The Great Scale Debate

By Katie, 5:24 am

I’ve decided to weigh in (bad pun intended :roll: ) on the Great Debate over this little-yet-powerful bathroom accessory.

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To weigh or not to weigh? That is the (extremely loaded!) question.

Most of the people with whom I’ve discussed this come down heavily on one side or the other; the scale is either their best friend or their arch nemesis. They either step on it every day or never go anywhere near it…and advocate everyone else doing the same. But that’s a little too much black-and-white thinking for my taste. If someone were to ask me if I think stepping on the scale is good or bad – healthy or unhealthy – my answer would be, “It depends.”

But on what? Well, on your goals. On your relationship with your body. On the history of your relationship with your body. On your definition of success. On whether or not you relate to this cartoon. ;-)

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In other words, it’s a very personal thing. In my particular situation, I can step on the scale every now and then (say, at the doctor’s office) without being too affected. But I choose not to do so on a regular basis. And here’s why.

The Three Reasons I Don’t Weigh Myself Regularly

1. My Unhealthy History with the Scale

I can admit that I used to be number-on-the-scale-obsessed, and nothing can change the past. There was a time when I was hopping on the scale at least once a day, and the number I saw there had the power to make or break my day, my mood, my confidence, you name it. :-( Talk about losing sight of what really matters in life!

2. Alienation from my Body

As you know from my constant jabbering about Intuitive Eating, I think it’s really important to listen to my body. But judging my health based on the scale’s reading is pretty much the opposite of that, don’t you think? If I feel strong and healthy and balanced, who is the scale to tell me otherwise?

3. I Don’t NEED It

It’s true that, when used in a balanced and healthy manner, the scale can be a great tool for measuring progress and success. (See Stephanie’s great post on why she continues to use the scale as a monitor, even as she takes a more intuitive approach to her health.) But the scale is not the only tool. I’ve found that there are plenty of other indicators that work just as well: how I’m performing in my exercise routine, how soundly I’m sleeping, how well my clothes are fitting me, and just how my body feels on a day-to-day basis. When I’ve gained or lost a few pounds, I don’t ned a scale to tell me; I already feel it, you know?

Granted, those tools can’t necessarily measure small changes in weight – a pound here or a pound there – but that’s fine by me; I don’t need or want to know every little fluctuation.

Overall my point is this: I do not think there is anything inherently evil about the scale or anything inherently unhealthy about stepping on one. In my mind the key to maintaining a healthy relationship with the gadget is to “know thyself.” Only you can know if you’re too obsessed with the number and need to step away, just like only you can know how comfortable your body is at any given weight.

How do you “weigh in” on this debate? Do you use a scale to monitor your progress, or do you avoid it? Why have you made that decision?

52 Responses to “The Great Scale Debate”

  1. I’ve weighed myself exactly 5 times in the past 8 months. I think I just got so sick of being weighed constantly during my pregnancy that I don’t want to do it anymore!

    One of the UNhealthiest times of my life was when the scale was plummeting downward, so I think you’re spot on about it not being any indicator of health.

    I still fall victim sometimes, though. Last time, I weighed myself, then went to pee and pump milk and when I returned to the scale I was 1 1/2 pounds lighter! For some reason, that made me really happy and I felt thinner. Silly, silly me.

  2. Becca says:

    I totally agree that it depends! As someone who is a) approximately 40lbs above what is considered a healthy weight for my height, and b) still learning to listen to and understand her body’s messages; I find weighing myself and calorie counting invaluable tools, as long as I am sensible.

    By sensible I mean
    - recognising that a woman’s weight varies so much throughout the day, week, month that using a programme that smooths out the results is far more accurate and less mood-altering;
    - optimising nutritional value of food and not just minimising calories; and
    - appreciating that while weight-bearing exercise may not burn as many calories according my heart-rate monitor, the other positive effects of such exercise are invaluable.

  3. Candice says:

    I step on the scale each morning. Seeing the fluctuations between days helps me realize how sodium, working out, and other factors affect my body. It reminds me each morning to eat purposely and for hunger. It’s not obsessive for me- I can easily skip if I’m at a hotel or on vacation. If it became obsessive then I’d stop.

  4. Beth says:

    I threw out my scale 5 years ago or so. I get weighed once a year at my annual exam. It’s too easy for me to obsess about numbers, and I fall into the trap of letting my weight dictate my mood. If the scale is down that morning it’s a great day. If I gain a few pounds, life sucks.

