Leaving Your Scale Behind: Part 1

“If I could just lose 5 pounds, I’d be happy.”

This is one of the most common phrases I hear, from (mainly) women of all ages who come to me for fitness advice or personal training.

I used to think the same thing, back when I was a little string bean with a poor diet (and poor self-esteem) until one day I decided instead of trying to lose weight, I was going to adopt a healthy lifestyle and see what happened to my physique naturally (more on this later).

Seriously, though- five pounds?

If you’re one of those people who’s “dying” to lose those pesky five pounds, here’s the reality of it: five pounds is minuscule, and usually has more to do with one’s natural fluctuations in water level due to lifestyle, hormones, and diet rather than actual fat mass. Are those few “extra pounds” actually that crucial to your well-being that they rob you of your happiness?

Even for those who are overweight or obese and truly need to lose body fat for their health, obsessing over five pounds is not going to speed up the process. With this constant fixation on weight loss, a lot of us end up feeling trapped and emotionally weighed down by the scale, which is not a fun way to live, nor the way you have to live!

See if this sounds familiar:

You wake up, strip down to nothing, and step on this device that will, in a matter of seconds, tell you how much space you take up in the world, which somehow directly correlates to your self-worth. Some mornings it shows you a three-digit number slightly lower than usual, so you can now take on the day with a sense of accomplishment and pride (although you know that deep down, every food- and activity-related decision you’ll make for the rest of the day is ultimately influenced by the scale).

Other mornings, you can’t bear the fact that the scale reads a number much higher than you wanted it to be. So you take on the day with a sense of needing to take up as little space as possible; to become lighter and therefore more “successful,” more beautiful, more “worthy” of living. You might skip breakfast because of the number you saw on the scale this morning, and after skipping breakfast comes an intense hour of cardio, and then maybe a light lunch but definitely not one consisting of anything satiating because to enjoy your food would mean it must not good for you, which will only cause you to weigh more. You find yourself turning down dinner party invites, the dessert that’s being shared at the table, even a beach day or night out with friends because the “excess” weight is all you can think about, and you will never be satisfied with yourself until it is gone.

If you have a similar relationship with the scale as what I just described, trust me, you are far from alone. 

Thanks to the unrealistic body ideals imposed on us by Western society and media, it shouldn’t be shocking that low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction are rampant. Trust me, I’m not immune to it either. It seems as if the majority of ads in magazines, commercials, and a lot of the fitness posts on Instagram are providing us with this twisted logic- that the only way to truly be happy and successful is to have practically zero body fat (and if you’re a woman, you are somehow still expected to have sexy curves to go along with that size 0 waist).

A survey done by Psychology Today found that 89% of American women desire to lose weight. A mere 3% want to actually gain weight, meaning that only 8% of these women are satisfied with their bodies. By the way, men aren’t exempt from body dissatisfaction, either. The same survey found that 52% of men are dissatisfied with their weight, while 22% of those men wanted to gain weight, and the other 30% wanted to lose weight.[1] Another study done by Carly Pacanowski monitored the weighing practices of 1,900 young adults and found that frequent “weigh-ers” had higher levels of depression and weight concern as well as lower self-esteem and body satisfaction.[2]

Frequently weighing yourself can lead to guilt and self-judgment, which in turn can lead to emotional eating (hello, entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s). Perhaps this plays a role in why they found that weight control isn’t any better when obsessively stepping on the scale - and neither is your quality of life, so try leaving your scale for a while and see what happens!

As you can see, this becomes a vicious cycle that cannot be changed without truly understanding what fixating on one’s weight does to a person both mentally and physically. The good news is that there is an explanation for this that helps it all make sense. In part 2 of this series, we'll dive into the science behind this cycle to address and understand how it physically affects your body, and why your weight on the scale doesn’t mean as much as you think it does.

Stay tuned!

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© Copyright Whatismyhealth, March 15th, 2017