Ep #7: Should You Use the Scale to Measure Weight Loss?

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | Scale Weight Loss?
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What is your relationship with the scale? The scale is a controversial topic, but it is not a fair assessment to say it is bad for everyone. The scale isn’t inherently good or bad, it depends on how it is used. There are people who use the scale in a healthy way, as well as those who use it in an unhealthy way.

There are many pros and cons to using the scale to measure your weight loss, and there is no one right answer, only what works for you. But you cannot change what you don’t measure, and the scale can help provide data to determine patterns and trends. It can be an effective tool in helping you lose weight.

This week, I’m helping you examine your fears, reservations, and thoughts about the scale and showing you how to view the scale in a different way. I’m giving you some questions to ask yourself about this topic, and sharing the pros and cons of weighing yourself to help you make an informed decision about whether it is right for you.

To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m giving away a wellness journal to five lucky listeners who follow, rate and review the show. I want your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show, and make it a useful, fun resource for you.

Click here to learn more about the contest and how to enter!

What You Will Discover:

  • Some reasons you might want to weigh yourself.
  • Why the scale does not dictate your self-worth.
  • My input on how often you should weigh yourself.
  • Why you ultimately don’t have control over your weight.
  • How to take back the power you give to the scale.
  • Why your weight in and of itself does not dictate how healthy you are.
  • How the scale can be a useful tool for helping you lose weight.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #7. You ready to talk about the scale? We’re going there. Let’s do it.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer, and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new, what’s good? I hope you’re having an awesome August. We, over here, are already looking at the start of a new school year. And I can’t believe it, because we’re gonna have a second grader and a fourth grader, which is awesome.

So, I was actually thinking of them while preparing this episode, because one of the things that we’ve noticed with them is their use of the words “always” and “never”. And I don’t know if you can relate to this at all, but let me give you an example.

Just yesterday, when my kids were fighting, my youngest said his brother is always stealing his Pokémon™ cards. Or, my oldest will argue that he never gets to stay up late. And it’s those words, “always” and “never”, those extremes, that we’re talking about. So, that’s black and white thinking, and we’re really trying to get away from it in our house. So, we’ve really been working on that and pointing it out to them. And I do think that it’s working, because now it’s coming full circle. And if Adam or I make the mistake of using those words, “always” and “never”, you can bet that we totally get called out on it. And I’m here for it; we’re all working on things in this house, at least that’s our motto. But it’s great.

I mention this, because we are going to go there today. So, we are talking about a controversial tool that you can use to help you lose weight. And, that tool is the scale. So, I refer to the scale as a tool on purpose, because that’s how I truly see it, I see it as a tool. So, but I’m going to stop myself right here and just say flat out, this is a loaded topic. And before I go any further with this let me preface by saying, if you are someone who struggles with disordered eating, or if you have a history or are currently dealing with an eating disorder, this is not for you.

If you are concerned that you have an eating disorder, or if you have one, or you’re worried that your habits are leading you to disordered eating, please see your doctor. I’m talking about using the scale as a tool for people who do not have an issue with eating disorders. And I want to make that very clear from the outset.

That being said, I just don’t think it’s a fair assessment to say that the scale is bad for everyone. Because like my kids, that’s too black and white, it is just not true. And it’s not fair to say that everyone or we should all throw away our scales. There are people who use the scale in a healthy way, just as there are people who use this scale in an unhealthy way. And of course, there are loads of shades of grey in between. So, here is how I’m going to tackle this today.

So, I’m taking a throwback to the MCAT. So, the MCAT is the Medical College Admissions Test. And it is one of the many hurdles that I had to jump over to get into medical school. So, at least when I took it, I’m aging myself here, there was a writing section. You would be given a sentence and then you had to write in favor of the idea, against the idea, and then finally bring it all home.

I remember mine. It was, “Famous people should have their personal lives made public.” So, I had to argue for it. I had to argue against it. And then, I had to summarize and bring it all home. So, we’re going to do the same thing here.

Go with me on this, because by this point, if you have hung out with me at all, you know that I do not have the answer. In fact, no one does. There is no one right answer; there is only what works for you.

