The Truth About Weighing Yourself- When Is It Helpful And Unhelpful?
Do you take a deep breath before stepping on the scale or does the number you see dictate your mood and eating for the rest of your day? As dietitians, we see many people who have a love-hate relationship with weighing and the scales. Patients may weigh themselves regularly, sometimes daily or even many times per day, desperately hoping to see progress towards their weight loss goals. We believe that weighing is unhelpful for long-term weight loss management and can even be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Your weight carries a ton of baggage including judgement, stigma, shame and most importantly, lack of access to medical care compared to people in normative body weights. Let’s face it, weight, height, foot size and eye colour are a few of the most basic uninteresting facts about you and certainly won’t be what people will be remembering you for at your funeral. In this blog post, we’ll explain why and under what circumstances it can be unhelpful or even harmful to weigh yourself and when weighing it may be required.
Weight doesn’t equal health
It’s important to understand that weight is just one metric of health, and not even the most important one. More about that in an upcoming blog. At Dietwise, we see folks with normative body weights with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, high blood glucose and joint issues- the same issues that may be present in people with higher body weights.
You can’t tell a lot about someone’s health status just by looking at them. Many influencers when they are losing popularity come out with a diagnosis of an eating disorder to keep followers or attract new followers as they share their recovery journey.
The scales lie
Your weight can fluctuate throughout the day, depending on factors like hydration, food intake, bowel motions, menstrual cycle and exercise. Additionally, changes in weight can be influenced by many factors that have nothing to do with your diet or exercise habits- hence the lie. For example, stress, lack of sleep, changing hormones and certain medications can all affect your weight. It seems futile to vigilantly track something that is a constantly moving target because of this multitude of factors. In addition, your weight doesn’t tell you anything about your body composition, i.e. how much of your weight is muscle (think a resistance training program or athletes) versus fat. If you’re solely focused on the number on the scale, you might also miss the other positive changes that are happening in other areas of your health. And just in case you didn’t know- your weight is just a measure of the pull of gravity on your body in that moment on that day.
Weight is not your barometer of self-worth
Weighing yourself frequently can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with your weight and can create a false narrative. If you’re constantly checking the scale, it can start to feel like your worth as a person is tied to that number- you are either good or bad, attractive or unattractive. This can lead to a poor sense of self with negative self-talk, body dissatisfaction, shame, and disordered eating or eating disorders. Additionally, if you don’t see the number on the scale go down as quickly as you’d like, you might feel discouraged and quit your healthy habits altogether.
So, if weighing yourself is generally unhelpful, under what circumstances is it acceptable? Here are a few situations where knowing your weight can be helpful and even critical:
- Calculating weight-based medication dosages such as antibiotics, opioids, diabetes medications, anaesthesia, and chemotherapy drugs
- Commencing or continuing stimulant medication for ADHD/ADD due to its effect on decreasing hunger
- Calculating energy, protein, and fluid requirements to support disease states and medical issues such as cancer, kidney or liver disease, cystic fibrosis, tube feeding after a stroke, malnutrition
- Monitoring daily fluid balance in heart or liver failure, kidney disease and refeeding syndrome
- Pregnancy including high-risk pregnancies or multiple pregnancies
- In recovery from disordered eating or eating disorders where weighing is avoidant behaviour due to intense feelings of distress. In-session weighing is part of exposure therapy provided by the Psychologist or Dietitian
- Monitoring the adequacy of nutrition restoration meal plans in eating disorder recovery
- Monitoring catch-up growth for infants, children, and adolescents who have been medically unwell or undergoing treatment
- Significant changes in eating habits e.g. veganism, texture-modified diets for swallowing problems, bariatric surgery
- Mental or physical illness or emotional distress causing a prolonged decrease in appetite, nausea and/or early fullness
- Pre-admission forms for hospitals due to hospital equipment weight limits such as beds, chairs, wheelchairs, hoists, walking frames
- Access to medical equipment such as MRI machines at radiology clinics, mobility scooters
- Making weight for competitive weight class competitive combat sports such as wrestling, boxing, mixed martial arts, or other sports such as lightweight rowing and weightlifting
- In combination with body composition to fine-tune training and nutrition programs to optimize performance and power-to-weight ratios
- Calculating sweat losses to design an individualised fluid plan to optimise physical and mental performance
- Leisure activities such as bungee jumping, tandem skydiving, hang gliding or light aircraft and helicopter flights
Remember that in the situations above, you can set some clear boundaries with weighing. You can request the person weighing you such as a coach, nurse, GP, Psychiatrist, Dietitian, or Psychologist, to do a blind weigh if it feels too triggering to know. That also includes not writing the number on clinical notes, referrals, reports, or letters where you can see it.
In conclusion, while weighing oneself can be unhelpful, there are specific medical conditions and situations where it is required. It’s also important to remember that weight is just one metric of health and may not always be the most reliable indicator of progress towards health goals and can even lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with your weight. Reach out today to our Dietwise Care Coordinators today if you feel you have an unhealthy relationship with the scales. To get started by contacting us on 08 9388 2423 Call button or email@example.com. You can even contact us through our website here. We are open 6 days per week for in-person and Telehealth appointments including both after-hours and Saturdays.
Accredited Practising Dietitian & Accredited Nutritionist