body image · diets · eating · weight loss

No more weigh-ins: on putting away the scale

?????????Last week I texted my personal trainer to confirm our Wednesday morning appointment. I added: “no weigh-in.”  My trainer has never fully grasped my aversion to being weighed.  Even if I am not interested in jumping on the scale, he’ll often suggest that I get on it and not look. Only he will look.

When I showed up last Wednesday he asked again if I wanted to weigh-in, as a way of “seeing how I did” over the holidays.  To be quite honest, I know full well how I did over the holidays. I ate a little more chocolate and dessert than I usually do, I sat around a little more than I usually do, and I worked out a bit less. So yes, the jeans felt a bit tighter.

More than wanting to know my weight, I felt keen to get back to weight training at my usual intensity.  It was interrupted at the end of November because of a lower back strain that compromised my mobility.

I explained to my personal trainer that I didn’t find weight to be a helpful measure of anything.  He suggested that the body fat percentage reading also came from the scale. This is true. But I honestly don’t expect to see dramatic changes in body fat percentage from week to week.

In the end, I didn’t step on the scale that day.  But I also failed to convince my trainer to stop hounding me to do it again in the future.

I have, however, resolved to put the scales away. I want to say “for the rest of the year,” but I have to admit that the thought terrifies me.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’m re-acquainting myself with some literature that became popular in the early nineties. It’s about making peace with food and developing a positive and accepting body image. I’ve started with Overcoming Overeating: How to Break the Diet/Binge Cycle and Live a Healthier, More Satisfying Life by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter.

The book outlines a plan that is supposed to get rid of the diet mentality of good foods, bad foods, and restricted eating, and replace it with “demand feeding.” They suggest that this is the only way out of the “change your shape, change your life” game that so many of us have played for many years.

It’s not for the faint of heart. If you have become accustomed to restricted eating and the idea that certain foods are off limits (or just for special occasions), chances are you will either feel terrified or giddy at their suggestions.

The instructions include: purchasing a full length mirror if you do not already have one (you will stand in front if it naked on a daily basis and look at your body in purely descriptive terms); dropping any distinction you might have about the difference between carrot sticks and carrot cake, i.e. all foods are equal and all foods are “legal”; making a list of all of your favourite foods and filling your kitchen with them in ample amounts (like, more than you could possibly eat; if you love carrot cake, buy three cakes, not one slice); feeding yourself “on demand” by responding to hunger (this means waiting until you’re hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied); dispensing with all sense of “meals” and replacing it with “food experiences”; and…..

…TOSSING YOUR SCALE.

Any one of these suggestions is blogpost-worthy. And I have not done them justice by just listing them without an explanation.  To many, they will sound crazy or even irresponsible without more context. I’ve actually, over the years, incorporated many of them into my life already and found relative peace with food.

Today, I want to focus only on the one about the scale since this is the one that remains the most challenging for me.

The authors say: Every day, millions of people allow their bathroom scales to determine their general outlook. Most of us who live in a fatphobic culture are addicted to the scale. When our weight is high, we feel low; when it’s low, we feel high. We allow the scale to tell us how we’re doing with regard to much more than weight.

What they say resonates strongly with me. As much as I believe in my head that the scale is just a number and that weight is not important, I still feel good about who I am when I’ve lost, bad about who I am when I’ve gained.  This is despite a set of explicit and conscious beliefs that oppose that way of thinking. And despite too that my weight fluctuates within the same 4 pound range and has done so consistently for more than a year.

Hirschmann and Munter go on to say: If you are earnest about accepting yourself, the scale must go. Simply put, the scale is the most powerful symbol of nonacceptance in our life. It measures, and it judges.  It sits quietly in the corner of your bathroom and beckons. “Come on. What harm can I do? Take a chance. Maybe you’ll get good news.”

As an educated woman and feminist who knows better, it embarrasses me to admit just how much I can STILL identify with what they say here. Even now, I find myself hedging my bets.  “I will put the scale away for the month of January” is about all I can comfortably commit to at the moment.

Why? Like my personal trainer, there is a part of me that believes that I won’t be able to tell “how I’m doing” unless I can weigh myself. But if I am truly committed to the claim that weight is not an important measure of anything, then I need to take this further step.  Hirschmann and Munter assert with confidence that “once you become not-a-weight-watcher…the scale’s importance will diminish.”

So, I’m going to give it a go. The home scale is about to get packed away.

As for the weigh-ins at the personal training studio, I’ve decided for a number of reasons to stop working with a trainer. I enjoyed it and learned a lot, but my partner and I are bringing our workouts home for 2013. That’s for another blog post.

21 thoughts on “No more weigh-ins: on putting away the scale

  1. Great post. And big changes. Wow. Lots of questions, because I’m really keen to hear more, but for now just one question and one comment. Question: Does this mean you’re putting aside your goal of changing body composition? (Since that requires weight to calculate.) Comment: 4 pound range?! I think I’ve had a 70 lb range in the time you’ve known me and moving around within a 20 lb range feels pretty normal to me. Four lbs is wildly impressive. Go Tracy!

