A conversation I’ve been having with clients a lot lately (and frankly, have quite a bit) is about the scale. It’s actually become one of the first questions I ask people during their initial assessments - “do you own a scale? What do you do with that information?” Because I find that oftentimes, the scale plays a pretty significant role in a person’s eating disorder or as a trigger for disordered behaviors. And it turns out (as a surprise to probably no one), I am not a huge advocate of having a scale in the house or regularly using a scale in any way. Before we get into it, I want to acknowledge that it is possible to view weight as neutral and if you’re a person who can step on the scale, not judge the outcome, and move on with your day, that’s great (although I might ask what value this brings to your life). But in my experience, the scale brings up a lot for people and doesn’t provide them with much in return. Which is why I decided to craft this piece for all those people who might be feeling like they’re in an unhealthy relationship with their scale. Consider this your permission slip to throw it out. Toss it. Smash it with a hammer. Need more convincing? Here’s a few reason your scale is doing you no good.
1. It isn’t helpful information
Weight is actually not that important - in life generally and in recovery more specifically. And monitoring the day to day fluctuations or trends over time probably isn’t going to provide you valuable information. First, because bodies change every day. Every single days these bodies of ours are changing and weight reflects these normal fluctuations whether it’s changes in hydration status, digestion, time of day, etc. So panicking over a few pounds when it could be just a shift in hydration or the last time you used the bathroom is a waste of your valuable energy. I never want the scale to determine whether you have a good day or not.
But that leads us to the bigger picture - what about weight trends over time? Aren’t those important to monitor?
Ehhhh…not necessarily. There are so many other more valuable indicators of health than weight. Your weight, without knowing anything else about your history or current behaviors, actually tells me very little about your health. Things like blood work, vitals, behaviors with food, and activity level (among other things) are all much more valuable when it comes to measuring health than weight is. But beyond that, my goal for the people I work with (and you if you’re reading this!) is to shift from using external indicators of health to internal indicators. It’s a profoundly powerful shift to go from “what do I weigh?” and “what size pants do I fit into?” to “how do I feel in my body?” and “am I taking care of myself in ways that feel good mentally and physically?”.
Now before people start piling into my inbox to complain, I’m certainly not saying we should disregard external indicators. I want you to get your blood work every year as indicated, check on your blood pressure, yada yada yada, and if those things are concerning, I’m happy to work with you to find health-promoting behaviors to improve them. And of course, there are situations in which it makes sense for your weight to be monitored (ex. some cases in eating disorder recovery, in pediatric populations, or perhaps if someone is ill) - but that can be the job of your treatment team or provider. And especially in eating disorder recovery, if you don’t have a treatment team it can be the job of your partner or friend or parent or anyone who has access to a scale that can instruct you to stand on it backwards and keep track of the number so that you don’t have to. The onus doesn’t have to be (and likely should not be) on you.
My goal here is certainly not to disregard the importance of health indicators - it’s to question why we value weight as the most important piece of health when research doesn’t show that to be true. And beyond that, I want everyone to realize that the way we feel, think, and behave around food is an indicator of health and nutrition status and that’s worth paying attention to more than a number on the scale.
2. It doesn’t give you many options
Imagine you’ve given up dieting and have set on your path of intuitive eating. You’re doing great, following hunger and fullness cues, and letting go of the food police. You’re feeling massively relieved not to be playing by diet culture’s rules. Or maybe you’re in recovery from an eating disorder and feeling good - consistently following your meal plan, not engaging in behaviors, feeling generally okay in your relationship with your body. Then you step on the scale….and it’s not what you expected. Maybe it’s higher than you want it to be. What do you do?
This is my concern when clients weigh themselves - a lot of times this becomes the ultimate marker of success. So if the number is higher than you want, it can feel like failure even if things are otherwise going really well. And then what are your options? You can continue to honor your body, eat and move in ways that feel good, and continue to work towards body acceptance…or you can go back to dieting and/or eating disorder behaviors and start the cycle of obsession and weight cycling all over again. I know which one sounds healthier (and I bet you do too!) but if you continue to use weight as the only indicator of progress, it’s right back to disordered eating for you. Nope, no thank you.
3. It’s probably not sparking joy
How many times do you step off the scale and feel great about yourself? How many times do you step off the scale and launch into high kicks because you feel so fantastic and alive? My guess based on my own experience and the experience of my clients is not very often.
My guess is rather than thinking “wow I sure do love myself”, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “I’m disgusting/gross/worthless/etc” and/or “it’s not enough”. Because that’s the lie that diet culture (and maybe your eating disorder) sells you - that you need to be smaller. That the best amount of weight you can lose is the most amount of weight. Lindy West summed it best in this article in Self last year, “…what bullshit it is that our value increases the smaller we get, as though we would be priceless if we didn’t exist at all”. I think about this quote all the time - it’s a dirty, dirty game diet culture plays that makes you think you somehow owe it to the world to be smaller. You do not have to buy into it. Your weight is not your worth. And if the scale is making you feel bad in any way, you can (and, in my opinion, should) throw it out.
Thank you, next.
Cover photo by i yunmai