But if I can help you break this down a little bit and examine whatever reservations or fears or thoughts you have around the scale, if I can help you see the scale in a different way than maybe you have in the past, then mission accomplished. And again, my goal here is not to say hurry up and jump on the scale. Nor, is it to say toss it in the trash. You get to decide.

So, to start off, just think about this; what is your relationship with the scale? How do you feel about it? And, let’s dive in. So first, I’m going to talk about reasons that you might want to weigh yourself. So, first and foremost, this scale gives you your weight, it gives you data. So, the number on the scale tells you simply what the Earth’s gravitational pull is on your body, that’s it. It is a unit of measure. As an analogy, think of your speedometer. It is simply telling you how fast or how slowly you are moving, nothing more. So, in a similar vein, your weight is a data point. It’s an inarguable number, and its objective. It is neither good nor bad; it just is.

If you come at it from a scientific perspective, the more you weigh yourself, the more data you get. And the more data points you have, the better you’re able to make an accurate conclusion from that data. You can also review trends and find patterns. So, in this case, the data points or your weight will give you an idea if what you’re doing with your nutrition is working, especially if your goal is to lose weight.

Let’s take an example here. So, say you measure yourself on August 1st. And then from there, you make some adjustments to your diet, you start drinking more water, you cut out one regular soda per day. But then you don’t weigh yourself again until October 1st. So, what you don’t see is what happened between August 1st and October 1st.

So, what if, on August 15th, you were down three pounds from your starting weight? And then what if, on September 20th, you hit a new low and you’re six pounds down from your starting weight. But then, on September 30th, the night before you get back on the scale, you ate a bag of salty chips. Maybe you didn’t drink enough water. You had a crazy leg workout and you didn’t sleep. So, then you wake up and you weigh yourself and you see the exact same number as August 1st.

Let’s go back. So, imagine connecting dots. Say you connect the points for your weight on August 1st, August 15th, September 20th, and October 1st. It would look a little bit like a roller coaster because you’ve got four data points. But if you have two data points; your weight from August 1st, and then your weight from October 1st, because your weight hasn’t changed, you get a straight line.

The problem is, the weight that you see on October 1st is likely a reflection of that salty meal coupled with lack of sleep, dehydration, your leg workout; you get the idea. So, my point here, is not to say that you’ve got to weigh yourself every day; we’ll get to that in a minute. The point I am making is this, when you don’t have a lot of data, when you have very few data points, it’s really hard to determine patterns, and it’s hard to pick up trends.

And you know this already, but let me remind you, weight loss is not linear. So, instead of a straight line downward, it really does look more like a roller coaster. But when we don’t have a lot of data points, we have no idea where you are on that trajectory. So, are you on the upswing? Are you on the downswing? We really don’t know.

So, when you weigh yourself infrequently, you may miss a new low. On the flip side, when you weigh yourself regularly, you can see those short-term fluctuations, that are true for any human being that lives on the planet Earth. And the more data you have, the more you can make an accurate conclusion from that data.

Second, the scale can provide accountability. So, for some people, knowing that they’re going to step on the scale may cause them to think twice about the food decisions they make. Meaning, maybe you choose not to devour the pizza. Or, maybe you choose not to have that third glass of wine, because you don’t want to see it reflected in the scale later.

And again, as long as this is done in a healthy way, the scale can be a useful accountability piece. So, throwing back to science here, there are studies that have shown people who step on the scale more frequently may lose more weight and keep it off longer, than those who don’t weigh as frequently.

So, I say this all the time, and I’m gonna put it out here too; science is dynamic, it is constantly changing. So, we cannot swear by a few small studies. So, take that for what it is. But what the research does repeatedly suggest, whether this is related to weight loss or any behavior change, is that self-monitoring is an important part of reaching any goal you have.

For some people, having that scale, to see those real time fluctuations in their weight. is a key piece of that self-monitoring. Knowing that they’re weighing themselves can create that accountability. Leading off of that, the scale can help you course-correct.

