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By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
How much do you hate weighing yourself? According to a UK survey, some women would rather be seen naked by a colleague or get dumped by a boyfriend than weigh themselves after the holidays. I can't vouch for the scientific accuracy of the survey, but the sentiments sound familiar.
Many people do delay weighing themselves. They wait until later in January to see how many pounds they packed on with holiday-related food and drinks. And I'm here to tell you that you don't have to weigh yourself at ALL. That's right, just skip it. Madness you say?
Not really. In my private practice, I've found that for some people, the scale is nothing more than a simple reality check, much like reviewing a bank statement. But for others, being weighed, even by themselves in private, is just too difficult. If that sounds like you, here are 5 reasons you can skip it.
The scale can trigger emotional eating
For many, when the number isn't what they want to see, anger, self-doubt, or judgment sets in, which can lead to giving up on healthy goals, giving in to emotional eating, and getting seriously stuck. I recommend banishing the scale altogether. Some stash it way back in a closet or on a high shelf, others toss it in the trash, and some have a grand old time smashing it to pieces. The goal isn't to give up on losing weight, but simply to let go of the association between that number and your mood, motivation, confidence or self-esteem. And while this may seem odd coming from an RD, the truth is, you don't really need a scale to know if you're on the right track.
Your weight doesn't tell the whole story
When you are eating right, it can change the way your clothes fit, the quality of your skin, and improve your energy level and endurance. But the scale may not show those changes. When you weigh in, you're measuring everything that has weight, including not just your body fat, muscle, and bone tissue, but also water weight (which can fluctuate wildly), undigested food (even if it all gets burned off later), and waste that your body hasn't yet eliminated. So if, for example, you're retaining water, your weight can be higher, even if you've lost body fat.
Keep reading for three more reasons you can skip weighing yourself.
Weight isn't a perfect indicator of body composition
Five different women of the same height and weight can each wear different sizes, and a sixth, who weighs more, can have a lower body fat percentage than her lighter companions. While it's a myth that muscle weighs more than fat (a pound of muscle and a pound of fat both weigh a pound), getting rid of a pound of fat and gaining a pound of muscle can have a huge impact on how your body looks. To put it in perspective, visualize a 16-ounce ultra lean steak compared to a pound of lard.
Weighing less doesn't always equal looking or feeling better
One of my clients finally let go of her weight focus when she found that she looked more toned, and wore smaller jeans, when her weight was higher than her "ideal" goal. In trying to reach her lower magic number, she began to look flabby. And the stress of the pursuit took a toll on her immune system and sleep quality, which led to perpetual cravings and a roll of belly fat, common side effects of raging stress hormones. Basically she was living in scale hell.
There are better measuring sticks
If you loathe the scale, remove it from your world. If you really need some sort of measuring stick, choose a pair of form fitting pants and monitor how they fit. But keep in mind that what's really important is understanding your personal patterns. Nearly all of my pre-menopausal clients experience water retention and bloating one week a month, and many feel the same after eating a meal that's saltier or higher in carbs than usual. These passing explicable fluctuations don't necessitate panic. On the flip side, if you're steadily growing out of your clothes, take a deep breath and an objective look at what's happening (have you been going out to dinner or drinking more often, stress eating, or mindlessly munching?). If so, the solution lies in raising your awareness and taking action, not in obsessing over a number.