re even questioning if your struggles are “enough” to ask for help, the answer is yes. Click here to learn about our weight-inclusive nutrition counseling offerings.
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