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Picture this: you ditch the scale in the trash and never have to worry about those numbers ever again. Sounds like something out of a dream, right? Especially when it’s so frustrating to live in a society that attaches numbers to your worth, particularly when those numbers come in the form of a scale.
Stepping on scale is one of the main sources of distress in women. In fact, this paper from the Journal of Nutrition and Behavior Education (1) found that self-weighing was related to low self-esteem in female participants. It was also significantly related to decreases in body satisfaction and increases in weight concern and depression.
But that doesn’t have to be you. In this post, I’m going to share why you should ditch the scale, why the numbers on the scale don’t really matter and what health promoting behaviors you can focus on instead–external body ideals be damned! Keep reading to learn how to slam dunk your bathroom scale into the trash.
Why you should ignore the scale?
You may ask: “Why should I stop weighing myself?” OK, let’s dive right in. First of all, the scale-and what you weigh-doesn’t tell you that much about your health. I mean, what is weight anyways? By definition, it’s the force exerted on a body by gravity.
The number on the scale doesn’t even tell you anything about adipose (fat) or muscle tissue. Especially considering that muscle and bone weigh more than fat anyways. A gain in muscle will be reflected in the scale, but it can’t really tell you that since it doesn’t distinguish between body tissues.
It’s also important to mention that weight fluctuates constantly. Your weight can change daily, anywhere from 5-7 pounds, due to:
- Water retention: Fluid retention can occur due to various factors such as hormonal cycles, hot weather, certain health conditions, and dehydration.
- The weight of food and water consumed: If you eat or drink “x” amounts of ounces, then that weight will be reflected in your own body weight. So if you drink a whole bottle of water, you will see the scale move, but it’s definitely nothing to be worried about.
- Hydration status: As discussed above, drinking water or other liquids will add that weight to your body. Likewise, urinating or losing water through sweat can also remove that amount of weight. Being even mildly dehydrated can make your body retain water, which can look like “weight gain”. Are you starting to see how unreliable these numbers can be?
- Bowel movements: Waste material in your intestines also contributes to your overall weight, and appears as “weight loss” when it’s moved out of the body.
- Hormonal cycles: A menstrual cycle will also cause water retention, meaning more overall “weight gain”.
And none of those changes in your relation to gravity mean anything. Think about it for a moment. Do you see how useless and harmful it is to trust those numbers on the scale? Does it make more sense now to not attach any meaning to them?
Also, remember that diet culture wants to homogenize and regulate our bodies, reducing it to numbers and sizes. But health and well-being are so much more than that, as we’ll see later on.
Diet culture wants to reduce us into numbers and neat little categories, when health and well-being are so much more than that.
Can you trust the weight scale?
The only thing the scale can do is measure your total body weight. That includes everything: fat, muscle, bone, organs, blood, water, gut contents and muscle glycogen.
Besides, each of us have our own genetic make-up that influences our weight, body size, shape and bone structure. One of the best analogies I’ve heard comes from Evelyn Tribole or Elyse Resch, the Intuitive Eating pioneers.
Let’s say you’re a size 7 in shoes. Why would you try to fit into a size 5? The same goes for body weight. We need to start learning and respecting the fact that not everyone is meant to be the same size and weight. And that’s OK!
I can’t even remember the last time I weighed myself. I just don’t do it because it doesn’t mean anything to me. I learned to ditch the scale a long time ago. There are other more important areas of my well-being, such as keeping stress under control and connecting with myself, that I choose to focus on. Later on I’ll discuss some health promoting goals you can focus on instead of weight.
A great way to illustrate why weight and the number on the scale don’t matter is this video from the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH). I absolutely love this video on size diversity because it clearly illustrates why a weight-centric approach to health is based on false assumptions and can do more harm than good. Check it out below and tell me what you think!
Remember that there also can be “healthy” and “unhealthy” behaviors across all weight ranges. For example, you can a have a person in a culturally accepted body size who is ignoring a pressing health concern, and you can have a person in a larger body who is engaging in joyful movement for well-being. Health doesn’t look a specific way.
Stop weighing yourself: do this instead
As you can see, obsessively weighing yourself regularly is counterproductive and pointless. Since your weight can fluctuate significantly due to any of the factors mentioned above, stressing out over that number is unnecessary and harmful.
For example, most people don’t know that a high sodium meal can result in retention of a few pounds of water later on. This is then mistaken for true weight gain. Due to diet culture conditioning, this may lead to an unhelpful and unnecessary spiral of frustration, guilt and self-blame.
So what can you do instead of relying on the scale for your health goals? Well, consider that most health and weight related goals have one thing in common: the desire to feel happy and healthy. But your weight, body shape and size don’t really have anything to to with being able to achieve these goals.
That’s just the way diet culture has conditioned us (pretty effed-up if you ask me). I think it’s time to stop fighting the scale and associating your self-worth with the number displayed on it and giving it the power to influence your emotions. Here are some goals you can focus on instead, that can definitely improve both your health and happiness.
5 things to focus on while you ditch the scale
I’ll keep repeating it: your weight is not a predictor of your health. So instead of obsessing over this, or any other number, here are some health promoting goals you can focus on instead.
- Take time to get to know what you really want: As I’ve already mentioned, diet culture has hammered in the false belief that we need to be certain weight, body size and shape in order to be happy and fulfilled. And that’s an outright lie. Taking time to really connect with yourself can help you gain insight on the things that truly give your life meaning and contribute to your well-being. Activities such as journaling, meditation, and mindful walking can be helpful for self awareness. Check out this article from Psych Central for some great ways to get to know yourself better. “There are so many voices out there telling you who to be, how to act, what to do.” Why not listen to your own for a change?
- Develop more self confidence: This goes hand in hand with the above statement. The more you trust yourself and feel confident in your own skin, the less arbitrary numbers will have any type of hold on you. And the less diet culture and its toxic messages can affect you and your self worth. Start by putting yourself first. This could include scheduling in more time for self care or telling someone “no” when you don’t want to do something. In my opinion, learning to love yourself as you are right now is the most important health related goal you can reach for. Everything else will fall into place.
- Learn to develop a healthy relationship with food: Connecting to yourself also means connecting to your hunger, fullness and eating habits. That’s where intuitive eating comes in handy. Intuitive eating is the opposite of dieting. Did you know we’re actually born intuitive eaters? We are not bombarded with societal messages about body image and food when we’re babies. We’re later conditioned by diet culture to unlearn our natural hunger and satiety cues. Developing a healthy relationship with food and our bodies is at the heart of learning to eat intuitively.
- Focus on Habit-Forming Actions: If there’s a specific health goal you want to accomplish (for example, moving your body more, drinking more water, eating more veggies), you can focus on what daily steps you can take to get there. We become what we repeatedly do. Don’t simply think about the outcome you desire, but rather, ask what you must do repeatedly to get there and reach your goal.
- Practice joyful movement: Regular movement is important for both physical and emotional health. But what good is it if it’s just another unpleasant chore or a complete torture? That’s why joyful movement is a gentler alternative to structured exercise. It emphasizes finding pleasure in the ways we move our bodies. Joyful movement asserts that all types of movement are good and valid. Whether its dancing to your favorite song in your living room to doing a triathlon. “No movement is privileged over another; a walk is seen as morally equal to a hard-core spinning session”. It’s also better to stick to long term than a complicated workout routine.
How do you break up with a scale?
If you really do want to ditch the scale but are finding it hard to let go of it completely (I totally get where you’re coming from), here are some additional tips to help you get through the breakup.
- Focus on another health measurement: Instead of relying on weight as a progress measurement (which as you’ve seen can be completely misleading), you can focus on another metric instead. Are you sleeping better, do you feel more confident, is your blood sugar better managed?
- Hide the scale: If you can’t fully ditch the scale just yet, hide it in an inconvenient location, such in the back of a full closet or in a dark basement. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Create a self love ritual: When negative thoughts about your weight or yourself start creeping in, stop them in their tracks with an act of self love. Have a list on hand on the many ways you’re awesome and read from it, watch your favorite movie, get lost in a good book or just take some deep, relaxing breaths. This helps center you on the fact that the scale only measures your relationship to gravity, nothing more.
- Get in touch with your thoughts: Approach your thoughts about your weight with curiosity and non judgement. Learn about where these messages come from and how they’re not a reflection of who you are.
- Question your motives: How is weighing yourself serving you? What would change if you didn’t weigh yourself? What would it mean for you to ditch the scale? Do you think it could benefit your emotional well-being?
So in a nutshell, I want you to remember that you are NOT a number on the scale (or a size, shape or color for that matter). As we’ve just seen, the numbers on the scale don’t measure anything except what “materials” your whole body is made up of, not who you are. This number also fluctuates wildly, is dependent on many factors outside your control and is not a predictor of good health. In fact, once you ditch the scale, you’ll be taking a great step away from unhealthy diet culture and a leap towards yourself.
So, do you think it’s a good idea to ditch the scale, or do you think it may be still be useful? What do you feel when you think about not weighing yourself anymore? Liberated? Anxious? Curious? What would your life look like if you stopped weighing yourself altogether?
Hi! I’m Melissa, Registered Dietitian and mother of two dragons. When I’m not talking nutrition you can find me rolling around the floor with my kids, sewing, crafting, cooking or missing the 90s (seriously, music just isn’t the same). Read More…