There are so many tools that you can use to assess your own health. Is the scale one that I recommend using often…or at all? As a registered dietitian, do I recommend a weekly weigh-in?
A scale is a simple tool that can evoke some pretty complicated emotions.
What’s your relationship to the scale? Do you keep it front and center as a reminder to stick to your current diet?
Or is your scale hidden under your bed… too afraid to look?
Or is your scale long gone, in the trash?
Many of my clients find using the scale to be a super stressful event. Even thinking about the scale, picturing what the number might be between your toes, and how it will feel to see that number brings up anxiety and fear. Maybe even shame and defeat.
Can you relate?
Maybe they remember traumatic public weigh-ins at Weight Watchers with their Mom. Or too many Mondays vowing “never to eat like that again”…only to find themselves in the exact same spot the very next weekend, shame and guilt heavy on their minds.
And for those of you who battle with binge or emotional eating, you may feel a lot of fear about what’s happening to your weight after every binge…wondering why can’t you control yourself around food as everyone else seems to?
And so, because of these heightened emotions, you stay off the scale. Each time you try to have a weigh-in, it totally ruins your day.
Or you see a number you love and it makes your day. You feel elated. Until…
…you check it later, see a totally different number, freak out and start getting obsessed with getting healthy – aka restricting – all over again.
And it turns out, these “healthy habits” of restrictive dieting aren’t actually healthy for your body, your metabolism, or mental health…dangit! (Check this post out for the scientific deets: real talk: can you be obese and healthy?)
I had a front-row seat to these struggles as a kid. My Mom struggled with her relationship with the scale, too. Eventually, she questioned if the scale was a constructive part of her daily routine…but also couldn’t let it go.
Growing up, I saw this conflict and recognized that it caused a lot of turmoil for her. And honestly, she did too. On the one hand, she wanted to stop this feeling of guilt, shame, and never “doing enough” when it comes to her weight and health — on the other hand, can you really just stop weighing and trust yourself with food — with nothing to keep you in line?
The truth is that how you choose to interact with your scale is up to you. This post will help you to figure out how to make peace with the scale – once and for all – and find a way of eating that feels effortless, rather than held together by the punishing judgment of a scale.
And if you’re new here: Hi! I’m Melissa, a Registered Dietitian who empowers women in larger bodies to become the first in their family to stop dieting and body image concerns from passing through the generations. If that sounds pretty cool to you, check out my No More Guilt Community.
Now: let’s talk about weight…what is it? We’re delving into the fine print!
what is “weight”?
Let’s dive into the weeds a bit with a controversial statement that goes both against popular belief and even how I was trained as a registered dietitian: your weight alone is a poor measure of your health and wellness.
Your weight is not your health.
Your weight is not a measure of your worth.
Weight measures the pull gravity has on you at any given time. It’s literally a number. That’s it. But: we tend to give that number so. much. power.
Contrary to popular belief – it doesn’t just measure your body fat.
What does it actually measure? It measures your:
- Fat tissue
- And yes… poop
And there are so many other ways that we can measure your body without having it be a measure of your worth. Would you ever take your temperature, get frustrated with the results, and consider yourself to be a failure? Probably not.
What about your blood pressure? Or your blood sugar?
Chica: they’re just numbers.
Clinical data are best interpreted as trends over time, and, in consideration of ranges believed to be optimal. But unlike guidelines like blood sugar (which are the same regardless of your age, sex, or body size), optimal weight is different for everyone.
So, now what?
I believe that there is nothing inherently wrong with knowing your weight, it’s just a number. The problem happens when that number becomes too important to you. As we have chatted about, it’s not actually an indicator of health or worth.
(However, I don’t want to diminish the fact that people in larger bodies have a much tougher experience than I do. As someone with thin privilege, I tend to be given the benefit of the doubt about my health – and even worth – which is not the experience of someone in a larger body as often. Here are a few examples of thin privilege hidden in plain sight.)
…does a scale help with weight loss?
Sort of. Let me explain.
There is some evidence (from scientific studies) that regular self-weighing does correlate with weight loss in the short term. However, this is not true for everyone. Even more confusing is that weight loss accomplished is not usually sustainable long-term.
When we look at published long-term studies, we find risks with regular weighing: there is evidence that self-weighing can negatively impact factors like disordered eating, relationship to movement, and body image – yikes (1).
Is there anything else to consider about weight?
Yes. If something is going on with your body but you’re not quite sure what, being able to measure a rapid weight loss or weight gain might be helpful for figuring out what the issue is.
(You and your doctor would want to investigate that together.)
So, what expectations should you have about your ability to change your weight in a way that lasts?
Studies show both patients and doctors often have WILDLY unrealistic expectations when it comes to weight loss (2).
The truth is, it is normal for weight to go up and down, and our bodies fight back against weight loss. For many, weight regain is inevitable. This includes life circumstances and biology combined.
