“Scales are for fish.” ~ unknown author ~
When it comes to intuitive eating, my goal as a nutrition therapist is to get you to become your own nutrition expert. I don’t tell you what you need to eat; I let you decide that. I encourage you to break your old ‘diet rules’ so that you can let your body be the guide on what it wants to eat to feel good. There really are no rules when it comes to intuitive eating, except maybe one.
Stop weighing yourself.
This is met with a lot of resistance because the scale is an addictive tool. It’s been used for years (for some) as a dieting tool and it might even feel like a safety net which gives you a sense of control over your weight.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. What has all the focus on your weight and/or weight loss led you to at this point in your life?
2. What effect has it had on your body?
3. What effect has it had on your mind?
After 15 years working as an eating disorder dietitian, these are the common responses I get when I ask my clients these questions:
- If it’s up (the number on the scale), I feel awful and depressed and this often leads me to want to eat more. If it’s down, I feel momentarily pleased but then anxious about keeping it down and it leads to behaviors.
- The scale dictates my moods for the day. It really impacts my self-esteem- in a negative way.
- It makes me more critical of my body and myself.
- It increases my obsession with food; I think about food all of the time and how it might impact the scale.
- It’s only led me to the highest weight I’ve ever been, which is probably more than I would naturally settle at.
- Weighing myself totally undermines my ability to trust my body; it makes me second-guess my food choices and I can’t eat intuitively at all.
If you are in the habit of weighing yourself, daily or weekly, thinking about letting go of the scale is indeed quite scary.
Think about how the scale helps you. It generally is used as a safety net, that is, it helps to reassure you that you’re on track. It’s a way of gauging ‘progress’ and can serve to warn you if you are doing your diet ‘right’ or doing it ‘wrong.’ Some people even use it to test out, “Is this intuitive eating thing really working?’ (side note: intuitive eating doesn’t consider weight a metric of progress).
The idea of letting go of weighing oneself is scary and can feel like you’re giving up control.
But what I have found and experienced myself, is that….
The more often you weigh, the more you’ll weigh.
Or, another fun way to look at this is: what you appreciate, appreciates!
There are many negative side effects to weighing yourself that go beyond an increase in weight as well.
Here are 4 reasons why you should stop weighing yourself, today.
1. Weight is more than weight on the scale.
There are many factors beyond your control when it comes to your weight on the scale. Maybe you’ve heard this before: muscle weighs more than fat! If you are doing any kind of strength training, lifting weights, etc, you will build muscle and this will likely make the number on the scale go up or no change at all. Exercising causes small micro-tears in our muscles and as our body works to heal these, it causes water retention around the inflamed muscle. Furthermore, our weights don’t tell us anything about the percent of muscle and percent of fat tissue we have on the body.
Other factors such as hydration and fluid balance cause daily fluctuations that can be as much as 5 to 8 pounds from day to day (sometimes up to 10 with certain medications) Many factors go into that number on the scale, not just what we’ve eaten.
If you drink a liter of water, your weight will show up on the scale as about a 2 pound increase. Certain foods we eat also cause our bodies to hang onto more water weight, while others can have a diuretic effect. If you eat a salty Chinese food meal, expect your weight to be up as your body is retaining fluid weight.
Hormones also affect weights as well. Every month, women will have significant fluid shifts. When estrogen levels rise (a few days before your menstrual cycle), your body will retain more water. During menopause, estrogen levels fluctuate irregularly and can cause chronic bloating.
And last but certainly not least, how often we eliminate aka poop also affects the number on the scale. There’s no way to know how much waste is in your body when you step on the scale.
2. The scale is a triggering AF crying machine.
When you step on the scale, the number whether it is up or down is never just a number. It’s not a neutral experience at all. In fact, whether the number is up or down, it causes an emotional reaction that sets the tone for the rest of your day. The scale has that much power over you! If the number is down, you may feel great for a hot minute, but it doesn’t last long as you now feel anxious about how to keep that number down. Or you might even relax a bit and celebrate by eating ‘forbidden’ foods. This leads you to obsess and worry more about what you can and cannot eat. If the number is up, this triggers feelings of shame and anxiety, likely ruining your day. This affects everything else in your life, from what clothes you wear to whether or not you say yes to social engagements.
The scale makes people feel small and shrinks their personal power. It also is directly connected to overeating and binge eating. The thinking goes like this: “Darn it, my weight is up, F@ it, what’s the point of all this anyway, I tried so hard and nothing is working so I might as well eat that entire chocolate bar and then some.” Am I right?