If you have a goal weight in mind, this scale will give you data to tell you where you’re at, and your progress towards that goal. So, when you step on the scale, you get information. That information allows you to make adjustments to what you’re doing and see the effect.

As an example, if you weigh yourself regularly, and you see that that number is continuously climbing, and it is not going down at all, and you’re trying to lose weight, there it is. There’s your signal. Something is going on; something is not working. So, you can use this data and adjust your course. You adjust your plan to keep that weight gain from escalating.

So, I was talking with my husband about this, and he does a ton of patient safety and quality improvement work. So, when I was mentioning this episode, he shared the motto of quality improvement, so I’m going to share, because it applies for sure. “You can’t change what you don’t measure.” That makes sense.

You can also think about this like a PDSA cycle. Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA). So, you have a plan. You follow or you do your plan. You study it, meaning you get your weight. And then, you act on it. This is where your course-correct.

As a side note, the scale will tell you how food affects you, right? But it will also tell you how salt, water, alcohol, sleep, stress, your menstrual cycle, your workouts, pooping; I could go on here, how all of those things affect you. And to remind you again, you generally do not gain three pounds of fat overnight. Okay? It does not work that way.

If you step on the scale, and you see that it’s three pounds higher than the day before, you can look back and ask yourself; well, what did I eat? How much water, how hydrated? All of those things. Because those all have an impact. And when you step on the scale, and you take those into account, you can course-correct and see how these things affect you.

So last, this scale can promote habits. So, for some people, seeing the scale can be motivating. And if it promotes self-monitoring, and positive self-awareness, you know I’m here for it. So, if seeing the number go down is motivating, and it promotes healthy habits like, choosing fruit and vegetables over fast food, or drinking more water.

Or, if it gives you the motivation you need to stick with the plan that you’ve made for yourself, rock on. But the key here is that it promotes healthy habits. We’re not talking about punishing or restricting yourself. We’ll get to that in a few minutes. Let me summarize. So, using the scale, first, it gives you data; it is an inarguable number, it’s objective. Second, it can hold you accountable. So, knowing that you’re weighing yourself may help guide your nutrition choices.

Third, it gives you feedback, and it tells you if the nutrition plan that you have for yourself is working. It also gives you a springboard for a course-correction. Last, it can promote healthy habits, it can be motivating. If you see that what you’re doing is working, it can motivate you to keep going.

And again, let me beat this dead horse here, but I want to make it very clear. The caveat here, is that you use the scale and that data gives you information to make changes from a place of kindness. I want to make that very clear, from a place of kindness.

So, let me answer the question, because I get it all the time; should you weigh yourself every day, every week, at some other interval? So again, this is your decision. I cannot tell you what is best for you. Only you can. Again, if you think of it as data and you want more data, then you know your answer. Okay?

When you do weigh yourself, consider this though: Same time of day, same scale, wear the same clothes, or be naked, and generally do it first thing in the morning. So, get up, pee, poop, and then weigh yourself. The idea here, is to keep everything as similar as possible. You want to keep the conditions consistent every time you weigh yourself, because that is what’s going to get you the highest quality of data.

I’ve shared some pros of weighing yourself or reasons that you may want to weigh yourself. We’re going to flip it over, now. Let’s talk about why it may not be helpful to weigh yourself. So first, you ultimately cannot control your weight. So, despite everything you do, you ultimately do not have control over the number on the scale. Meaning you could be doing everything right and still not see weight loss.

And if you need a reminder about calories, go back to Episode 6, we talk all in detail about why the calories and the math do not always add up to weight loss. It is frustrating, a stink, there’s no doubt about that. But suffice it to say that when you lose weight, your metabolism slows and that makes weight loss nonlinear.

And too, we talked about this just a few minutes ago, remember that your weight fluctuates constantly; depending on the time of day, salt, water balance, your stress levels, all of these things. And we don’t have control over all of those factors. And those factors ultimately control what the number is you see on the scale. And for some people, that is just too frustrating to manage.

