I started to dread standing on the scale when I was in the 8th grade. I had just gotten curves - which I didn't want at the time. I began weighing myself more frequently, which was something I had never really done before. Each time my feet hit that scale, I really hoped the number that I saw would be within a particular range. A smaller range. And if I hit that range, I felt extra happy and successful. And if I didn't, well it was time to slightly alter my food intake and exercise more. I should add that I was playing a variety of sports at this age and could run for miles and feel great afterwards. But instead of embracing my strength and stamina that I experienced from being an athlete, I let part of my sense of accomplishment revolve around the numbers that I would see on that scale. I gave those numbers far too much thought and energy than they ever deserved. I had bought into diet culture.
Fast forward a few decades and I'm now a non-diet RD and a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor who helps clients make peace with food and their bodies, in addition to empowering their overall wellness. When people approach me about empowering their wellness, I encourage them to implement health-promoting behaviors for the sake of their health versus for weight loss. An Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size (HAES) approach. After all, the size of a person's body does not indicate if a person is "healthy." And we can empower our health at any size.
But many people receive the message that in order to be "healthy" they must be "thin," and therefore dedicate a lot of energy to obtaining a certain number on the scale. The truth is that living in a smaller body or in a larger body does not ensure that someone's health is thriving - or the polar opposite. People's genetics, socioeconomic status, health habits, and environment can particularly influence their health. As can the weight stigma that individuals who are living in larger bodies experience from some healthcare professionals, loved ones, peers, strangers, etc.
People have their own unique genetic blueprint which naturally results in a variety of different body types in this world. You can be “fit” and have fat on your stomach. You can be “fit” and have what society considers to be a “thin” body. You can also live in a body that society calls “thin” and not be “fit.” There are people who are living in smaller bodies who engage in unhealthy behaviors, and there are people who are living in larger bodies who are living a healthy lifestyle. And focusing on the size of our body - versus what helps us feel well emotionally, physically, and mentally - can distract us from doing things that can really empower our wellness on a long-term basis. This study states that there is "...considerable evidence that the focus on weight and weight loss is linked to diminished health."
But let's say someone still wants to focus on losing weight because it's tough to believe that the size of a person's body does not indicate if a person is "healthy" (Or the person simply wants to look a certain way). Typically when people want to lose weight, they go on a diet. I gradually became a non-diet dietitian because I realized that diets don't work in the long-term for most people, and they can be harmful. As I expressed in my Nutrition Philosophy, when a group of UCLA scientists evaluated 31 long-term studies on dieting, they determined that up to 2/3 of the individuals featured in the studies gained back more pounds than they had originally shed - within five years or less. The International Journal of Obesity featured a study conducted on 4,000 individual twins which indicated that dieting may cause weight gain "...independent of genetic factors." According to the American Journal of Public Health, as far back as 1992, "...the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a consensus statement that dieting is an ineffective method to produce sustained weight loss." Not to mention that weight cycling/yo-yo dieting - is associated with worsened cardiovascular health and premature death. It's also worth noting that having a history of dieting is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder. So given the fact that the size of a body does not equal health, and that diets don't work for most people and can do harm, I choose to assist my clients by helping them implement realistic health-promoting behaviors versus trying to obtain a particular number on a scale.
So let's get back to that scale. The number that we see on a scale does not indicate if we feel depleted - or if we're moving our bodies in ways that bring us JOY and help us feel energized.
Nor does it convey if we're experiencing an immense amount of stress over a long period of time, or if we're simply feeling motivated to do our best for an upcoming event that we're participating in. It does not reflect if we feel incredibly lonely, or if we have a positive and strong support system that we wouldn't trade for the world. The scale does not communicate if we're experiencing sleep deprivation, or if we're obtaining at least 7 hours of shuteye a night. It does not express if we're experiencing disordered eating or are living with an eating disorder - or if we have a healthy relationship with food and our body. People who are living with eating disorders come in ALL shapes and sizes.
A number on a scale does not indicate if we're some of the millions of Americans who are experiencing food insecurity. Or if we're able to provide our household with an ample supply of foods that offer us nourishment, pleasure, and the peace of mind that if we're hungry - we can honor it. Nor does this number convey if we live in an area where it's difficult to feel safe walking outside - or if we can easily ride our bikes in our neighborhood. This number also fails to indicate if we experience discrimination because of the color of our skin, our ethnicity, our gender, our sexual orientation, or our body size. All of which affects our health.
It's also worth mentioning that the number on the scale can easily be affected by fluid retention, perspiration, the time of day we go looking for it, if we've had a bowel movement, what we're wearing, and so much more! So now you know why I'm a big believer in helping my clients implement realistic health-promoting behaviors - that feel right to them - versus focusing on the scale.
In the next blog post I'll cover some of the benefits that are associated with some of my favorite health-promoting behaviors. If you'd like to learn more about the private one-on-one sessions that I provide - to empower your wellness - click here. In the meantime, happy eating!