It's time to be friends...with your scale

Upon his arrival, the office assistant quickly ushered the new patient back to meet the cantankerous psychologist.

     “Am I late?” the man asked.

     “Yes, about 10 minutes,” the assistant politely replied.

The man apologized to the psychologist and explained the reason for his visit.

     "I have a fear of seeing any display of time, and I avoid looking at all types of clocks."

Ironically, he was constantly stressed out about being punctual. Intrigued by the man's unique condition, the psychologist asked how he was able to keep a schedule at work or for other appointments.

     “That’s the problem, I’m always guessing and I’m often late--sometimes really early."

      “So your doctor referred you here so you can learn to look at clocks and watches without so much anxiety?”

The patient’s voice nervously trembled, “I was actually hoping you could teach me some other ways to tell time without looking at a clock.”

The old psychologist sighed impatiently. “That would be a colossal waste of our time, he said as he removed his watch from his left wrist.”

He dangled the watch in front of the man and reminded him that it had no power to cause anxiety.  He told the patient to wear the watch for a week and pay close attention to it when he needed to be someplace. 

     "If you begin to feel anxious, take a deep breath and remind yourself that numbers are helpers not monsters.”

This story sounds a bit silly--or does it? Many of my patients who are overweight also have a fear of numbers—the ones on a scale. Similar to the "clockphobe" in the story, their reluctance to weigh only perpetuates their weight problem. Studies clearly show that self-weighing is related to successful weight management. But we can't reap the benefits if we never step on the scale, or fall apart when we do.

Dealing with Negative Thoughts

Like the numbers on your speedometer, the scale provides important information to keep you safe and healthy. Use it as data to help you stay focused on behaviors. Let go of emotionally-laden judgment. The longer you stay consistent with weighing, the less emotional it becomes. Work on replacing negative thoughts with ones that are truly helpful.

1. Thought: I can’t believe I’ve gained; I will never reach my goal.

Re-think: Weighing helps me figure out what strategies work. It helps me set realistic goals.

2. Thought: I need to lose 75 pounds and weighing reminds me of how long this will take. It’s discouraging.

Re-think: Although the scale keeps me aware of how I am doing, my behaviors are what I have control over. It’s rewarding to feel better even after a little weight loss.

3. Thought: I’ve been working so hard and the scale didn’t budge, I feel like giving up.

Re-think: Sometimes the scale doesn’t move as expected. If I’m consuming fewer calories than I’m burning my weight will change. I can be patient and enjoy the process. 

How Often?

Studies suggest that daily weighing may be best and that going more than a week between weigh-ins is generally a bad idea. A few studies have shown benefits to weighing more than once per day.

When?

Weighing first thing in the morning after going to the bathroom will help you track changes in fat weight rather than daily fluid shifts. We typically gain several pounds throughout the day due to consuming foods and fluids.

Buy a Good Scale

It can be frustrating when your scale isn’t reliable. Make sure it gives you consistent readings when you step on and off several times. Don’t worry if it’s a few pounds different than the doctor’s scale, the change in  weight is what you need to focus on most.

Expect Fluctuations but Look for Trends

Even when you are consuming fewer calories than you burn, your weight may fluctuate.  Hormonal changes, salt intake, hydration, medications, and bowel habits can cause short-term variations in weight and may have little to do with adherence to a healthy eating or exercise regimen. If your goal is weight loss and these fluctuations are trending down, you know your strategies are working.

Good Days and Not-So-Good Days

Commit to weighing, no matter how well you are doing with your eating and exercise. Weighing when you struggle can help you get back on track quickly. Sometimes the scale tells us that the results aren’t as bad as we think. Adjusting our behaviors due to a pound or two weight gain is typically easier than than avoiding the scale and then trying to cope with a large weight gain later.

 

Shieh et al., Self-weighing in weight management interventions: A systematic review of the literature. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2016