Why You Should Quit The Scale, Today

Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.
I don't believe in following directions anymore. Doing what other people told me to do in order to fix my body is what screwed it up to begin with. The only orders I follow now are the ones my own instincts provide: I eat food that feels and tastes good, and I work out so I can be fit (and, fine — so I can listen to Serial and email friends with my personal theories like some kind of treadmill detective).
I'm in the best health of my life, simply because there are no more Dos and Don'ts — except one: Don't weigh yourself. Period.
Rarely do I dole out orders in this column; I know that everyone has to do what works for them. But, I'm going to go out on a hypocritical ledge and tell you that you should quit the scale. DO go to your bathroom, DO pick it up, and DO get it out of your house. DON'T look at it again.
Okay. If you were raised in a body-positive, food-neutral, media-free bubble, then fine. Keep your scale. But, if, like me, you live in the world, that thing just isn't helping you. It was only when I quit that I realized how much harms it does.

1. It's a trigger.
In eating disorder treatment, patients are typically asked to turn around when they're weighed, so they don't see the number on the scale. There are a few reasons for this, but one is that the number — so inflexible and stark — is an instant emotional trigger. That number has the power to resurrect old habits and obsessive thought, even after months of treatment and progress. It's because weight isn't neutral for that patient. Weight is everything.

But, even if you've never had an eating disorder, your weight is probably not a neutral topic. Is there anything on your body that you feel completely neutral about? I just sat here and thought about it for five minutes, and the best I could come up with was my eye color. I am neutral on my eye color. Everything else, I have a good or bad opinion on, and my weight is far from neutral. That doesn't mean all this good work I've done is for naught. I'm a much more body-positive, secure person than I was a year ago. But, I'm still a human with a history. And, I respect that history by staying away from something I know is a trigger for me.
In the past, weighing myself meant judging myself, and that judgment affected the way I ate, dressed, and interacted with other people. My weight was like a secret I kept from everyone, sure that if they heard the number, they would see me differently. If I lost weight that week, I either indulged in a celebratory fro-yo ("Hey, I've got a whole week until the next weigh-in!"), or pushed myself to go harder, eat a little less, and walk a little further ("If I lost two pounds this week, maybe I can do three next week.") If I gained weight, the same thing happened — but, my celebration became a pity party, or the restriction became an desperate race to bring the numbers back down. Either way, I lived by the scale. And, that's not exactly living, is it?
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.

2. It's not a doctor.
From a health perspective, the scale is not the best barometer. It gives you one piece of information, rather than a whole picture. If you want a clear understanding of the shape you're in, the simplest way is to get a physical. But, like many women, I spent years avoiding that appointment for fear of stepping on that scale and hearing my doctor say that number out loud. Would I detect a tone in his voice? A tone that said, "You are so disgusting and fat that I'm going to call the police?" Of course I'd detect it, even if it wasn't there.

As it turns out, I wasn't just being a hypersensitive loon. Or, if I was, so are most of us. According to recent research, getting weighed is the number-one reason women avoid the doctor.
Here's the good news: You are perfectly within your rights to skip the weigh-in. It never occurred to me that this was an option, but it turns out many doctors are intelligent, rational human beings who are fine with forgoing this step (or at least agreeing not to show you the number). They know more than anyone that the scale can be a trigger and that they can get better info using blood work, waist measurement, and all those other skills they learned in a billion years of medical school. There are certain circumstances when your weight is a more important factor (for instance: if you're getting surgery, or are dealing with certain medications), but unlike in your bathroom, the scale is not the end-all-be-all in your doctor's office.

3. It's just one number.
You know what they say about a little bit of knowledge: It's a dangerous thing. Knowing only your weight without taking any context or variables into account is a recipe for danger. Here are some things the scale can't measure.

Hormones: There comes a time in every woman's life when she bloats and swells and has to put on Those Pants. Truth be told, your hormones fluctuate more often than you'd think, and so does the mysterious ebb and flow of your water retention. Unless you're taking blood panels and urinalysis on a daily basis (I'd suggest that as another Don't), you can't really know what's going on in there.
Hydration: Even if you always weigh yourself at the exact same time, there's no way to be the exact-same amount of hydrated every time (even if it's first thing in the morning). You can lose multiple pounds of water weight in a hard workout. Similarly, if you eat or drink something diuretic, you'll pee more than usual. The scale doesn't know these things and you can't explain them to it.
Poop: Yeah, that's right, I said it. Poop matters! Are you, as they say, regular? Are you so regular that you go at the exact same time every day? If so, lucky you. Here's your trophy; you win, forever. If you don't possess such mystical bowels, there's no accounting for the amount of waste hangin' out in there when you step on the scale. True, it may be a matter of ounces. But, when you're a weight-obsessive with a digital scale, those ounces are the difference between Good Day and Stay In Bed Because What's The Point.
Those are just three big factors, but there are plenty of other things your idiot scale cannot account for: muscle, fat, when you ate last, what you ate last, uneven floors, and it's own calibration compared to other scales.
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise.

4. It's not the boss of me.
This is the crucial shift that happened when I quit the scale. From the start, I held firm to the stance that this was not about losing weight. This was about reclaiming health and sanity around food, fitness, and my body. But, I couldn't keep that promise while still staring at those numbers. That would be cheating on my anti-diet.

If you're not sure how much the scale impacts your life, then try taking a break from it for six months or a year. See what happens. See how you feel, what you fear, and how you look at your body. Is your health improved or hurt or even changed without that information? How about your life?
Without my weight at the center of everything, I can finally bring focus back to where it belongs. I measure my fitness routine by how challenging it is and how well I can maintain it. I have to accept and measure my body based on how it feels. Without the scale to tell me how good or bad I look, I have to really engage with my own body-image issues. Good days are no longer measured by weight. Good days are just about feeling good. I'm in charge of that now. Yes, it puts more responsibility in my hands. And, yes: Sometimes I miss having someone or something to make the Good vs. Bad decision for me.
Then, I think back to that crazed, desperate woman whose whole happiness balanced on half a pound. I don't miss her much.
The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. And, hashtag your Anti-Diet moments to share your own journey! If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here.

More from Body

R29 Original Series