    I don’t care about numbers anymore. I use my favorite pair of jeans to tell me where I am, weight-wise. If they start to get snug I pull back on the indulgences a little.

    I think it’s good to monitor our health, and maintaining a healthy weight is part of that. Of course healthy looks different for everyone. My best friend is 5 feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. That’s a healthy number for her and she uses the scale with no issues. I’m 5’9 and the last time I got weighed was 138 pounds, which is my natural, effortless weight, and I avoid the scale because it makes me crazy.

    If the scale works for you as a tool then go for it. If it brings you down and sabotages your mood or your entire day, or if it makes you beat up on yourself, you might want to think about ditching it and figuring out a less stressful way to keep yourself in a healthy range.

    I don’t think the scale issue is black and white, it’s different for everyone. Figure out what works for you, and then do that.

  5. Lauren says:

    Ugh, such a debate indeed! I use to weight myself everyday even multiple times a day! The number became my only identity and when it changed, I felt like I was changing as well. Now, I definitely have the scale put away. I pull it out from time to time to keep myself in check but thats it. The number has changed over the past few years but so have I, and I’m okay with that!
    Great post girl!

  6. Hey, Katie! Great post. And it’s definitely a debate indeed! I used to weigh myself a lot, just to have an idea and keep myself in check. But now that I’m focusing on health and adding strength-training into my workout routine, I know that what the scale says doesn’t really reflect how healthy I am. I’m building muscle and becoming a strong, toned woman – and that I love! I haven’t weighed myself since I seriously started working out to reach a healthy lifestyle.

  7. I totally agree with you. I generally can “feel” when I’ve lost or gained weight, and I try to base any eating changes I want to make around that general feeling. I don’t avoid the scale, but I certainly don’t weigh myself every day. I don’t really care about the number on the scale as long as I feel strong, healthy, and powerful. A number is just a number….every so often, I weigh in on the scale during various exercise training periods in my life just to see how it changes my body (for example, I’m very curious to see how marathon training affects my weight). I feel like I’ve gained a lot of muscle in my legs already, and I don’t care if the number of the scale goes up. I’m just proud of my muscular runner legs!

  8. Tamara says:

    I have an unhealthy scale history too, but I did weigh myself this morning. A lot of complicated thoughts went into the decision, but it basically boiled down to this: I’ve been eating more than I tell myself I “should” lately, but I woke up feeling normal and hungry as usual. So I had two approaches at the ready. If I weighed less than I thought, I would have yet more proof that calorie counting is bogus and I should just trust myself. If I weighed more than I thought, I would tell the scale “@#$&% you” because I /feel/ fine and healthy, and I would have more proof that the number doesn’t mean anything. It turns out that it was the former case, which is actually a disappointment in a way because the “trust yourself” message is a lot harder for me to internalize than the “@#$&% you” one.

  9. Thank you for referencing my blog post! You obviously know where I stand on this one hehe ;)

  10. I also used to have a terrible relationship with the scale and do admit to weighing myself from time to time but I also have the discipline to put it away when it isn’t working for me. Now, the scale just sits in my bathroom going un-noticed which is a major leap from when I used to weight myself three, four or five times a day.

  11. The scale and I have a long fought battle. Before it was my ONLY source of validation. I am learning to not let the number affect where I am. I am learning to let go of that. I am not all the way there yet, but it doesn’t hold the power it used to over me.

  12. I agree with you that it depends on the situation and the person. I choose not to weigh myself, but to go how I feel, as well as how my clothes fit. I know my body so well at this point that I don’t need to define it by numbers. I know when I feel healthy and when I don’t.

  13. Simply Life says:

    I weigh myself once in a while but thankfully have managed to stay within the same weight range since about high school so I think I’ve just figured out what works for me and my body…

  14. I agree that I don’t need a scale to tell me if I have gained or lost weight…my body (and clothes) know….so I don’t weigh myself. I don’t see the point. I can be one to obsess over a number so why put myself in that position??

  15. christina says:

    i use the scale to monitor my weight. i agree that it can be hard to not become obsessive, but i think it’s good to stay in check. weighing yourself 1-2 times a week is probably enough.

  16. brandi says:

    We have such similar stories/backgrounds with this! I’ve posted about this before, too, and I don’t weigh myself very much anymore. It was bad for a while, and I definitely let the number dictate my mood, my day, and my outlook. Thankfully, I stopped and I use my clothes as the main measurement now.

  17. *Andrea* says:

    i don’t weigh myself anymore either. my mom never allowed a scale in my house (although she did go on some diets over the years like weight watchers) and i think i admire that decision! my sister’s bf’s mom (a high powered exec) however weighs herself EVERY day and my sister said if she’s not a crtain number she won’t eat/drink etc. i would hate this sense of restriction!

    i also think being mindful means loving the body for how it is at every moment, rather than comparing yourself to a different self or a different person.

  18. Jessica says:

    I weigh myself regularly but the number does not dictate anything for me – which is a far cry from the me 3 years ago. If I feel good that is what matters.

  19. homecookedem says:

    I stopped weighing myself “way” (hehe) before I got preggers even. It was only making me miserable and I have never been so happy since I stopped weighing!! They weigh me at the Dr. office to make sure I’m staying on track with healthy weight gain, but I don’t look at it as the number I am rather have I stayed in a healthy weight gain range.

  20. Holly says:

    I completely agree! I used to weigh myself daily, and it truly drove me nuts. What I saw on the scale truly indicated how my day went; how messed up is that?! I went for a period of time where I only weighed myself once a month…however, I will admit I’ve been doing it more frequently lately. I’m going to cut back slowly and surely, and honestly hope one day I won’t feel that “need” to at all anymore. Weight isn’t always indicative of our health, anyway, so what’s the point?

  21. Shawnee says:

    I stepped on the darn thing twice this morning. :/ Maybe I am a little obsessive with the number. I went without a scale for a few months though and gained 10 pounds!!!! I feel like I need to know, or I am oblivious. That was a stressful time in my life, but…hmm you’ve definitely made me think.

  22. tanya says:

    It depends on if the number on the scale is going to effect your day…good or bad, then I feel it is a problem.

  23. I’m still pondering whether or not to throw out my scale, but I don’t think I will. In the past when I’ve not had the scale, I’ve put on 20 or so lbs without really noticing (I KNOW – insane! But I’m really great at denial when I don’t have a scale – “my pants shrunk in the dryer!”). So not having a scale might not be an option for me – especially when I’m up for some major changes in the next couple of months with lots of new stress. Having an idea of where I’m at helps me know that I’m not stress-eating or indulging too much. I know for other people they can keep track of these things – but without the scale, I have a really hard time! AND -I’m so much better than I used to be at not assigning anything bad to the # and unless it’s gone up a lot, I’m not concerned! And if it HAS, I just remind myself to eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m satisfied and make sure I’m getting enough activity.

  24. I feel like I’m over the bad-obsessive period of my life and now I am in the good-obsessive period (does that make sense.. healthy obsession?) Anyway, I think the frequency of scale usage DEFINITELY depends on the person — just like you said. It all depends on their current relationship with their body, with food, and with how that number will affect the rest of their day. Currently, I’m in a position where I can weigh myself every morning and every night and be okay with whatever the number. It’s a good feeling to know mentally I’ll be fine with whatever I see. (of course, if I see it trend up — time to work out more — but that’s a healthy thing to do, not an obsession — at least for me).

  25. I agree! The scale can be A tool, but shouldn’t be THE tool you use in gauging your level of health. I am the worst at telling people that the number doesn’t matter, yet I jump on it every morning. A bad weight doesn’t make me too upset, but if I drop below a certain number, I will be super excited about it! I do take my measurements and use that, how my clothes are fitting me, and how I feel as a bigger sign of how I’m doing food and fitness-wise.

  26. Tina says:

    I feel the same way. I can honestly say that what the scale says will not affect my self worth if I ever get on it, but I just don’t need it so I have the mindset of “why bother with it?” I think it is certainly a useful tool if tracking weight loss or gain if you can’t really judge objectively other ways, but I do think knowing your body is more fruitful and should be something to strive towards.

  27. Jen says:

    I confess that I weigh myself a few times a week. It doesn’t make or break me. However, I admit that if I know that I haven’t been making good food and fitness choices, I skip it, because, like you already mentioned, I know that my weight has fluctuated. I think I do it mostly because I am fascinated by how much my weight fluctuates! My morning weight and night weight can sometimes be a 5 pound difference! Just goes to show that numbers on a scale shouldn’t matter at all!

  28. Fantastic post, Katie! I love that you focus on your health and strength as indicators of how you’re feeling and your well-being. I also love your advice about knowing yourself. If the scale is a symbol of your self-worth, controls your mood (one way or the other) and basically makes you feel like crap – it’s definitely best to avoid it. I totally agree that if you’re taking good care of yourself, that’s all that matters. Weight isn’t an indicator of health.

