Wellness Wednesday: Four Reasons To Stop Weighing Yourself

Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship with the scale? Learn four reasons why you should stop weighing yourself. Most important reason - you are more than a number. 

Waaaay back in the day before starting my private practice, when I was first hired as a hospital outpatient dietitian, I was assigned to babysit a four week weight loss program while they hired a new dietitian to run it. Since then, I've learned the power of intuitive and mindful eating versus dieting and have shifted my focus to behavior, not weight. But at the time, I viewed the scale as most people do, a mostly accurate marker of progress.

Each class started with a weigh in. The participants lined up and hopped on the scale one by one as I marked their weight in a chart. It made me feel SO awkward, and I knew it was even more uncomfortable for them - even back then I recognized how demoralizing it was. We just accepted it as a necessary part of the weight loss process.

Even though I shudder thinking about it now, in a way, I'm glad I had the experience because it opened my eyes and made me realize how shitty the scale actually is.

During weigh ins, the scale frequently fluctuated without explanation. And this was a pretty fancy schmancy $1,000 scale. Time after time, someone would hop on, excited after making big changes to their eating and exercise habits the week before, only to see the scale nudge upwards from last week, sometimes by a pretty significant amount. I would explain water weight, but you could see they were completely dejected. Frequently, they would give up, sometimes skipping the next meeting, falling back into old eating habits or engaging in what I call "eff it eating."

Even though I spent class talking about small, sustainable changes and losing weight slowly but steadily, the scale became a bit of a race. People were disappointed to lose only half a pound or a pound. Or, initial excitement over weight loss quickly faded when someone else in class lost more.

I saw how short term "success" was inversely correlated with sustained weight loss. One guy lost something like 30 pounds in the four week program. Even though rationally I knew that this was WAY too fast, I have to admit I felt really excited for him...and for myself. I had helped this man lose 30 lbs! I was basically Bob Harper. When I turned in that month's weights, both my boss and our director gave me special praise. Rachael, Super Dietitian.

Nope. A few months later I saw him for an individual session. He had regained most of the weight and was taking in less calories than I ate on a normal day.

How often do you weigh yourself?

If you've never dieted and managed to grow up without internalizing society's pressure to be thin, then by all means, feel free to check your weight on occasion. If you're one of the 5% of people who has lose weight through dieting and kept it off more than five years, then studies show weighing yourself regularly will help you maintain. But for everyone else, I urge you to step off the scale, consider your relationship with it....then smash it to pieces!

Four Reasons to Stop Weighing Yourself

  1. The scale is a trigger. Consciously or not, the number on the scale has a profound impact on how you eat. Was the number "good?" In that case, you might treat yourself to some ice cream, because hey, you lost weight and you deserve it! Or maybe you wonder since you lost X lbs this week, maybe you could lose X + 1 lbs next week, so you restrict yourself further (which, of course, will inevitably lead to overeating, binging and/or emotional eating). Do you remember the last time you weighed yourself and got a "bad" number? How did you feel the rest of the day? How many times have you been making positive changes, feeling really good physically, only to step on the scale and get a "bad" number? All of a sudden your day (or week) is ruined. Those positive changes that would have eventually led you to health and your natural weight inevitably go to the wayside because they weren't "working." "Bad" weights also lead to what I call "eff it eating," the eating that occurs when you say "eff it," give up, and eat something you were previously restricting, usually in much larger quantities than you need.

  2. The scale is not your doctor. Does weight affect health? Sure. But it's a lot less important than you might think. There are many other factors that play a much greater role in health - stress, fitness, eating habits (regardless of weight), socioeconomics, etc. It's a mixture of behaviors, genetics and your environment that determines health, not the weight on the scale. There are many thin people who are very unhealthy. Conversely, there are many fat people who are perfectly healthy. If your goal is health, then get healthy, don't lose weight! In your quest for health, as a side effect your weight will settle at it's natural point anyway.

  3. It's not very accurate. There are so many variables that affect the number on the scale. Hydration is a major one. Did you know 2 cups of water weighs one pound? Even if you weigh yourself first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom, your hydration status will still vary based on time of the month, sodium intake, weather, previous days activity, sleep and so on. Are you hooked on the idea of losing weight quickly? Most of it is water weight, especially if you're losing weight by reducing carbohydrates. Low carb (and low calorie) diets force your body to turn to protein for energy. Seventy percent of muscle is made of water, so a pretty significant amount is lost when it's broken down. Since muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat, this rapid weight loss can significantly slow down metabolism over time. Two other surprising factors that affect weight - poop (when did you last go to the bathroom?) and gravity, which can vary slightly based on where the scale is located, time of year and time of day.

  4. It's a distraction from internal cues. The goal of intuitive eating is to listen to your internal cues and let that guide your eating decisions rather than relying on the outside rules and regulations of dieting. Experience and research shows that the rules involved with dieting generally results in rebellion. Relying on internal cues with mindful and intuitive eating is your best bet for reaching your happy weight (not to mention your best bet for achieving health, happiness and freedom from food). But how can you get in touch with your body's cues if you're constantly weighing yourself? Small, often arbitrary variations in weight, will make you to second guess your reactions to your body's cues. How many times did you deprive yourself after noticing your weight was high? Would you still eat your mid afternoon snack if you had a "bad" weight that morning? How would you reward yourself for a "good" weight loss? With food, right? By weighing yourself, your eating will simply become a reaction to a number on the scale, not a reaction to your body's actual needs.

Smash the scale

Ditching the scale is really scary, especially if you've relied on it for a long time. It feels like getting out of a relationship that isn't serving you. Even though you know it's a bad relationship, there's still that fear about the future. What if you gain weight or get out of control without the scale to keep you in check? An understandable fear, but in my experience, the scale is much more likely to CAUSE your eating to get out of control than keep your eating in control.

Remember, the scale does not measure your self worth, your health, your relationships, your achievements, or really anything other than your relationship with gravity at a single point in time.

You are SO much more than a number.

How does the scale impact your eating behaviors? What would happen if you ditched the scale?