Why stepping off the scale — for good — can benefit your mental and physical health

·6 min read
How to quit the scale in the new year. (Photo: Getty Images)
How to quit the scale in the new year. (Photo: Getty Images)

No in the New Year is Yahoo Life’s series about the power of saying no, establishing boundaries and prioritizing your own physical and mental health.

The new year is often plagued with sentiments about creating a "new you" with enticing messages about diet culture and weight loss to improve your physical and mental health. But with more nuanced conversations about what a "healthy" lifestyle really looks like, one intuitive dietician says that it's all about stepping into the new year with a new mindset. She says it'd even be beneficial to step off of the scale.

Marissa Meshulam is a New York-based registered dietician who approaches her practice with a focus on mental health. One of the things that she says most distracts clients from building better relationships with their bodies and food is too much of a focus on weight.

"We put so much, pun-intended, weight on the scale that we lose sight of so many other things," Meshulam, who is also the co-host of The Wellness Wakeup podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "You can be feeling really, really great one week — you meal prepped all these breakfasts, you went to two workout classes, you're talking better to yourself, not saying all these negative things. And then you can hop on the scale and all of a sudden, it can completely change your day."

While it seems commonplace to make determinations about one's health by looking at a number on the scale, as we're repeatedly asked to do at doctor's appointments, the history of weighing oneself highlights how little information it actually provides about somebody's medical standing. In fact, the stress that habitual weighings caused writer Kelsey Miller led her to abstain from the scale back in 2014.

She tells Yahoo Life that she was a chronic dieter throughout her life, with the same end goal of losing weight and being thinner. Ultimately, in her late twenties, she decided she couldn't do it anymore. 

"I had been trying to do this thing for most of my life and it just hasn't worked. In fact, it had been very counterproductive," she says of participating in diet fads and culture. "It's really made my relationship with my body and food and the scale and all these things just so much worse and it hasn't improved my health or wellbeing, certainly the opposite."

Miller began to consider that she needed to go in a completely new direction in order to achieve both a healthy body and mindset. That's when she began to work on "diet deprogramming" with a registered dietician.

"The first step that you really have to take to learn how to eat quote-unquote normally again is to have full permission to eat and to do so without considering your weight when eating," Miller says. "So quitting the scale was mandatory, certainly for me, and I would imagine for most people who would take on that kind of a mission." 

Meshulam encourages her clients to use a similar approach when reconsidering their use of the scale, although she assures that individuals should consider their personal relationships to the number that will appear before them. 

"If you're someone who gets on the scale and it determines what you're going to eat for the rest of the day, how much you're gonna work out or if you're gonna go to dinner with your friends, then your relationship with the scale is probably not the healthiest right now and it's probably worth taking a break," she explains.

More importantly, she continues, "there's so many other indicators of our health."

On social media alone, people have begun to engage in conversations about the scale's role in doctor's visits, specifically, and the great anxiety that a weigh-in could cause to those taking a more mindful approach to their bodies. Miller recalls being nervous herself when she decided to communicate with her doctor years ago that she didn't want to know the number on the scale.

"I remember my doctor just being like first and foremost, very confused by my anxiety around it and really kind of bending over backward to be like, 'Yeah, why would I care about that? That's not a big deal at all,'" Miller says.

A Chicago-based primary care physician who goes by @thatgaydoctor on social media has used his growing TikTok platform to address the ways that patients can talk about their weight with doctors in a way that enables patients to feel comfortable and in control.

@thatgaydoctor

I hope this helps! Our job is to advise you on how to improve your health, not judge you. #fatshame #fatphobia #medicine

♬ original sound - thatgaydoctor
@thatgaydoctor

Many come in to talk about weight, others avoid the Dr for fear of it. I change my script to try to fit needs/goals. Not a one size fits all chat!

♬ original sound - thatgaydoctor

Various medical professionals have also incorporated different ways to non-verbally communicate the desire not to be weighed.

And while many are openly celebrating the progress of not feeling immense pressure to step on the scale, Miller assures readers that it's an individual decision that comes with various considerations.

"Why am I doing this? What am I trying to learn about myself? How is it serving me?" Miller suggests people ask themselves before checking their weight. Meshulam also requires that her clients write down how they're feeling about themselves before stepping on the scale to ensure that the number doesn't have a negative impact.

For those who engage in the "treacherous feedback loop" that can come from habitual weigh-ins, however, quitting the scale can unlock the potential for a less stressful approach to health and body image.

"Throwing out your scale is gonna make a meaningful difference. That's automatically gonna change your relationship to your body. It's gonna inherently change the way you think about it," Miller explains from experience. "For most of us, our bodies have become naturally very, very tied up in our identities, the way that we think about ourselves and the way you think of your life and your worth and your ability. And if you were able to unlink your weight from all of those things, the whole world could open up for you."

And if the thought of a forever change on Jan. 1 sounds intimidating, Meshulam reminds clients that "no decision's permanent."

"With New Year's resolutions, we don't need to focus on these big, massive things. That's where we set ourselves up to fail. But starting with small changes that you can actually implement is what we want to do. So the scale is not a massive change. It's always going to be there, put it in your closet for a couple of days, see how you feel knowing that you can go back to it when you want to," she explains. "If you've spent the past 10 years weighing yourself every single morning, give yourself a break and you can always go back. It might just make you feel a lot lighter."

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