    By the way, the cartoon is awesome! It totally cracked me up. :)

  29. Fantastic post – completely agree. I rarely ever step on the scale now and can usually tell by my clothes or just how I’m feeling generally if I have/haven’t been taking care of my health.

    I found awhile back that I was still letting the number, an arbitrary number than can change overnight, dictate my mood for the day. Ludicrous – especially when you consider my weight really only ever fluctuates within a 10 pound range at most. So I just don’t do it. I am really working towards completely accepting 100% that what I weigh doesn’t matter. I’m almost there.

    And so now my scale is something my 2 little girls pull out and step on with delight, hoping their ‘number’ has gone up. Gotta love it.

  30. Arielle says:

    I DEFINITELY think it depends on all those factors you pointed out. I weigh twice a week. Friday & Monday. Friday is my official weigh-in but Monday is more to see how well I did over the weekend but if there’s a loss, I’ll count it especially if I lost a fraction of a pound the friday before. I was on a 2-month plateau so I got used to seeing the same damn number every week so I got to the point where I was able to weigh and just say, “well, I didn’t gain weight!” and go on about my day and decide to work a little harder. I think I have a healthy relationship with my body and my scale so it works for me.

  31. Valerie says:

    right now, i choose not to step on the scale. i am in the very beginning stages of repairing my relationship with food and my body and i feel like it would be counter productive. i like you have based my mood, confidence ect. on the number i saw. i used to weigh in once per week but as of now, i dont plan on weighing in until i feel like me head is ready. i want to make sure i know that i can be happy with myself no matter what the number is :)

  32. I do weigh myself often, but usually just to check in and make sure that I am on track with maintaining my weight. For me taht number helps me hold myself accountable when I want to make unhealthy choices too often.

  33. Great post! I try to weigh in at least once a week but sometimes I still struggle with the scale measuring me happiness! Good for you for nixing it! You are right–>there are other ways to measure your body’s health!

  34. Dorry says:

    Love your blog (and this post)! I don’t actually own a scale so I don’t weight myself often. I also have an unhealthy past with the scale so I try not to worry too much about the number. I trust the scale at my doctor’s office but I stay away from the ones in my friends’ bathrooms. :)

  35. Jessie says:

    Love the cartoon and the puns! Hee hee :)

    I think you’re exactly right in that weighing yourself or not is a very personal thing. At least for me, I find that one a week is good, just to make sure everything’s ok. Sometimes we get so used to how we feel, we don’t realize we’re gaining or losing inappropriately. I think everyone needs to find what works for them – it may take trial and error, but once you find a system that works for you, it will be worth it :)

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  37. The scale is most definitely a gray area….it totally depends on the person, the circumstances, etc. I personally go back and forth *depending* on certain things. For example, I haven’t weighed myself in months. Why? Because I’m pretty sure that I’m a few pounds heavier than my “happy weight,” and like you said, I don’t NEED the scale to confirm that in any way.

    With that being said, I’ll probably weigh-in in a few weeks or so just to see how my current eating/exercise habits effect my weight. I’ve never struggled with obsessing over the scale, so for now I’ll just keep using it as a once a month/week/year check-in :)

  38. This is a great post Katie, and I agree with you 100%. I think that it can be an invaluable tool, depending on your goals and your relationship with it. But it can also become something awful. I’ve had times in my life where I avoided the scale at all costs, because I was so afraid of the number that would pop up. Logically I knew this was stupid, because just seeing the number wouldn’t automatically change WHO I was or anything. But like you said, it had the power to make or break my whole day. So I swore it off altogether and chose instead to go by how my clothes fit and how I felt. Now I’m in a much better place and so can hop on it once in awhile just to check things out.

    On the other hand, if you’re in a place where weight loss/maintenance is your goal, I think the scale definitely has a big role in that.

  39. My relationship with the scale was far too unhealthy in the past so now I’m trying to avoid it. I think that it is possible to monitor our health just by going by how we feel. If I feel healthy and I have the same fitness level and my clothes still fit, then there is nothing to worry about! Even if my weight does fluctuate by 1 or 2 pounds, it’s really no big deal and I don’t really feel the need to know about it by weighing myeslf.

    That’s just what works for me though. I think that using the scale can be useful for some people and it’s possible to do it in a completely healthy and non-obsessive way.