Second, the scale can be used for self-judgment. So, for some, the scale becomes a vehicle, wrongly so, for validation. And it can be teaching you to rely on an external cue, that number, to determine your worth. And this is true, whether you’re gaining or losing weight. So, this is why I don’t get excited when the scale goes up or when it goes down. Because you are no better of a person if the scale goes down. And you are no worse of a person if the scale goes up. Either way, it is data.

So, let me take just one second and simply shout from the rooftops that this scale does not determine your self-worth. You do not need that number to dictate your self-worth. All humans, every single one of us, we are all equally worthy, and no scale measures that. So, if you are someone who uses the scale as a tool to judge yourself, whether you are gaining weight or losing weight, ask yourself this really important question, it is one of my favorites; what are you making that number mean?

And I will bet you all kinds of thoughts are going to come up, and remember, they’re thoughts. They are opinions, they are not hard fact. And then, don’t be afraid to ask yourself that really hard question; why? Why are you making this scale number mean something? I cannot stress enough; it is a really important question to ask.

Third, the scale can lead to obsessiveness. And this would be the key reason not to use the scale. So, if using the scale leads to obsessiveness and unhealthy behaviors; like binging, purging, over exercising, restricting, etc., then the scale is not for you.

If it is something that causes you to be obsessive, if it controls your day, if it severely affects your mood, then weighing yourself is not the right thing for you. So, I touched on this at the beginning of the episode, and I will keep it very simple. If the scale leads you to unhealthy behaviors and obsession, then do not use it.

And last, the scale number is often confused with health. So, remember, the scale does not quantify your health, that is simply not the case. So, this is where the medical community, and I’m part of the medical community; we have some work to do.

So, when you go to your doctor’s office, for example, and you step on the scale, we get your weight. And then, we use your height and your weight to determine your BMI, your body mass index. So, your BMI is a calculation of your weight for your height. And then based on your BMI, you are given a label; you are either underweight, normal, overweight, or obese.

But here’s the thing, your BMI does not tell the whole story. And those numbers, truthfully, are fairly arbitrary. So, as an example, in 1998, the CDC lowered the cutoff between normal and overweight, from a BMI of 27.8 to 25. And what happened was that overnight, a whole bunch of people became overweight. So, you can see there’s a problem here.

And unfortunately, the medical community took hold, and we still follow this guideline. So, let me illustrate this another way. Imagine you have two people, both are five foot four, and both weigh 200 pounds. You do the math, and they both have the same BMI, and you plot them out, and they fall into the obese category with a BMI of 34.3.

The first person, she is perfectly healthy and has no medical problems. She can walk down the stairs with her kids, she can pick up her bag of groceries, she’s fairly active, and she has no medical issues. So, the other person has a load of medical problems like hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, she cannot walk to the parking lot without getting winded. So, what gives here?

Remember, the scale does not measure health. So, health, by definition takes into account a number of things. In some definitions, health means free from disease. But I don’t love that because that’s defining one thing by the absence of something else. If you go to the World Health Organization, you’ll see that health is defined as, “A state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being.”

Nowhere in there does it say you have to weigh 140 pounds. Your weight does not, in and of itself, determine how healthy you are. And I said this before, the medical community has some work to do. And we are, we’re looking at other measures, especially waist circumference to help us assess a person’s health, but we’ve got a ways to go. So, know this, your weight does not equate with health period, end.

To summarize the reasons that you may not want to use the scale: First, you ultimately cannot control it. Two, it can be used as a means of self-judgment. Third, it can lead to obsessiveness and unhealthy behaviors. And last, it can be wrongly confused with health. So, how do you decide? How do you bring this all together? We’ve gone over reasons why the scale may be helpful. We’ve talked about why the scale may not be helpful. So now, what the heck do you do about it?

The answer is as simple and as complicated as this; you have to know yourself. So, let me give you some questions to consider. Does weighing yourself empower you? Does it give you information that you can process in a way that will lead to healthy decision making, and the operative word here, healthy? Are the decisions that you make, that are based on the scale, are those decisions made from a place of self-love, or self-loathing?

