I Tried The 30-Day No-Scale Challenge — Here’s What Happened

Photographed by Fernanda Silva.
Every morning is the same: I tiptoe into the bathroom at 6:30 a.m., strip down to a thong, and step on the scale. Whatever appears on the display sets the tone for how I’ll feel that day. Some days, she delivers good news. I’m down a pound! Some days, she's an asshole: I’m up two pounds. (Damn you, pancakes at Sunday brunch.) Recently, I had been eating well and feeling good. I did my morning scale-hop expecting to be rewarded for skipping my ultimate favorite, the best cupcakes in the world. And I was shocked to learn that I was mysteriously up half a pound. Yep, a measly effing half pound. I lost it. That day, I was cranky, I kept checking myself out in the mirror to see if I looked fat, and I’m pretty sure I picked fights with both my dog and my husband. And, sadly, I even felt worthless. All this over half a pound. I couldn’t deny it anymore: Weighing myself was affecting my life, my happiness. It was time to go cold-turkey. I decided to give up the scale for 30 days. Why step off for 30 days?

It’s no real surprise I found myself facing an unhealthy relationship with the scale. I’ve suffered from disordered eating habits since I was in high school (which was, ahem, quite a while ago now) — and I’m open about them. I’ve kicked a past dalliance with bulimia and exercise addiction, but still can’t seem to shake my obsession with weight. And the weird thing is, I’ve never had much weight fluctuation. I’ve always been roughly the same size, ever since I can remember, but I’m absolutely, irrationally terrified of gaining. Basically, I spend tons of energy and stress on the scale when the chances are really small that my weight is actually going to change much. So a 30-day break seemed like a welcome reprieve. I'd tried previously to cut back on weighing myself (once a week! Only on Tuesdays and Sundays!), but that didn’t work. So giving it up altogether was really my only option. But would it help? I turned to Minh-Hai Alex, MS, RD, dietitian and owner of Mindful Nutrition in Seattle. Her answer: an unequivocal “Yes.”

Weighing myself was affecting my life, my happiness. It was time to go cold-turkey.

“You’ll learn a lot about yourself. The scale disconnects you from yourself and life in general. Many people are not aware that weight worries are often an effort to cope with the stresses and uncertainties of life,” Alex says. Well, that hit the nail on the head. My life certainly feels in flux and all over the place. I had a baby seven months ago, and I still feel like I’m adjusting to the new normal. Becoming a mom has also had an impact on my career as a freelance writer that I didn’t anticipate (namely: I feel like I’m always drowning in to-dos and can never catch up). If I focus on my weight — a concrete number — then I have less room to really think about how this new, abstract, messy life totally freaks me out. Am I hungry? Ask the scale

The concept of “intuitive eating” is hot right now. Basically, it means you’re in tune with your hunger and fullness cues. You eat when you’re hungry, enjoy every bite, and stop when you’re full and satisfied. There are no rules for how much and what you eat, but you put trust in your body. And if you have a cupcake? You savor each morsel of sugary sweetness. And it seems to work: “Generally, intuitive eaters enjoy better health and wellbeing than dieters,” Alex says. But it turns out, weighing yourself doesn't leave any room for mindful eating. I used the number to tell me how hungry I was. If my weight was down that day, I was “hungrier” and ate more; if it was up, then I told myself I those stomach rumbles meant nothing. All this is pretty ironic, because weight has little to do with health — something I know intellectually but have trouble internalizing. “The scale distracts you from your body’s wisdom,” Alex says. And it can make it more likely that I will make not-great-for-me choices, especially when my weight fluctuates a bit for reasons unrelated to a healthy lifestyle (such as totally normal hormonal changes). “For example, you might make positive changes that feel good, like eating more produce, lowering stress levels, and exercising, but if you’re weight-focused, not seeing the number you’re hoping for can discourage you from maintaining those healthy habits,” she says. By taking the month-long break, “you’ll likely find it becomes easier to notice how your body feels and what it needs,” says Alex. That might be my hunger, but also if I’m craving salad or need fries to feel satisfied, as well as when to go balls-out with exercise, take a walk, or just put my feet up on the couch. What happened when I let it go

Like any habit (er, obsession?), this one was hard to break. I almost cheated on day three. I walked into my bathroom, saw the scale, and wanted just to see — to make sure that my weight wasn’t spinning out of control. (Not logical, I know, but nothing about this is.) Physically removing the scale would be ideal, says Alex, because the sight of it can trigger you to step on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t something I could do, because my husband uses the scale like a normal human. If his weight is up, it’s just that — it’s up, and he’ll consider eating fewer chips at lunch (but not obsess over it). The scale stayed. So what was I supposed to do in that first moment after I woke up, when my mind would beeline to how much do I weigh today? The key was distraction. I had to find something else to do or focus on. What worked for me: chugging some water, taking a quick walk, or going for a coffee run. Next problem: How was I supposed to eat? Intuitive eating sounded good, but I had zero practice listening to my body. If I didn’t have to answer to the scale anymore, would I still make healthy choices?

If I didn’t have to answer to the scale anymore, would I still make healthy choices?

During the first few days, nope. I didn’t know how to pay attention to hunger and fullness — something Alex says is normal, because I’ve been disconnected from my body’s cues for so long. But over the next couple of weeks, things changed. If I overate at my favorite Mexican restaurant, I didn’t have to feel guilty. The scale wouldn’t punish me. The next day, I was free to resume my normal veggie-loving eating habits. There was also no reason to skip small portions of foods that I loved — or eat less than I was hungry for — because I wouldn’t be “rewarded” for it with a lower number the next day. More than that, I became more confident in my food choices and ability to nourish my body. I didn’t always listen to it — exhibit A, four cookies at a recent wedding when I probably would have been satisfied with one or two. (They were good.) But I took a step closer, and that’s really all I could hope for. My 30 days are up and, yep, I got back on the scale. (I know! But curiosity!) The verdict: Nothing really changed. My world didn't crumble when I stopped weighing myself. I still could fit into my clothes. My friends and family still loved me. And when I got back on the scale, I was no different. It was more proof that worrying about my weight is a huge waste of time, energy, and emotional reserves. My weight meant everything to me when I started. And if I’m being honest, I can’t say it means nothing now that I’ve done this challenge: Old habits die hard. But over those 30 days, I started to enjoy a happier, more balanced version of myself. Alex suggests trying to extend my challenge for another month — or even never weighing myself again. (That’s clearly impossible for me, but it’s a nice thought!) While I’m not sure what my relationship with the scale will look like in the future, one thing is clear: I’m not going back to everyday weigh-ins. “There’s only one thing the scale measures, and it’s not your health, worth, or even how well you’re doing with eating and exercise,” Alex says. “It measures…drum roll…your relationship to gravity. That’s it.”
It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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