Tossing your scale is all the rage, especially in Paleo circles. But is that really a good idea? Find out why keeping your scale around might make sense.
What kind of scale-user are you? Do you weigh every day at 7am sharp and keep a journal of the numbers? Do you barely know what that dust-covered object on the floor of your bathroom is? We all have a different relationship with the scale – some healthy, some not. How useful (or harmful) is the bathroom scale?
Tossing your scale seems to be all the rage these days, especially within Paleo circles. In the age of focusing on health rather than thinness it’s clear why we hear this advice – for some, weighing frequently can cause anxiety, low self confidence, and destructive diet and lifestyle behaviors. (1) Throwing away the scale can be a downright liberating experience; we are no longer defined by that number. Forgetting the numbers and focusing on other factors of health may be just the ticket some folks need to lead a much happier life.
There is more to health than the number on the scale. What kind of scale user are you?
Trust me, I see my fair share of clients that need to toss their scale. But is it something everyone should do? In my opinion, no.
There are certain types of clients that do really well using the scale as part of their overall healthy lifestyle, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that helps get them to a healthy, manageable weight. When used appropriately, the scale can tell you that your weight is steadily increasing or decreasing earlier than you might be able to tell by the fit of your clothes. Because of this, you can correct the problem before it becomes harder to deal with. Research shows us that those who monitor their weight are likely to not only lose more weight but also to keep it off longer than their non-weighing counterparts. (2, 3)
So should you toss the scale or keep it? If you identify with two or more of the following statements, you’ll likely be better off without it:
- I avoid weighing myself or become very anxious at the idea of stepping on the scale
- I place a lot of pressure on myself to be at a certain weight
- I am very disappointed in myself if I am not at my target weight
- I ruminate on my weight for the rest of the day after weighing myself
- If a number is higher or lower than I wanted, I will make extreme changes to my diet or exercise habits
- I have a history of disordered eating
- I feel better when I don’t weigh myself
If these statements sound like you, get rid of the scale! It’s causing you more problems than it would solve. However, if you don’t identify with these statements, read on to see my top 3 tips for using the scale to your advantage.
Weigh Frequently, But Not Too Frequently
For those who can handle the scale, I usually suggest weighing yourself once a week in the morning, before eating anything. This will show you your weight trend over time, and you can monitor the general increase or decrease as you go along.
Women may want to weigh themselves less as their weight fluctuates more depending on where they are in their cycle. Some may get discouraged if they weigh themselves on a weekly basis and note large fluctuations. If you tend to get discouraged when your weight fluctuates, monthly weighing (at the same point in your cycle each month) might be best.
While I do think that daily weighing can work for some, I generally discourage it for most people. I don’t think it provides enough extra information to be worthwhile, and the people who ask if they can do it are generally those who I think should toss their scale in the first place! If you feel compelled to weigh on a daily basis, it’s worth exploring why you want to do this. More often than not, those who want to weigh daily want to do so because it somehow validates themselves or motivates them to make extremely drastic diet and lifestyle changes on a day-to-day basis. These are not healthy behaviors.
As I mentioned before, the benefit of weighing regularly, but not too often, is that you can start to notice the general increase or decrease in your weight over time. Knowing that you’re heading toward weight gain (or loss) early can help you modify your behavior in a manageable, healthy manner so that you don’t find yourself facing a 20 pound weight change down the road.
Understand What the Scale Can Tell You
The number on the scale does not tell you how much muscle or how much fat you have. If you’re someone who has started weight training recently, the number on the scale can sometimes go up as you start working out and increasing your muscle mass. This is not a bad thing! Since muscle is denser than fat, you may see the number creep up or stagnate when you’re trying to lose weight. But fear not! This is simply an increase in muscle mass and (usually) a decrease in body fat. I encourage you to keep track of your body measurements (hips, thighs, waist, chest etc) as well; while the number on the scale might go up, you’ll notice you’re also losing inches off your body. You’ll be stronger and fitter, but your weight will be higher or the same. Fair trade-off in my book!
Also realize that a scale shows even small fluctuations in your weight that have nothing to do with the amount of fat you have. For example, if you ate a lot more salt yesterday than usual, your body will retain more water as a result. Water weighs something too! You’ll notice that your weight might be higher today because of the extra water you’re holding onto – a totally normal fluctuation, and nothing to worry about. It does not mean that you need to cut your calories, carbs, fat, etc. to burn off the extra two pounds of fat you suddenly sprouted overnight.
Because we will see these normal fluctuations in weight, it’s important not to base your dietary and lifestyle habits on that sudden two pound increase. What you’ll want to look out for is a steady increase or decrease over time.
Below are two weight logs over a 6 week period as an example.
See that small but noticeable shift upwards in example #2? That indicates a subtle weight gain, whereas #1 has some fluctuation but overall it doesn’t necessarily seem to be increasing. Both examples start off at the same weight, but you can see #2 steadily climbing upwards.
But let’s say both had just started weight training. That increase on the scale for #2 could be an increase in muscle mass and potentially not much decrease in fat. They might be perfectly happy with those results, or they could choose to modify their diet to help with some extra fat loss too. For #1, their weight maintenance could indicate a slight increase in muscle mass and a small decrease in fat mass.
Let’s change things again: perhaps #2 spent weeks 3 and 4 consuming a high salt diet and retaining lots of water as a result. We can assume that those numbers are a bit inflated because of that, and thus those numbers don’t necessarily represent an actual increase in weight over those 6 weeks.
My point here is that a scale isn’t perfect and that the numbers need to be taken in context with everything else going on. As long as you can accept what the scale can tell you (and probably more importantly, what it can’t) it can be a useful tool for weight management.
Realize There is Way More to Health Than the Number on the Scale
The scale does not measure your happiness, your stress level, your fitness, or any other measure of your health. It’s simply one number in the midst of many measurable (and unmeasurable) things in your life. Do not let it dictate how you feel about yourself. If you give it that power, it will absolutely lord it over you!
Make sure to focus on all other areas of your health, like your sleep, your contact with nature, your friends and family, and your stress management in addition to using the number on the scale to manage your weight. Your weight is one number in your overall health and the same can be said for any facet of health: your blood pressure does not tell you everything about your health, nor does your vitamin D level. While they’re both important, they do not determine your overall health or happiness.
That being said, if you are able to use the number you see as just that – a number – the scale can help you manage your weight better than you could without it.
I think it’s great that people are embracing a life without numbers – I’m all for throwing counting calories, grams, pounds, and everything else out the window if it’s a healthy choice for that person. But I also think it’s important to remember that the scale can be useful if implemented correctly and that it’s possible to use it in a healthy way to help you reach your goals.
Now I want to hear from you: what do you think about using the scale? Are you someone who can use it without getting attached to the number or are you better of tossing it?
This is a guest post written by Kelsey Marksteiner, RD. Kelsey is a Registered Dietitian with a Bachelors degree in Nutrition from NYU and a Master’s in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine. She works in private practice and recommends individualized dietary therapy focusing on biologically appropriate diet principles to aid her clients in losing weight, gaining energy, and pursuing continued health. She is a firm believer that everyone is different, and she tailors her plan for each and every individual. Through her work, she aims to meld the dietary wisdom of traditional cultures with the latest science in integrative and functional medicine to create plans for her clients that work in the modern world. You can learn more about Kelsey on her staff bio page, or by visiting her private practice website. Join her newsletter here!