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  2. Thank you! I will probably do another trip to the bod pod at some point but I am going to focus on training goals for the next few months and see where that goes. I’ve had a larger weight range since you’ve known me (30 pounds over the past 20 years), but I’ve leveled off lately and have a pretty good read on where my weight wants to settle when I allow it to.

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  3. This is an extreme measure, from my perspective anyway. I am uncertain that I understand it very well at all, but I wholeheartedly support you in your efforts to achieve what I am guessing is some personalized form or sense of balance in your life about fitness and body image. I’ll be interested to hear about your take on it once the dust settles!

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  4. I am most fascinated by the perception that this is an extreme measure. No doubt my trainer would agree. I think our society’s collective fixation on the number on the scale is really misguided. And except in cases where there is some serious medical reason to be concerned about weight as such, it makes very little sense.

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  5. I hear you. Tell me, though, are you also throwing out the idea that your body fat percentage matters for anything, or only weight itself? I care about body fat percentage alot, although gaining weight because I gain muscle is to me a good thing! The scale is important to me though, since increases on a weekly basis are unlikely to be caused by muscle gain. In other words, the scale is the only real indicator I’ve got as to whether I’ve gained fat on a daily/weekly basis. That is why I’m just wondering if you’ve jettisoned the idea that body fat percentage matters for very much – or is something you as an individual don’t really have to monitor very closely given that scale or no scale, you’ll nonetheless stay in that 4 pound range.

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  6. It’s hard for me to know what the end point of this will be. I do hope that a focus on training goals will enable me to increase muscle and lose fat, thus furthering the longer term change in body fat percentage. And I understand that you can’t measure that without weighing yourself. It’s the weekly monitoring of my weight that I am getting away from because I find it has an undue influence on how I feel about myself more generally. Even within the very small four-pound range that my weight seems to stay in, I get unsettled with a gain and feel happy about a loss. This is despite my knowing better on some level. So I can’t say that I don’t care about body fat percentage (or about weight), but only that I need to check my motives. I literally had to put the scale back in its box and up on a high shelf out of sight to even contemplate doing this. But then that makes me reflect further on this cultural fixation on weight and fat. It seems to me that most people are investing a lot more into the scale than simply information about our body weight. If you had ever had any experience with Weight Watchers you would probably understand more thoroughly how pernicious it is to have your weight monitored by a third party. I’m feeling the same way re. my personal trainer. And then finally, if I weigh myself, the sense of monitoring continues (like the panopticon, which I spoke of in a very early blog post). So it’s an experiment. And trust me, throwing out the scale is just ONE of the seemingly radical measures suggested in the literature I’m reading. I’ll be posting about some of the others at some point and I’m sure you’ll find them equally extreme!

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  7. Fair enough. By the way, I lost over 60 pounds in 11 weeks at Dr. Bernsteins weight loss clinic, and was weighed every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at the clinic. I have now maintained the weight loss for about 3 months and through the holiday season. It is essential that I maintain the fat loss for medical reasons. So I definitely have motivations that others do not, and I truly NEED the scale. I am reading Caulfield’s book as recommended by Sam. Only 1 in 20 people maintain such weight loss over a significant period of time. I plan on being in that 5 percent and I know already how vigilant I have to be, how well I have to eat, how much I have to exercise, and how it will be an eternal struggle in some regards. But it is a lifestyle choice which I have already adopted. I am already eating as Caulfield recommends. Over 50 percent of my food is green vegetables and fruit (mostly apples), and I eat no dessert or any junk food ever. It was easier for me though, as I was already before attending the clinic, motivated, exercising alot and I was already eating healthy without eating much junk food. I learned from Dr. Bernstein’s that I was eating too much dairy and bread, and too much in general though. From reading this site, however, I am fast realizing the different influences on women and how insidious it all is. I also know that I don’t really share women’s experiences. It isn’t a matter of degree or just exaggerated for women, in my opinion. The differences seem to me much more than that. On an experiential level though, I am admittedly quite clueless in more than a few regards. Forgive me if at times I seem insensitive. I really don’t mean to be.

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  8. I love the way you engage with the blog and your perspective and experience add a nice dimension to the discussion, Craig. Thanks for participating.

    Maintenance is THE issue in weight control programs. As you say, the stats are grim. Sounds as if you have a realistic picture of the work required and are prepared to do it. Medical motivation is, I’m sure, a pretty strong incentive.

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  9. Thanks, Tracy. When I first happened upon this website, I honesly thought that I had alot in common with you and Sam – was on the same or at least a similar path to fitness. While I still think this to be true in some meaningful ways, I’m slowly understanding the extent of the differences for women on such a path, and it is quite shocking to me as I begin to understand it a little better. Men really have it so much easier on so many levels, Tracy. That at least in part explains some mens’ “blind spots” (or mine at least) when it comes to understanding the influences on women and what underlies some of their choices.

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    1. A great post! I have never owned a weight scale in my life as I thought of it as a tool to perpetuate the norms of what the “right” person should look like. I believe in the uniqueness of all individuals and I think that a nuanced self evaluation based on rigorous research and education can help to find out the right criteria to measure what is the right weight for each of us.
      Additionally, being addicted to weight scale only escalates the feeling of self detachment and nonacceptance as opposed to loving yourself for who your are and what you think is right for you.

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