I’m seriously considering relegating my scale to the back of a closet somewhere. And if you’re also a woman on a restricted-calorie diet, you should consider it too.
Unless you’re a recently thawed iceman or haven’t looked up from your game of Doodle Jump since 2009, you’ve probably noticed that the world is pretty obsessed about weight. And body image, of course.
The second you step on that scale, you’re judging yourself. If you lose a pound, you’re ecstatic. If you gain a pound, you’re sure that you’ve done something wrong somewhere and you can feel down the entire day because of it.
For most people on a diet, that diet is what you think about more than anything else that day. “I’m hungry.” “What should I eat for lunch?” “Will having a piece of my co-workers’ cake undo all of my progress this week?” And when your diet is your everything, that number on the scale is at the center of your everything.
For many women, that number on the scale is a big part of what defines us. But most men don’t do this. Men seem to thrive under a strict self-weighing pattern.
According to a study published in 2018, self-weighing every day meant losing more weight. But 78% of that study was male. Talk about a lousy sample group!
Another study showed that self-weighing, as it relates to things like body image, is quite a bit more complicated than that:
“Among women, more frequent self-weighing was associated with greater Appearance Orientation, Overweight Preoccupation, and Shape Concern. Among men, more frequent self-weighing was associated with greater Body Areas Satisfaction, Health and Fitness Orientation, and positive Health Evaluation.”Klos, L. A., Vesser, V. E., Kessler, M. M. (2012). To weigh or not to weigh: The relationship between self-weighing behavior and body image among adults. Body Image Vol 9, Issue 4, 551-554.
So, men thrive on weighing themselves every day, whereas women fill their heads with negative self-talk and judge their self-worth each and every day based on what they see on that scale. Oh yeah, and maybe gain an eating disorder along the way.
And that’s not the extent of the damage we do to ourselves, although it may be the most harmful. We may have a celebratory treat, rewarding ourself for our fantastic work. Or we may have that same treat out of frustration or to subconsciously sabotage ourselves if we didn’t get the results we wanted.
I don’t know about you, but I’m huge into self-sabotage. Or my subconscious is. Whatever. Going from 200 to 199–those numbers seem light years apart, psychologically, simply because of that first number. How many times have I gotten to 202 only to stall or plateau, then self-sabotage out of absolute frustration when that number somehow doesn’t move for a few weeks? But really, what difference does 3 pounds make when you’ve lost a bunch of weight already? Why do those 3 pounds matter so much to me? To us?
Of course, there are tons of reasons why the number on that scale may not be accurately representing your progress:
- Hormones. Especially for us women, hormones can cause your weight to fluctuate pretty wildly.
- Sodium consumption. Eating salt means you’re carrying more water weight.
- Eating carbohydrates. Yup, carbs can make you carry water weight, too, due to glycogen binding with water molecules.
- The time of day. Consistency is critical, and weighing early in the morning is usually best.
- The scale you’re using.
- Your hydration level. How much water have you had to drink that day? Or even the day prior?
- Visits to the toilet. Yup, how well you emptied your bladder or if you’ve pooped recently also factor in.
But goals are good. Goals are actually pretty necessary when it comes to this stuff. Tracking your weight gives you accountability and feedback, and it can serve as a source of motivation (when it’s moving in the right direction, of course).
It’s only weighing yourself daily that may be distressing if you don’t see the scale change, or even have a negative impact on motivation.
I should clarify that these concepts I’m talking about here really only apply to dieting, and especially for women. Some men may do better without a scale, of course, and some women man thrive on weighing every day. And if you’re looking to maintain your weight, dust off that scale from the back of the closet and use it to keep tabs on things. But make sure you’re using an acceptable weight range of at least +/- 5 pounds from your ideal weight rather than focusing on one number.
So how are you supposed to track your progress if you’re not using your scale or weighing yourself less frequently?
There’s actually a ton of much more accurate, and less frustrating, ways to see how you’re doing:
- Body composition. Many methods of doing this exist, and some may even be offered at your local gym (you may also try asking your doctor where you can get it done or for a referral).
- Tape measurements. All you need for this is a measuring tape.
- How your clothes fit. The easiest method of all!
- Keep a fitness journal. Keep track of your weights & strength gains, if you’re doing strength training.
- Keep a wellness journal. Keep track of how you feel today and track your trends as you start to feel better.
If only we could take snapshots of how we felt each day so that we could go back and “feel” them again. I suspect that this would be the absolute best motivation of all.
Imagine losing twenty or thirty pounds and hitting a plateau and losing motivation. Then imagine being able to go back and “feel” that snapshot of what you feel like today. I’d be like “Holy crap, I used to feel like that?!? Okay, this is working. There’s no way I’m going back to that!”
The Biggest Loser tried to recreate this idea multiple times on their show, having contestants go and “add back” what they’d lost by carrying weights all over their bodies. But this doesn’t really adequately recapture how icky you can sometimes feel while you’re overweight and unhealthy.
This is where that wellness journal idea comes in, and it’s one of the things I’m doing this time around. I want to convey to myself the crappiness of how I sometimes feel due to carrying extra weight. “My feet feel like I’m lugging an elephant around all day.” “My knee keeps feeling like it’s going to give way.” “I can’t bend over without my stomach getting in the way.” But also the good stuff, like “I played tag outside with my kids today for the first time without feeling like I was going to die!”
There may not be some magical day where you suddenly wake up and realize that these things don’t bother you anymore. It’s going to be slow, and you’re likely to simply not notice the change. But if you journal about it, you can go back and look and see those differences.
I stumbled upon a nifty app called Daylio to help me input my mood, events, and notes into a journal. (You could also journal the old fashioned way and maybe even incorporate a pretty, color-coded “how I feel today” smiley face.) There are tags you can click (or create) showing what you did that day, and then it plots your mood on a calendar so you can see your (hopefully) upward trend toward happiness as you start to lose weight and feel better. It’s meant just to be a quick journaling app, but I’m going to use it chart my wellness on this journey to better health.
And that’s what this should all be about anyway, right? Wellness. Health. Happiness.
This isn’t ultimately about losing weight. This is about reclaiming my health and my sanity about food and my body. Looking good is just a very fortunate side effect.
References and other related studies:
– Abstract 10962: Temporal Patterns of Self-Weighing Behavior and Weight Loss in the Health eHeart Study
– Is Frequent Self-weighing Associated with Poorer Body Satisfaction? Findings from a Phone-based Weight Loss Trial
– To weigh or not to weigh: The relationship between self-weighing behavior and body image among adults
– The pros and cons of weighing yourself every day
– Self-Weighing: Helpful or Harmful for Psychological Well-Being? A Review of the Literature
– Differential effects of self-weighing in restrained and unrestrained eaters
– Key Reasons to Ditch the Scale
– 5 reasons you need to stop weighing yourself now
– Should you step on the scale? 3 Reasons to consider first.