3. The scale is NOT an accurate barometer of your health.
Unfortunately, we have been incorrectly led to believe that weight is a good indicator for health status. We have been brainwashed to believe that thin bodies must be healthier and fat bodies must be unhealthy. There are numerous studies that show this is not true and that it’s behaviors that predict your health, not weight. (there are some exceptions to this individually and as outliers on the bell curve or weight distribution).
People of all different body sizes have similar health improvements when they change their behaviors – regardless of whether or not their weight changes. If you want to geek out on additional research, please read the book, Health at every size by Lindo Bacon.
Further studies support that being a ‘weight watcher’ leads to obsessing about food and your body, lower self-esteem, negative body image, repeated weight loss and regain (which is linked to higher morbidity and mortality), eating disorders and more.
Spending so much time watching the number on the scale detracts from other health goals – when you spend so much time focused on the number on the scale, you have less time to change behaviors that could actually improve your health, such as meditation, sleeping more, etc.
4. The scale undermines your ability to of eat intuitively.
The scale is an external tool that is used to evaluate how you’re doing with food and weight. Whenever we put the emphasis outside of our bodies, and ourselves we are creating a major divide in our ability to trust ourselves. Weighing yourself disconnects you from your innate self-regulatory wisdom. Continuing to give away your power to the scale causes you to lose touch from your internal signals of hunger, fullness and satisfaction. There is no way you can eat intuitively if you are relying on an external cue like the scale. When you finally decide to let go of the scale as an external tool of judgment, this causes a shift back into your body. You now can learn to deepen into your own body as the internal scale where interceptive awareness skills will increase and gather momentum. This will allow for greater states of body trust to develop.
It’s time to smash your scale with a sledgehammer, which you blast the song Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, or better yet, Rage against the machine!
If the thought of not weighing yourself or smashing your scale, or donating is too difficult, start by reducing the number of times you weigh each week. If you usually weigh every day, decrease to three days a week for a while. Then, drop it down to two and so on. You could also try taking a break from weighing yourself for one month and see what happens.
If it feels scary to do this, that’s because it is. You are giving up CONTROL. Remember, however, that it’s a false sense of control. As we discussed in the first few points above, the more you weigh yourself, the less in control over your eating and your body you actually are.
When you let go of control, you get back your control!
This initial shift from letting go of control (outside of yourself) is scary but you will be gaining the control back as you shift your attention from outside to inside of yourself. By getting rid of the scale and not weighing, you’re restoring trust back to your body (rather than an external tool) to guide you and tell you what it needs. It will be scary at first, but it’s so worth it. The kind of freedom and peace that is found from not weighing is impossible to quantify.
One of my clients recently shared with me:
“I smashed my scale in the backyard and it felt so empowering. I felt like all that power I was giving away came right back to me. And now, since I can’t rely on the numbers to tell how I’m doing, I have to rely on my hunger/fullness numbers instead, and this feels so much more aligned with my recovery.”
“I can’t believe how freeing it is to not weight myself anymore. I had no idea how much of a positive impact this would have on my moods and how it’s really helped me to feel more calm with my food choices too.”
Instead of focusing on your weight as progress, shift your focus to health behaviors, attitudes and noticing feelings. Intuitive eating measures progress by markers such as cultivating a kinder voice towards yourself, confidence in your ability to listen to your body cues of hunger and fullness (which results in not binging on the entire box of cookies, because permission), to name a few.
Progress can be found in so many ways that have nothing to do with the size and shape of your Earth suit. And please remind yourself that your weight is not an indicator of your worth, your value, or your potential as a human being.
Want to join a community of folx that are smashing their scales? Join Intuitive Eating Warriors on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/673310663100531/
My daughter was on a meal plan after residential treatment and eventually moved to a more intuitive approach to eating. During this process she lost some weight that she needs to gain back to be in the healthy range set back her team. She is doing well increasing calories but we are not seeing much change in her body. We are considering weekly weigh ins so that she can better understand how much food she needs to move her weight. It is something she is having trouble gauging after years with an ED. She is 18 and 5 feet tall so a little weight loss is a big problem. Your thoughts please?
If she is not at an appropriate weight per her MD, she may need to restore and intuitive eating is not appropriate. If she is having a hard time restoring it could mean she is at her set point weight already OR her ED is still lurking and making it difficult for her to restore. In that case, she needs to restore weight to be in her healthy range. I am not a fan of clients weighing themselves (esp. if active in their ED) it’s better to have her team take care and manage the number on the scale- her MD or dietitian. If she is medically stable, I would back off on trying to get her to gain weight and away from the scale. Give it some time. Too much emphasis on the scale and weights can paradoxically backfire. Hope that helps! Karen
Great writing, Karen! This is just what I was searching for to give me reasons and motivation for no longer weighing myself. Thanks so much!