Have you weighed yourself today? This week? Would it surprise you to know that, as a registered dietitian-nutritionist, I haven’t weighed myself at all in almost three years?
The last time I stepped on a scale was only a few months after the birth of my last child, and I remember feeling a crushing blow from the number I saw. It was at that exact moment that I made a conscious decision never to weigh myself again.
Why did I feel the pressure to have “bounced back” to my pre-pregnancy weight so quickly anyway? Well, as a woman raised in the United States, I have been all too conscious of my weight for as long as I remember, and, unsurprisingly in our weight-obsessed culture, there was not a single moment I ever felt I was the “right” weight. Even when I dropped 15 pounds from the stress of planning my wedding, it didn’t feel like it was “enough.”
Now, as a health professional and mother to a daughter, I reflect on this relationship with the number on the scale in a very different way. Worrying about a number is not healthy and is not something I want to participate in any longer.
I’ve witnessed the same thing over and over with my patients as well. They would weigh themselves in the morning and feel good, only to find the number a few pounds higher at bedtime. They would often report to me that this increased number was a result of having been “bad.” Of course, this swing in weight was likely the result of the natural fluctuations in hydration that occurs during the day, notes a study in Physiological Reports — something that they had no control over at all.
Weighing yourself is one of the most popular methods of tracking your weight loss progress. While a study published in Circulation found that daily weigh-ins may be beneficial for some, the American Heart Association notes the many pitfalls of regular weight checks for many others. Scales can be a source of discouragement, and may even have a detrimental effect on your weight loss journey. Weighing yourself can create an obsession with the number, which can lead to feelings of discouragement and frustration if the numbers don’t decrease as much as you expect or if they fluctuate throughout the day (which is normal!).
Obsessing over the scale can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as skipping meals, over-exercising, or giving up on weight loss entirely. If you find yourself judging your self-worth by what you weight, I would recommend finding other ways to measure success on your health and wellness journey.
Here are a few downsides to regular weigh-ins:
- It can be demotivating. If you’ve been working hard to make healthy changes in your life, it can be discouraging to step on the scale and not see the results you were hoping for. This can lead to feelings of frustration and defeat, which can make it harder to stick to your healthy habits in the long run. In a study published in March 2021 in the Journal of Eating Disorders, more than 50 percent of young adult women who self-weighed found that it impacted their mood. Those with an active eating disorder or disordered eating behaviors were more likely to be impacted.
- It can be misleading. Your weight naturally fluctuates throughout the day based on factors like water retention and digestion, so a single number on the scale may not give you an accurate picture of your overall health. You’ll even find that the number fluctuates throughout the day and that’s completely normal! Additionally, muscle is denser than fat, so if you’re building muscle through exercise, the number on the scale may not change even though you’re getting leaner and stronger.
- It can lead to disordered eating. If you’re focused on the number on the scale, you may become obsessed with losing weight at any cost. This can lead to unhealthy eating habits and even disordered eating behaviors like restrictive dieting or binge eating.
- It doesn’t account for overall health. Your weight is just one factor that contributes to your overall health. Other important indicators of health include your body composition, muscle mass, and body fat percentage, not to mention the quality of the foods that you put into your body.
- Everyone’s body is different and there is no magic number!
Rather than relying on the scale as your only source of feedback, focus on other indicators of progress. Pay attention to how your clothes fit, your energy levels, and your overall well being. These indicators can be much more reliable than a number on a scale and can keep you motivated to stay on track with your goals. Additionally, it’s important to remember that the scale is only one measure of progress and it doesn’t tell the whole story.
While it can be helpful to have a baseline measure of where you started, it’s important to remember that your weight is influenced by a variety of factors, such as water retention, muscle mass, and even hormones, according to a study in Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. Rather than relying completely on the scale, focus on improving your overall health. Eating nutritious, balanced meals and exercising regularly can help you reach your goals in a healthy, sustainable way. While it may be tempting to obsess over numbers, try to take a holistic approach to your weight loss journey. This will help you maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle and can lead to more successful, long-term results.
For some, regularly tracking your weight can serve as a source of motivation, but for many others (myself included), the act of standing on a scale can be stressful and more demotivating than anything else. Only you can decide what is right for you and your health. But no matter what you decide, remember that no number can define who you are or how valuable you are as a human. When it comes to good health, nourishing your body with healthy food and enjoying the energy that food gives you is more meaningful than any single number.