Are you stuck in an unhealthy relationship with the scale? Weighing yourself frequently can contributes to an unhealthy relationship with food and your body, create stress, and frankly, isn’t even that accurate. Learn why you should get rid of your scale and tips for how to stop obsessively weighing yourself. Remember, you are so much more than a number!
If you’re like many of the new clients I work with, hopping on the scale is a regular part of your routine. And despite it being an inanimate object, the scale may be something you have a pretty intense relationship with.
Is the scale ruling your life? Does the number the scale reads dictate how your day will go, or how you will feed or move your body? Whether you interpret the number as “good” or “bad,” in the long run, weighing yourself will likely have a negative influence on self care behaviors, not to mention contribute to feelings of low self worth.
Why do you weigh yourself?
What is it that you’re looking to get when you step on the scale? Weighing yourself is a kind of body checking, a way to cope with anxiety stemming from a preoccupation body weight or size, and the behaviors you utilize to attempt to control it. If you’re feeling guilty about eating or exercise, you might look to the scale to check and see how “bad” you were, and how much you need to compensate. Or, if you’re feeling like you’ve been “good,” you might turn to the scale hoping for validation. Often there’s a fear that weighing yourself is the thing keeping eating and exercise “in check,” and without it you would just go out of control.
Why You Should Stop Weighing Yourself
As a non-diet, Health at Every Size aligned dietitian, I almost never weigh my clients. The only occasion I break out the scale is when I am working with a client with an active eating disorder who needs to weight restore.
But that wasn’t always the case. The first 5-6 years of my professional career, I practiced nutrition in a weight-centric way, and viewed weight loss as a sign of success. It was actually my experience running a 6-week weight loss program (err, 6-week weight suppression program) that first started to chip away at the idea that the scale was a helpful tool, and that weight loss should be a goal of healthy eating. I saw patients give up the healthy changes they made when the scale didn’t budget. Often, the scale would inexplicably fluctuate from week to week, regardless of behaviors, undermining the idea that weight is a simple calories in vs out formula. And most of my “success” stories I saw back in the clinic a year later after they had gained back the weight, and often more. Most of all, I saw how weighing people was dehumanizing, stressful, and reduced people’s value to a number.
Here’s more reasons why you should stop weighing yourself:
The scale isn’t very accurate.
There are a lot of variables that affect the number on the scale that are outside of our control. 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 (higher estrogen levels leading up to a period cause fluid retention), dietary sodium intake, the temperature/sweat, and the previous days activity. There’s also poop! Yup, even if you’re going regularly, there’s still some amount of poop in you, and that will fluctuate from day to day. Even gravity and the time of the day can have an effect on the scale.
The scale can trigger disordered eating behaviors.
Consciously or not, the number on the scale can have a profound impact on how you eat. That’s because it’s near impossible to look at the number on the scale neutrally - it’s either “good” or “bad,” and the number can set the tone for the day. A “bad” number causes shame, anxiety, and often binging/”eff it” eating or restriction (which of course can also lead to binging or eating in a way that feels out of control). Even a “good” number can have a negative effect, by reinforcing unhealthy restriction or eating foods just because you feel like you’ve earned it.
Weight is not health.
The scale is not your doctor, and your weight cannot accurately diagnose your health status. Although we’ve been taught that higher weights are unhealthy, correlation is not causation, and there are many factors that play a much greater role in health - stress, fitness, eating habits (regardless of weight), socioeconomics, access to healthcare, etc. I love this chart that shows all the determinants of health - you can really see how nuanced health is! It's a mixture of behaviors, genetics and your environment that determines health status, not the number on the scale. There are many thin people who are unhealthy, and many larger-bodied people who are perfectly healthy, and there’s no way to know by simply looking at someone. If your goal for weighing yourself is health, then focus on behaviors, not the number on the scale. Even if you are in a larger body and have health concerns, you deserve to focus on behaviors that promote health, not weight loss.
It’s a barrier to intuitive eating.
The scale is an external cue, and barrier to getting back in touch with internal cues, like hunger/fullness, how food makes you feel, and taste preferences (i.e. intuitive eating). Focussing on the day-to-day changes in the number on the scale will cause you to second guess your internal awareness, which is your most accurate cue for what your body actually needs.
How to Stop Obsessively Weighing Yourself
Breaking up with the scale can feel really scary, kinda like getting out of a bad relationship that you know doesn’t serve you, but the future feels uncertain. In my experience helping clients ditch the scale, the biggest fear is that they’ll get out of control with food. Remember, although the scale might give you a sense of security, the scale is much more likely to contribute to your feeling out of control with food than to help you feel confident in feeding yourself.
Here’s some ideas for how to stop obsessively weighing yourself:
Smash the scale.
Just get rid of it! And why not do it in dramatic fashion with a smash the scale ceremony! Take it out back, Office Space-style, and smash that thing to smithereens. I’ve even had clients write a break up letter to their scale to read to it first. Might feel a little silly, but it’s hella cathartic.
Hide the scale.
If giving up the scale completely feels overwhelming, see if you can place it somewhere it’s out of sight. By placing it out of your field of vision, hopefully you’ll reduce the trigger of seeing it each morning on the bathroom floor.
Use your scale as a prompt to journal. Place a journal on top of your scale as a reminder to write it out when you’re feeling the need to weigh yourself. Before hopping on the scale, journal about what you’re looking for in getting on the scale, or make a pro-con list of weighing yourself. This can help prevent you from impulsively weighing, and help you get more insight into triggers for negative body thoughts.
Separating your self worth from the scale is tough work. If you have access to it, I encourage you to enlist the support of a therapist and/or dietitian who are Health at Every Size-aligned. I work with clients virtually throughout the US and in my Columbia, SC office, or I’d be happy to recommend you to someone in your area. There’s also lots of free support online in facebook groups dedicated to intuitive eating and/or HAES. The Body Image Workbook also has many helpful resources.
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.
This post was originally published July 2016 and has been updated to give you the best content possible