Five Reasons Why You Need To Break Up With Your Scales
For some people, the scales can be a helpful tool for tracking daily weight and adopting healthy behaviours that support weight loss. A recently published study suggests that combining daily weigh-ins with weight loss education may be vital to adopting weight control behaviours that support long-term weight loss goals. The study which included 47 overweight men and women found that over a period of six months, those who weighed themselves daily and received weight loss education lost three kilograms more than individuals who did not weigh in daily (1). For some people, weighing themselves is nothing more than a simple reality check.
But for many, being weighed is a means of measuring their self-worth. It triggers a cascade of feelings, including judgement, self-doubt, disappointment, and anger, which can lead to emotional eating, dietary restraint, disordered eating and body image issues (2).
The bottom line is that healthy eating and daily physical activity should be used as tools for creating optimal health and well-being, and not a weight-loss quick fix. Breaking up with your scales isn’t about giving up on your weight loss or health goals, but rather letting go of the association between that number and your confidence, self-esteem and motivation to achieve your health goals.
Here are five reasons to divorce the scales:
1. Your weight fluctuates daily
While it is good to measure and track your progress, over the course of a day, your weight can fluctuate between 1-4kg depending on your clothing, food and fluid intake, physical activity levels, hydration status, hormone levels, bowel movements and digestion. In fact, there has even been a heated discussion about whether you lose or gain weight when you flatulate!
These daily weight fluctuations are not representative of body fat or muscle mass that you have miraculously gained or lost. Your health does not suddenly improve when you go to the loo. Weighing yourself daily and witnessing these normal fluctuations can discourage people from their healthy eating or weight loss efforts.
2. Your weight is a poor indicator of your body composition
When you stand on the scales, what do you see? That single number, which may or may not have changed since you last stood on the scales, doesn’t give you much idea of what your body composition is. Your total weight or mass is made up of:
Lean mass (fluid + soft tissue + muscle) PLUS fat mass (the sum of all the fatty tissue in the body) PLUS bone mineral content (the weight of your skeleton).
The scales cannot tell you anything about these three variables, or how their proportions are changing over time. Making assumptions about these variables by looking at daily changes on the scales leads to confusion and misinformation.
3. Your weight says very little about your health
Your weight, or your BMI (Body Mass Index) may tell you are in a healthy range, but does that make you healthy, or fit? You could weigh in with a “healthy” number but instead be a mobile depot of dangerous levels of internal fat called Visceral Adipose Tissue (VAT). A DEXA scan can reveal that even apparently slim people can have dangerous levels of VAT around vital organs, such as the heart, liver and pancreas. These people are also known as “Skinny Fat” or TOFI’s (thin outside, fat insides). This fat is very inflammatory and produces hormones and proteins linked to insulin resistance, type two diabetes and heart disease. More on VAT, in a future blog.
Likewise, we all know those healthy, fit and muscular individuals who are “overweight” or “obese” according to their weight on the scales, but their body composition is made up of healthy levels of body fat, and a high lean mass.
4. Your weight should not dictate your self-esteem
Does your morning ritual of jumping on the scales determine whether you have a good day or bad day? If you don’t want to go from happy to crappy in 2.5 seconds then do yourself a favour and don’t weigh yourself. Only you can determine your self-worth, value and self-esteem and it psychologically unhealthy to allow a number to do so, especially a number that is so variable. Your weight should never dictate your happiness and there is more to life than counting calories and losing weight. Be happy being you, and focus on making daily choices that feel good for your body, building healthy relationships, and loving yourself.
5. The scales only shadow the real improvements
So, you’ve decided to make some big improvements and make a commitment to your health. You’re eating healthier, going to bed at a reasonable hour, sleeping like a happy log, and exercising more. Consequently, your cravings have reduced, your energy levels are sky high, and perhaps a medical condition you have has greatly improved. People are commenting on the new glow in your complexion, your clothes don’t feel like they are trying to choke your innards, and going up the stairs at work doesn’t result in profuse sweating and heart palpitations. Awesome, right? Maybe, but somehow all that goodness seems to evaporate when you weigh yourself and (horror!) you’ve only lost 234.5 grams in two weeks! Clearly, nothing has happened, and all that effort has been a colossal waste. In fact, you have a moment of realisation— you are an epic failure! The only way to solve these negative feelings is to bunker down to some serious emotional eating. NO! Focusing all of your attention on that number on the scale, and using it a sole measurement of your success blinds you to the other, more meaningful results of your hard work and effort.
If your day starts on an upper or a downer, depending on the fluctuations of your bathroom scales, it’s time to break up that abusive relationship. Changes in your body composition are likely to be occurring but the scales will be lagging behind. Keep your brain focused on the prize, keep yourself accountable, and use a more informative method (like DEXA), at reasonable predetermined intervals, to benchmark your progress, so you can celebrate your wins.
PS. Here is a bonus 6th reason to break up with your scales:
- Steinberg D, Bennett G et al. Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015.
- Ogden J, Evans C The problem with weighing: effects on mood, self-esteem and body image. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity