Scroll through your newsfeed on social media and chances are you will stumble across a myriad of headlines promoting the latest trend for losing weight. Whether it’s that annoying person selling Saran Wrap for your midsection and boasting “IT WORKS”; or someone encouraging you to try Whole30 while saying “Oh but it’s not a diet“—diet culture is ubiquitous. Considering diet/weight loss is a $66 billion industry in the U.S., it’s unfortunately going to be around for the time being.
So how do we cope with living in a society that tells us we are not good enough as we are?
That is one of my goals here on Spilling the Beans—to provide you with information and insight so you are able to thrive in a world that that is constantly telling you that you need to take up less space. Which brings me to today’s topic—the number on the scale.
If you watched my video last week called What I Gained from Giving Up Restrictive Eating, then you know that I have a former relationship with the number on the scale. In fact, for all of high school and much of college, I woke up every single morning and weighed myself. I allowed that number to dictate my day ahead. If it was a “bad” number, I would blame myself for not being disciplined enough the days before. If it was a “good” number, I would pat myself on the back, but remind myself that it could always be a lower number. It was a lose-lose situation…every. single. time. Fortunately, over the years, I have learned to not let that number hold weight (pun intended) in my life. In fact, I don’t weigh myself at all anymore. My experience in clinical dietetics has been especially helpful in my outlook on weight since I know that there are many physiological influences on that number. Here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t worry about the number on the scale:
1.) BMI was never meant to measure health
When we go through school as dietitians and health professionals, I think we often memorize the information in front of us without pondering how that standard came to be. Take BMI (a measure of height and weight) for example. I never used to think twice about how they even came up with the equation to box you into a category such as “overweight.” What I’ve learned more recently is that BMI was actually first created in the 1800’s by a mathematician and statistician who needed a tool for statistically drawing conclusions about populations in society. It wasn’t intended to be used as a tool for medical doctors to diagnose individuals as morbidly obese. (You can read more about the BMI debacle here.) However, that is what it has turned into.
2.) Weight is influenced by many factors
Part of the reason that weighing yourself is problematic is because it is normal for weight to fluctuate. Weight is influenced by hydration status, phase of the menstrual cycle, medications, hormones, and (probably most importantly) genetics. In fact, there have been studies in the past which indicate that genetics play a significant role in determining body weight and adiposity as shown in twins who have been raised in different environments from birth (1, 2). In addition, our bodies have a set-point range in which our bodies like to operate. This means that our bodies have a “happy weight” that they like to stay at through a feedback control mechanism (3).
3.) Weight does not tell the whole story
Just as weight is influenced by many factors, it also doesn’t tell you the whole story about your body composition. The number on the scale does not tell you your muscle mass. It does not tell you your bone size. It does not tell you your waist circumference. It does not tell you your blood pressure. It does not tell you your lab values. It does not tell you your strength. Need I go on? As I mentioned in my video last week, all your weight really tells you is how gravity is pushing down on the mass of your body at a given time. We place a lot of value on a number that tells us a whole lot of nothing.
4.) Weight does not make you more or less valuable
One of things I hate most about society is how we are promised some kind of miraculously perfect life…if only we lose weight. We see this all the time. People promoting a weight loss program paint a grim picture of what your life currently looks like. They always show people loafing around with dissatisfaction for life. Then, Voila! Somehow all of your problems have vanished. You are promised more energy, sex appeal, and enjoyment in life from doing xyz plan. However, I can tell you that any problem you are currently experiencing in life likely has very little to do with a number that flashes across the scale when you wake up in the morning. That number does not tell you anything about who you are as a person. It doesn’t tell you what your passions are in life or the good you are bringing to the world.
You deserve a place in this world no matter what size you are.
1. Maes, H. H., Neale, M. C., Eaves, L. J. (1997). Genetic and environmental factors in relative body weight and human adiposity. Behav Genet, 27(4), 325–351.
2. Stunkard, A. J., et al. (1990). The body-mass index of twins who have been reared apart. N Engl J Med, 322(21), 1483–1487.
3. Harris, R. B. (1990). Role of set-point in regulation of body weight. Faseb Journal, 4(15), 3310-3318.