Is The Scale Your Friend Or Foe?

Side view of an annoyed young woman with weight scale over white

I admit, I have spent a good part of the last 35 years wishing I weighed less.

It didn’t matter whether people told me I looked fine, that I was “all muscle”, that I wore my weight well, it wasn’t enough. I always wanted to weigh 5-10 pounds less. Despite the fact that I was an avid runner in my 20’s, taught 7-9 aerobics classes a week in my 30’s and 40’s, and began heavy weight training in my 50’s, I still thought I needed to lose more body fat. Luckily, I have good self-esteem, eat well and love to exercise, so my dream of weighing less never pushed me towards many of the unhealthy behaviors others engaged in. And, because I knew the long term negative effects of over-exercising and under-eating, I never got too caught up in diets or extreme exercise fads. I always felt that I would rather be 5-10 pounds overweight, and stay that way, than lose weight on some fad diet only to gain double the weight back.

But this doesn’t mean I love the scale. Nor do I hate it, however.

At 55 years old, I have gained wisdom with age, and see the scale only as a tool, a small piece of the wellness puzzle. I weigh myself 1-2x/week without expectations. This has been a long term project for sure. But, one big reason I have learned to accept the scale as information only, was an “aha” moment I had while attending a yoga retreat several years ago.

The presenter was talking about mindfulness; staying present in the moment, whenever possible. Her words are with me today.

There is no sense in allowing the mind to stay in the past. The past is over, and any past hurts, regrets or mistakes can never be changed. Nor is there any sense allowing the mind to wander too far into the future. We have no control over the future, no matter how we convince ourselves we do. Any worrisome thoughts of things that will happen in the future are just stories, not truth. The only truth we have is this present moment. Only this very moment is real.

And here’s where the “aha” moment came…..

So if this moment is the only truth, how do you want to spend it? Worrying about losing those last 5 pounds? Is that the way you want to spend your life, regretting 5 silly pounds of fat, rather than living in this beautiful, precious, sacred moment?

Wow. I realized I had been wasting precious time obsessing about 5 pounds of fat. I realized I was so much more than my weight on the scale and that people loved and appreciated me for the real me, not for what I weigh on the scale.

It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I began the process of greater self-acceptance.

Since then, I’ve felt the full effects of aging and menopause. I’ve gotten wiser with age, but I still struggle with the aging process. I imagine many of you feel the way I do, or perhaps have struggled even more than I with weighing yourself? What has been your history with your friend or foe, Ms. Scale?

Years ago, I did not recommend that my clients weigh themselves frequently. We were taught “back then” that frequent weighing may discourage women, instead of motivate them. Some people still do not advise frequent weighing, but I do now, for most clients (not everyone). I look at scale weighing as just one piece of data to help my clients achieve their fitness goals. One reason I have changed my mindset is I often observed major denial of unhealthy eating in clients who did not weigh themselves. Research has also demonstrated that those who weigh themselves frequently are much more likely to be successful at permanent weight loss. Of course, there are outliers- women who obsessively weigh in and under-eat or over-exercise in response to the scale. But I’ve also seen friends and clients who refused to weigh themselves, only to head to the doctor’s office for a physical and be hit in the face with significant weight gain.

This started me thinking about how You feel about this subject. And so, last month, I did an informal poll of my fb friends. I had a much larger response than I ever expected, a sign that this is a subject on many women’s minds. I asked how often they weighed themselves, was their self-esteem tied to the results, and did they consider themselves overweight, underweight or just right.
Here’s what I learned about you:

  • 35% of you weigh in every day. All of this group felt their self-esteem was definitely impacted by the results of their scale weight. There were several “outliers” who weighed themselves several times a day, and all of these women had total attachment to the results. Scale down- feel happy. Scale up- sad. Interestingly enough, the outliers are all thin women. I wonder if excess scale weighing creates compliance, with the side effect of frequent low self-esteem. Is it worth it?
  • 45% of you weigh in roughly 1x/week, with 2 responders who only weighed in 1x/month. ½ of this group did not feel attached to the results. Several women said they change how often they weigh themselves depending on whether they are dieting or maintaining. This seems like a smart strategy.
  • Approximately 20 % of responders weighed themselves rarely or never. Many stated that they gauged their weight by the way their clothing fits them, instead of scale weight. This is a great additional tool for weight maintenance. Several women classified themselves as overweight. I can imagine that women who have had challenges over the years losing weight and keeping it off would not want to repeat that trauma. I get it.

The bottom line-
Scale weighing is one tool available for us when trying to lose body fat. But scale weighing seems best suited for people who use it as health data, and not a statement of their self-worth. I think knowing your weight is important, it is medical information. But take it with a grain of salt. Our weight can vary 3-5 pounds in a day. And, regardless of what the scale says, consistent healthy eating and exercise needs to be continued. If weigh-ins kill your self-esteem, then don’t use them, but do find some other tool for assessment if your goal is weight/fat loss. Lastly, remember my “aha” lesson. Ask yourself; Am I wasting precious time neurotically worrying about my weight? If the answer is yes, find your “aha” moment.