RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

“I weighed myself, but I wish I hadn’t”

How to know if weighing yourself is doing more harm than good

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

July 24th 2019

Do you ever dread weighing yourself? 

Do you ever lay awake in the morning worrying about what that number will be?

Maybe you try to remember all the things you ate yesterday, wondering whether they were the right choices.

Will today be a good day? Or will it be a bad day? 

When you step on those scales I’m guessing one of three things happens. 

Image by Gesina Kunkel 

1. The number goes up

Your heart sinks. Feelings of shame and disappointment take over your body. Your biggest fear came true… you gained weight. Logically you know it is impossible to gain 2 pounds of fat overnight, but you have no time for logic. Your brain is too busy with negative thoughts about yourself or scrambling to figure out how to ‘fix’ it. You either plan to restrict what you eat for the next few days, or you let the negative thoughts swallow you whole. ‘Why did you eat that extra slice of bread!!’ you think. Inevitably, both of these thought processes end in you overeating at some point. You wish you hadn’t weighed yourself at all.

2. The number stays the same

Phew, it didn’t change!  After a moment of relief to see it hadn’t gone up, you get a pang of disappointment. It still wasn’t the number you wanted to see. You would think about all of the things that you ‘shouldn’t have’ eaten and would promise yourself to eat ‘better’ today. Either that or you feel angry and frustrated your efforts aren’t giving you the results that you wanted. ‘Stuff it’ you think. “Why do I bother eating healthy and exercising if it clearly isn’t working?” You decide to get fast food for lunch today, because what’s the point of even trying. Later that night, you worry about what the scales will tell you tomorrow. 

3. The number goes down

Yes, excitement! You check and triple check the scales just in case you somehow stepped on the scales wrong. For a short while, you feel great! But then you feel nervous. What if it was just water weight and it all comes back tomorrow? Maybe you’re tempted to eat even less today so you lose even MORE weight tomorrow? Or maybe you are tempted to ‘reward’ yourself for your efforts. ‘I deserve this ice-cream’ you think… until later that night, you begin to regret it. Maybe that was a bad idea.  You dread stepping on that scale tomorrow, what if I gained it back?

If any of these three resonated with you, then weighing yourself may be causing you more harm than good.

Many people battle with their scales every day.

I know I did.

I know most of my clients did too. 

This is no surprise considering self-weighing is related to increased concerns about weight, increased depression, decreased body satisfaction and poorer self-esteem in people who are sensitive about their body image. This is especially true for women and teenagers, who are more likely to experience negative emotions from weighing themselves.

If this sounds like you, it’s important to know that you are not alone. One in five people in the UK report feeling shame about their body, and according to a 2016 study, it was estimated that 57% of women had tried to lose weight in the last year alone. It is clear that this a common struggle.

So if self-weighing is making people feel so bad about themselves, why are they still doing it?

Why do people weigh themselves?

It can be hard not to worry about the number on the scale when we live in a society that values thinness. Some people believe that they will be happier or more confident if they are thinner. Others weigh themselves because of concerns regarding their health.

However, not only are the scales not very accurate, but they also tell you nothing about your worth, or your health (see my last article on having Health at Every Size).

Whilst stepping on the scales can be useful for some people and for some medical needs, for others it can cause more harm than good. Being unhappy with the number on the scales can encourage restrictive dieting which, for most, results in rebound weight gain, disordered eating, psychological distress, slowed metabolism, reduced self-esteem, weight cycling (see my previous article on Why Diets Don’t Work). 

If not weighing yourself, then what?

You may be wondering how you are supposed to manage your weight without knowing what it is. But what if I told you that focusing on weight is actually distracting you from your bodies natural weight management system? 

Whilst it is possible to lose weight in the short term, the body has powerful physiological mechanisms to bring your weight back to where it wants to be. In short, when you lose weight your body responds by slowing down your metabolism, making you hungrier, and think about food more often to bring your weight back to its happy and healthy place – its set point. 

These powerful physiological mechanisms are so strong that they can actually cause our body to ‘overshoot’ its needs. This is why most dieters regain all the weight they lost, and sometimes even more

So what can you do instead?

Intuitive eating uses mindfulness to teach you how to get back in touch with your bodies internal hunger and fullness cues, to work WITH your bodies natural weight management mechanism rather than against it. This is known as the non-diet approach. Evidence shows that this approach can improve lifestyle and eating habits, self-esteem, body image, and mental health. 

Tips to ditch the scales

If you have made the brave decision to ditch the scales, well done! You’ve made your first step to improving your mental and physical health.

Breaking a habit can be hard, but I have written some tips to help you ditch the scales. 

If you would like to begin your journey to making peace with food and your body, you can get started today with my FREE audio guide and actionable workbook (below). 

Remember: You are more than just a number on the scale.