  40. Jennifer says:

    I used to never weigh myself. In fact, when I did I was always shocked by how low the number was. Then after I got married we got a scale because I registered for one, I don’t know why I did now that I think of it. But anyway, before I got married I had very weird eating patterns. My job had different hours and so I usually only had the time to eat one full meal a day with snacks in between. (I know that’s not too healthy) But after I got married and had a husband that could eat like a horse, I started associating his constant hunger with me being hungry too. Throw in not teaching dance 10 hours a week anymore, and you could say my weight fluctuated a bit. I was so ticked off by seeing that I gained about 3 pounds that it drove me crazy and I began running for exercise, then would weight myself all the time. After a while of going to a dark place that I had never been before, I have learned to listen to my body’s hunger pangs and not my husbands and I rarely weigh myself anymore. I exercise because it is so much fun, and I feel back to my old self again!

  41. Shelley says:

    I love this topic right now, because to be honest- i am trying to figure it out. On the one hand, i think that i could deal with seeing my weight on a regular basis- weekly, or even maybe every other week- while on the other hand, i know that if it went up and i wasn’t expecting it to i’d probably be upset. Right now, i’m staying away from the scale. In the future? who knows

  42. heres what you do, pick up the scale, go outside, grab a hammer or a big ol’ stick. write a note on the scale that says “i own you, you are a number, your happiness is based on what i tell you” then you yell and say NO ITS NOT!!!! and start smashing. crisis averted!

  43. Good post and good questions!

    I don’t weigh myself very often but do “weigh in” about once a month or so. I agree with you, I can usually tell if I’ve lost or gained weight by the way my clothes fit, how I feel, etc. However, I like to “double-check” once in a while.

    When I gained a lot of weight at one point in my life, I didn’t weigh myself for many months, and I was shocked by the number I saw when I finally did weigh myself (I shouldn’t have really been that surprised as I didn’t feel well, none of my clothes fit properly, and I just knew I had gained a lot). Anyway, weighing in once in a while keeps things in check for me. If the number is higher than what I’d like, it’s a reminder to treat myself right. It’s not a reason to beat myself up. It’s also not a reason to do anything drastic. Small, reasonable, kind changes will bring the right results.

  44. Meg says:

    To be completely honest, I weight myself every morning. Sometimes at night too. Then there are some weeks that go by and I haven’t weighed myself once. True, a higher number than I expected can put a damper on my day. It also reminds me of where I can straighten out my diet and exercise without being obsessive. For example I probably could have not eaten the entire bag of chocolate covered pretzels and taken a walk instead of spending the afternoon infront of the tv. I go pretty easy on myself (sometimes too easy) so for me it’s a way to keep myself in check. I do however, understand and appreciate why people forgo the scale!

  45. Elina says:

    Oh man, definitely a good question. I stopped weighing myself daily around the same time I accepted my present weight – whatever it is on a given day. It does not mean that I may not want to lose a few pounds which I *know* I gained (which I do, and yes – I knew I gained weight without the scale telling me so) but it does mean that the scale stopped ruling my life. I step on it once in a while as a check. I did do it a few weeks ago and it showed that I actually gained way more than I thought I did, which was a good wake up call but did not throw me into a crazy roller coaster of emotions. I’m just more aware now. All in all, I think it can be a good tool if you are actively trying to lose weight by following a strict program because this way you know if it’s working (or to be more accurate, exactly how well it’s working) but otherwise if you just try to eat intuitively and trust that your body will work things out, then it’s probably best to leave it as an occasional check of your stats… like your height or age. :)

  46. SUCH a debate… I go back and forth. But I was pretty unhealthy for a few weeks with two vacations and so for the last two weeks I have weighed myself again every day in the morning… and its crazy how much it affects me. I do think there is something to be said for accountability if you are trying to lose or gain weight, which I am, but in general I think that the negative effects (obsession, guilt, self-hatred, etc.) WAY outweigh (no pun intended) the benefits of daily weigh ins… I am thinking about trying the monday/friday thing only just to keep accountable, but at the same time I recognize it would be better to give it up completely because it is often an unhealthy obsession.

  47. Wow! I just wrote a post on this and several times before, but this time about weighing in at the doctors and getting comments about the changes.

    i def don’t own a scale and hate to weigh myself because like you, i had a horrible relationship with one when i had it. it would determine my mood for that day and how it would progress. never a good thing when you’re trying to live life!

    i’m glad to hear you’ve been able to move away from it and listen to your body when it’s changing if it does!

  48. Liz says:

    Its sad but true, it can totally make or break my mood! I decided to forget the scale and just focus on eating healthy and working out. As long as my jeans still fit, I figure I’m on track :)

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