My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

A bathroom scale that says "you are not a number"

I really hate scales.  I think I’m not alone here.  There are loads of comic strips with scale jokes, but I will spare you because they all seem to presuppose that the scale is an authoritative judge and we are the irrational defendants whose weight is a crime.

And with respect to this scale hatred narrative, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  If you weigh yourself, then you’re generally appalled or ashamed or enraged or depressed.  If you don’t weigh yourself, then you’re avoiding your responsibility, which is to confront the reality which is the numerical judgment of your total worth.

Okay, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic, but this is the story that whispers in our ears from time to time.

I went to a conference in the Netherlands in June, and the keynote speaker was a behavioral economist named Dan Ariely.  He works on lots of ways to better understand why we behave in various ways, and to figure out some ways to help us achieve some of our goals that we have trouble with (e.g. saving money, losing weight, etc.) .

In this talk, Ariely mentioned a study his group did in which they tested out a hypothesis:  that weighing yourself every day helps you focus on health goals, and may help with weight loss.  This is something lots of medical experts also believe, but it hasn’t been tested.  The problem is:  people hate weighing themselves.  Why?  Well, if you weigh yourself, says Ariely, one of three things will happen:

  1. You’ve gained weight, in which case you’re depressed.
  2. You’re the same, in which case you’re not happy (because you haven’t lost weight).
  3. You’ve lost weight, in which case you become anxious about the next time you have to weigh yourself, worrying that you might regain some of what you lost.

When you put it that way, it sounds unpleasant all around.

Part of the problem with scales is that they register changes all the time because our bodies are changing in weight all the time.    Body weight has very high variance– we can fluctuate up or down 2kg or more in any given day, and it doesn’t mean anything.  There are scales on the market now that register one-tenth of a pound change.  This is really irritating to me, as there’s nothing good about this information– it’s just part of the noise of the variance, but it has the power to make me feel really bad.

Of course there’s a really simple solution to this problem:  don’t weigh yourself.  That’s a perfectly fine option.  Lots of folks who write for this blog and who read this blog do (or rather, don’t do) exactly that.  I say huzzah to that.

But for me, I can’t seem to leave this scale thing alone.  This is because I do want to track my weight changes over time and because I do have health goals that involve weight loss if possible (yeah, these things are complicated; you all know this as well as I do).

Enter the scale that doesn’t tell me what I weigh.  Here it is:

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

The Shapa scale, a bright orange disc on my bathroom floor with a white S in the middle.

Ariely and his team had an idea:  we don’t really need to know how much we weigh.  What we need to know over time is whether our weight is the same, up a little, down a little, up a little more, or down a little more.  So they developed this scale, called Shapa, that does just that.  It comes bluetooth enabled, with an app on your phone.  Part of the screen looks like this:

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

A screenshot from the Shapa app, with daily weigh in info (when you weighed yourself) and an optional mission for some activity or cooking.

You bring your phone with you to where the scale is, and weigh yourself.  It takes a few weeks for Shapa to calibrate what your average weight is, and what your weight variance is over time.  Once it does that (and it won’t tell you those weights even if you ask nicely!), then when you weigh yourself, it will give you a message and a color.  Mine today looked like this:

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I'm blue, which means "good", which means my weight is the same.

A screenshot of the results of my weighing myself- I’m blue, which means “good”, which means my weight is the same.

The scale keeps the weight variance to itself, and just tells you whether you’re the same, up (one or two standard deviations from the mean) or down (one or two standard deviations from the mean).  Though it says this in a more encouraging and colorful way.

I love this.  What I want to know is how my weight is responding to any changes in my activity or eating, and this scale tells me that without the burden of all those fluctuations which just vex me.  Of course, our clothes and mirrors and partners and selves and other cues can tell us about our bodies.  But I really do like this.  I like the daily attention to myself, and it’s offering me an occasion to think more about what sorts of changes I can or want to make to see if I can effect weight change over time.  And it is also telling me that weight isn’t the only thing that matters.  My weight has stayed the same over the past 6 weeks since I got the Shapa scale, but I feel like my clothes are a little looser.  This is probably because I’m in better physical shape (thank you Bike Rally for motivating me!).

That’s interesting information for me, too– that I can feel better, do more of what I ask of my body, and feel better in my clothes in the face of silence on the part of my scale.  Maybe I like that best of all.

What about y’all, dear readers?  Do you have a relationship with scales?  What is it?  What do you think about this crazy idea of a scale that refuses to tell you what you weigh?  I’d love to hear from you.

About catherine w

I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

9 thoughts on “My new scale doesn’t tell me what I weigh, and I like it that way

  1. Teresa says:

    I weigh myself once in a while at the gym, sometimes just because I haven’t done so for a while, sometimes because I feel that my weight has changed and I’d like to check it. I don’t have “a relationship” with the scales anymore than I have a “relationship” with the thermometer. It just isn’t a big fat hairy deal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gunther says:

    I tried to check it once a week to ensure that I am losing weight and to motivate me to stay on my plant based starch base lifestyle.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. M says:

    I love your 2nd paragraph. I’m right this moment trying to figure out whether it’s good to weigh myself today or not, and it’s taking up too much space in my head and self-feeling (pos/neg). I’m fighting myself either way – knowing “for health” (but really then I’d tell myself I was good or bad probably depending on the result) or worrying about a potential (quasi?) eating disorder-like focus on it, problematic, and avoiding the scale, but having that nagging “I must know” feeling.

    The scale is interesting. For those who need to gain weight (there are some) can it be set to work as that being the “good”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • catherine w says:

      That’s an interesting point. The app does ask you what you think your ideal weight is, and how old you were when you weighed that amount. I wonder how it would work if you set a higher weight. I’ll email the company and ask them. In terms of computation, it’s easy to do, but I bet they didn’t program in that option. Thanks.

      I really get the inner-fight/I must know feeling. Somehow, having this scale that doesn’t tell me what I weight but keeps track of progress makes me relax a bit. I have a regular scale, too, and I have weighed myself twice since getting the Shapa scale. The first time I weighed myself I felt depressed at my actual weight. The second time it showed 3.5 lbs loss. But the Shapa scale didn’t register a change because that’s within the variance. So I’m trying to trust the Shapa, and also myself– looking for other sorts of physical and psychological changes. And I’m seeing them.

      I’m with you– you’re not alone in these feelings.

      Like

  4. I am obsessed with weighing myself. I have been carb cutting through the week but having a carb dinner over the weekend and every Monday I’m in a foul mood until about Wednesday (when I’m losing again). This is usually ok but sometimes (aka this week) it lead me to go off rail all week, which will result in an even more disappointing day tomorrow lol. I think this is a brilliant idea

    Liked by 1 person

    • catherine w says:

      Thanks for sharing here. Yes, carb intake and reduction cause all kinds of changes in what scales say. And it’s almost entirely water, as glycogen binds with water. And it plays havoc with our psyches, even though we know this. Blech! You have a lot of company here.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Sam B says:

    I still have a scale and weigh myself regularly and I feel pretty neutral about. Sometimes I wonder why I bother but since I don’t stress about the number, I figure it’s okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • catherine w says:

      This feeling of neutrality– what a lovely thing! I struggle with this, as you (and all the readers of this blog) know. I’m looking forward to talking and writing together more about metrics, neutrality, value and meaning.

      Like

  6. Dipika says:

    I really like the idea of these scales. I used to weigh myself weekly, but now I only do it every few weeks because I hate doing it so much!

    Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s