If you do choose to look at the scale, we need to consider the research.
From the (very) few “successful” people who do lose weight in weight loss studies, we have learned that it is unrealistic to lose more than 0.5-1 lb/per week on average and to not expect your body to lose more than 5-10% of your starting weight.
BTW: Did you know that it is completely ok to tell your doctor that you don’t want to check your weight? It is such an ingrained part of going to the doctor, that it surprised many of my clients to hear this: you don’t actually have to do it. You’re the boss of your body. In my doctor’s visit guide, I walk you through exactly what to say so that you’re prepared to advocate for a visit that feels good and supportive of your true health goals.
Instead of picking an arbitrary number on the scale to aim for, I teach my clients how to connect with the weight that actually works well for them: this is called the set point.
what’s a set point?
One thing I am sure to teach my clients about is something called your set point. Have you heard of that before? Basically, your set point is the weight at which your body, mental health, and energy levels all feel good and the weight is easy to maintain. Here’s my post with the full scoop: how do you reach your set point weight?
All of us may have a 10-20 lb range where our body is happy and does not resist us with obsessions with food, uncontrollable hunger, and binges. And BTW: it’s totally normal if you find yourself at higher or lower ends of your individual set point range in different seasons of your life.
These fluctuations are totally normal.
My clients often consider getting comfortable clothing, or, different sizes for different times of the year when their weight may be known to fluctuate. Because they are empowered with the knowledge that “extra effort” at weight loss might backfire with regain or food obsession, they don’t really focus on the scale. Instead, they strategically work within their setpoint weight.
By focusing on intuitive eating – which looks at how food and movement make them feel – instead of obsessing over how food impacts the number on the scale, they finally feel calm and free.
Even better? They feel motivated and excited by their nutrition and activity routines (really!), instead of powering through this workout, or that boring healthy-but-totally-boring dinner slog. This puts them more in the driver’s seat for their health long-term, and they learn to trust their body to settle at the right weight for them when they do.
I also work with clients to consider eating and movement for truer measures of health: cholesterol labs, blood sugar labs, and fitness markers like resting heart rate. All in all – when you have the right expectations about weight, you work with the body, not against it, and this feels fan-freakin-tastic compared to the guilt and shame you’ve felt around dieting.
And if your doctor is pushing for weight checks or weight loss, don’t forget to grab your copy of the doctor’s visit guide to help your doctor to understand your needs and goals. You’ve got this!
so…should you weigh in daily or weekly?
If you’ve done any kind of weight loss program – Weight Watchers, Noom, or even a counseling program through your doctor’s office, you were probably told to weigh yourself. Often. The theory is, that the more often you weigh yourself, the more feedback you get, and the more likely you are to feel motivated to change any habits blocking the weight loss you hope for.
But here’s where that advice falls short: – sometimes weight loss stalling out has to do with your body resisting further loss past 5-10%. If you struggle with binges, your weight can temporarily spike as it’s normal to retain water after eating large volumes of carbohydrate-rich food. And for all of us, our weight normally fluctuates throughout the day, each and every day.
For many, weighing daily causes feelings like fear and shame.
The longer you’ve self-weighed and experienced these emotions, the more likely the scale can retraumatize you. These feelings then go on to create a rocky relationship with food, including setting you up for binge-restrict cycles.
When I worked as a weight loss research dietitian, I spent a lot of my time counseling people about their emotions related to the scale. On the one hand, it’s easy to say “just be neutral about it!!!!!” — on the other hand – well, let me know when you figure that out. It’s hard to be neutral about your weight when EVERYONE — your doctor, your mother, and everyone else you know – seems to praise weight loss so much.
Many women I work with want to be the first in their family to break this connection between weight and worth – and they’re starting with themselves. For that reason, they choose to learn how to manage their health and wellbeing WITHOUT the scale being their motivator. Who wants to collaborate with a frenemy? I sure don’t. The number doesn’t really matter anyway.
key takeaways: are weekly weigh-ins a healthy habit?
Your weight isn’t a measure of your health or your worth.
Many of us – including our doctors – have unrealistic (aka harmful) expectations about our ability to change, lose and maintain weight loss. And while it is possible to develop a more neutral relationship with the scale, I am not sure it is even worth it for most of us when weight doesn’t really tell us what is going on with our health anyway.
What’s better? Moving your motivation away from the scale can support you in creating more sustainable habits, especially now that we have lifelong evidence that traditional weight loss programs do not work, or, make you feel fear or shame.
Are you ready to practice uncoupling your health and worth from the scale? You can. Get your hands on this 3-step guide to eating without guilt. This repeatable process has helped 100s of my clients. The guide walks you through a vision-setting exercise and helps you to develop and understand your own hunger and fullness cues. The guide then coaches you through flexible goal setting that will motivate you to eat and move in ways that feel positive and sustainable – instead of the crash and burn experience you’ve been having from the scale. Get your copy – totally free – right here.