Scale It Back

If you are someone who “watches your weight,” you may find that you put more value in your scale than in many other things.  

Think about it.  You may wake up one day feeling great; you got a good night’s sleep, are in a great mood, and the first thing you do is step on the scale.

It’s higher than yesterday. Instantly you feel like crap.

It’s the same as yesterday. What am I doing wrong? you may think. Like many people, perhaps you have been conditioned to believe that weight loss is the only way to feel good about yourself.

The only difference between the moment before you stepped on the scale and the moment you saw the number the scale produced is that now you have new information.  Nothing has changed. Your body is the same. Yet suddenly, you see it from the perspective of the scale, rather than from the perspective of your mind.

Again, the only difference is that you have new information.  You were feeling like a rockstar, and suddenly, because of seeing a number, you feel like a failure.

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen this happen, particularly when I was working at an eating disorder clinic.  One of the protocols in the program in which I worked involved showing the adolescent clients their weight twice weekly.  I fully supported this, as many of these kids needed to weight-restore as part of their recovery, and viewing their weight was a form of exposure therapy.  I saw kids bounce into program, smiling, chatting with their peers in the group … but once they saw their weight increase (or stay the same), their mood did a complete 180. 

Let’s take a second to define body image.  Not surprisingly to anyone who knows me, I talk about my corgi … a lot.  This is a story I often share with my clients.  After I’d had him for one year, I took him to the vet for a check-up.  When I’d first adopted him, he was in rough shape, as he’d been living on the streets for a while.  After a year of rehabilitation, he was doing great!  When the vet saw him, she smiled and exclaimed, “He’s got great body image!”

I started laughing, as I talk about body image pretty much all day every day, and instantly thought, “How does she know how my corgi feels about his appearance?!”  

What my vet meant was he was growing appropriately given his age and history.  However, that is not actually what body image is.  Body image is how we see ourselves.  You cannot actually tell anyone’s body image from looking at them.  Body image is an interpretation, a form of self-evaluation.  You may see someone completely different from how they see themselves.

With the summer approaching, weight loss ad are everywhere – arguably moreso than they are the rest of the year.  Everyone is advocating for a new you!, sharing tips to get a smaller body, promising ways to lose those stubborn 10 lbs!  What if instead of listening to a scale, we listened to ourselves?

Are you having a great body image day? That’s all the info you need.

Are you having a not-so-great body image day?  Off days are normal. Take some time to think about what’s going on. Have you spent a lot of time on social media comparing yourself to others?  Have you not been exercising when you’re used to doing so?  Maybe some endorphins could do you good.  (Note: Just because you have not exercised does not mean your body looks different – I am not talking about how you look, I am talking about how you feel, as defined above.)

It’s also possible that something else is going on, completely unrelated to your body image, yet because we’ve been conditioned to connect our self-worth to our appearance, we accidentally morph one problem into another.  For example, maybe you’re in finals.  You’re really stressed, and instead of understanding the thought as, “I’m really worried I’m not going to do well on my exams,” you think, “I suck, I’m unattractive, nothing is going well.  If only my body were smaller/more toned/thinner, I wouldn’t feel so bad right now.”  

Perhaps you have gained weight. And perhaps that can be okay.  Contrary to what (almost) every magazine tells us, weight gain does not have to make us miserable.  Maybe you’ve finally relaxed your expectations around eating and have become more flexible, allowing yourself dessert when you used to be stuck in the prison of restrictive eating. Consider that this can make you mentally healthier and happier, and yes, it is possible your weight may shift a bit in the process.

There are so many other ways to evaluate how you are feeling without using a scale.  Weighing yourself and focusing on the number enables you to avoid your intuition and feelings, and instead tells you that you should feel a certain way based on what a $30 battery-operated machine tells you.  

Also, scales can be so different – I have a scale at my office for the kids who, as I mentioned above, are weight-restoring and using this as a form of exposure therapy.  Often, they come to my office immediately following appointments with their doctors, and their weight is about 3-6 lbs. different on my scale.  Does that mean they gained 6 lbs in the 15 minute car ride? No.  It means scales aren’t perfect, so we need to stop treating them as the be-all and end-all.

If you can’t kick the habit, try this: Before you weigh yourself, ask yourself some questions: How are you feeling about your body? What factors contribute to that feeling (e.g. are you more stressed than usual, have you been sick, are you out of your element or routine, etc.)?  After you get off the scale, ask yourself how you’re feeling now. Did anything actually change? Does it make sense that your mood may have drastically changed even though the only thing that changed is that you got new information?  What factors are contributing to this mood change (hint: numbers numbers numbers)?

And if you’d like a daily reminder about why dieting and the scale generally make you feel worse, check out Jenna Free of You Ain’t Your Weight (@youaintyourweight on Instagram) who is amazing at helping with intuitive eating, moving away from the diet mentality, and moving toward positive body image.


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