There’s that word again, “self-love”, I know. But I said it before, I will say it again, you cannot beat yourself up into your next best version. Your decisions have to come from a place of self-love and self-acceptance.

On the flipside, does this scale give you anxiety? Does it make you obsessive? Does it lead to unhealthy choices made from a place of self-hatred? So, if you know you are someone who will step on the scale and see a number you don’t like, and then try to punish and restrict yourself down to a lower size, maybe by sweating your brains out on the elliptical and eating nothing but saltines and water, there you go. You’ve got your answer. That’s no good.

Let me complicate this just a little more because, again, there just is no black and white. And let me add this, because they see this frequently, there are also people who choose not to step on the scale because they simply don’t want to know. They don’t want to know what the number is. And my question to that will always be why?

Here’s where it all comes together. This is where feelings and the scale meet up. For any of you who are wondering why I talk about things like calories in one episode, and feelings in another, and the scale in another, here it is; this is where it all comes together.

So, to bring this all together; what happens when you step on the scale? There’s your number, there’s your circumstance. And remember, circumstances are inarguable fact; they are neither good nor bad, until you have a thought about them. So, what thought do you have when you step on the scale and you see your weight? What feeling does that produce for you? Is it ashamed? Happy, embarrassed, proud, stuck, motivated?

If for you, if it’s a negative emotion, what do you do with that? And again, I ask this all the time, what is the worst that happens when you step on the scale, see a number you don’t like, and you feel a negative emotion?

Remember, from Episode 5, you feel the feeling; you just feel it. So, for most of us, again, as long as you have a healthy relationship with the scale, you practice feeling the emotion and you move through your day. You carry that feeling with you like a heavy bag, and you own it, and you recognize it, and you move through your life.

Think about this: Everything you do or don’t do, is because of how you think it will make you feel. So, if you are someone who is afraid to step on the scale, because you don’t want to know and don’t want to feel the feeling, ask yourself the powerful question; why?

Ask yourself; what is the worst that happens when I step on the scale and feel whatever I feel? So many of us are afraid to feel the negative feelings, so we just ignore it or deny it all together. And in this case, it means avoiding the scale, straight-up.

But let me offer you this, what happens if you step on the scale, and you allow or you receive the feeling? And, you allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel? And, know that you’ve got your own back so you can handle any emotion that comes your way, then what?

So, I would argue what happens is this; the scale starts to lose the power it has over you. Because remember, the scale is not judging you; you are taking care of that all on your own. But if you can take back the power, and feel whatever feeling the scale brings up for you, and know that no feeling can harm you, there you are; then you’re on to something.

And when you start to take back your power, when you start to see the scale in a different way, things start to change. Maybe you start to see your weight as a data point. Maybe you see that it wasn’t as awful as you thought. Maybe you use that information to start eating differently.

If you can use the scale as a tool, and use it to make healthy decisions, go for it. And if you avoid the scale, get really honest with yourself, and just ask why. There is so much knowledge to be gained by asking yourself “why”. And if it’s that you’re afraid to feel your feelings, that’s okay. Go back to Episode 5, remind yourself that it is okay. And in fact, necessary to feel your feelings.

And, that is where the growth is at whether you use the scale or not. So, I know this is a loaded topic for many of you, but I hope that I have given you a number of different ways to view this scale. More than anything, I hope that what I’m saying here encourages you to get really honest with yourself. I said it before I’ll say it again. I do not have your answer; you do.

Thank you again for going with me on this. I would love to know your thoughts and comments. So many ideas for future episodes have come from your suggestions and I thank you, and I look forward to bringing you more next week. I’ll catch you then bye.

To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m going to be giving away a Wellness Journal to five listeners who follow, rate, and review the show. You do not have to give it five stars, although I certainly hope you love what you’ve heard so far. But more than anything, please give me your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show for you.

I would love it if you shared your questions and thoughts, so I can make the show a useful and fun resource for you. Visit CarrieHollandMD.com/podcastlaunch to learn more about the contest and how to enter. I’ll be announcing winners on the show in an upcoming episode. See you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think so you can live in the body you want with the mind match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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