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diet culture weighing scale

Why You Need to Stop Weighing Yourself

The Psychological Impact of Self-Monitoring Your Weight

Diet culture has taught us to measure, monitor, and manage ourselves.

Big Brother doesn’t need to watch you when you are conditioned to what you are watching and confining yourself.

Bars are not always made of steel, but of self-imposed internalizations of elusive ideals.

You needn’t be allocated a citizen number, when the digitized, numericized, metric unit of your body mass is solely that which dictates your value…Right?

Self-Surveillance and Weight Management

Weight-monitoring practices, and specifically self-weighing (i.e., monitoring of weight via self-surveillance) using scales has been relatively commonplace, if not a socially normative and encouraged practice amidst societies where weight-related dissatisfaction and heavily emphasised weight-related co-morbidities are prevalent. And where interest in health, fitness, and disease prevention is made both high and perceived as being the responsibility of the individual.

Self-regulation theory states that monitoring a particular behaviour or practice leads to reactive attempts to produce a specific and desired outcome. This aligns with our common experience where feedback from self-weighing (i.e., the number seen on the scale) can prompt changes in dietary intake (excess, insufficient, or adequate) and physical activity (Klos, L et al. 2012, p.551).

Such reactive efforts are often a response to body dissatisfaction, medical intervention, or even the mere idea that it’s normal to seek to maintain an arbitrary number.

Carrying the Weight of Public Health

Self-weighing is often heavily promoted within the sphere of public health and “obesity prevention”, yet – by virtue of being promoted for the masses, it is paradoxically limited and the extent to which frequent self-weighing, especially amongst those without significant weight-related issues, may foreshadow the development of unhealthy weight control behaviours, binge-restrict dietary patterns, and consequently does not necessarily lead to the (perhaps intended) goal of improving eating and exercise behaviours for long-term health promotion (Neumark-Sztaine, D et al. 2006, p.816).

Accordingly, certain health professionals have questioned how useful self-weighing, and the intense focus on body weight, truly is as it fails to reinforce the positive messages related to healthy, eating, physical activity, and behavioural/ habitual changes required to maintain a healthy weight, healthy mind, and fundamentally a healthy relationship with food and the self (Neumark-Sztaine, D et al. 2006, p.811).  

Weight ≥ Self-Worth?

Positioned as both the watchers, and the watched, weight-based metrics come to measure not only our mass (which is, in essence simply our gravitational pull on planet Earth) as well as the best method for both increasing our body dissatisfaction and disordered relationship with food as scale weight increases and decreasing our sense of bodily intuition, connection, and trust.

Results from longitudinal studies illustrate that daily self-weighing is correlated to anxiety, depression, body image dissatisfaction/ disorders and deteriorations in self-esteem and self-worth.

They further suggest that individuals who engage in this behaviour are at an increased risk of engaging in unhealthy weight management practices, weight-gain, and are more susceptible to developing an eating disorder and/ or negative relationship with exercise (Klos, L et al. 2012, p.551-552).

For instance, a 1997 study saw a group of female volunteers weigh themselves daily for approximately two weeks, versus those in the control group who were only weighed once at the beginning of the study and once at the end.

Results demonstrated that the daily self-weighers were found to have lower levels of self-esteem, low mood and greater aversion and anxiety related to monitoring their weight – thereby negating any potential long-term weight maintenance by self-weighing alone (Benn, Y et al. 2016, p. 188).

Conversely, participants in the non-weighing / infrequent weighing control group did not experience the same psychological trauma or negative self-evaluation (Neumark-Sztaine, D et al. 2006, p.812)

By nature, the very act of self-weighing draws attention to, and places sole focus, on the body, and highlight the discrepancies between one’s current and one’s desired body shape – the real vs. the ideal.

This disparity between current and desired shape and weight, as studies have made us aware, can elicit low self-esteem, self-depreciation, body dissatisfaction and a low sense of self-worth.

Sex and the Scales – Is there an Impact?

In keeping with the notion of discrepancy, there also appears to be a distinct gender difference and the psychological implications.  

Research indicates that the relationship between self-weighing and weight/ behavioural outcomes differs between males and females and therefore gender and associated social conditioning.

In females, but not males, self-weighing behaviours are shown to predict a higher frequency or binge eating and unhealthy weight control behaviours (e.g., restriction, compensatory behaviours, yo-yo dieting, etc).

Higher levels of self-weighing have been recorded amongst females, in addition to an increase in weight preoccupation, (negative) diet behaviours, and a consistently lower scale weight vs. male counterparts who are less likely to engage in frequent self-weighing or emotionally invest in the numerical value shown (Neumark-Sztaine, D et al. 2006, p.816)

Atypically, self-weighing women tend to score higher on the body-image subscale that measures appearance investment and associated appearance dissatisfaction (Klos, L et al. 2012, p.553).

Various research highlights that body weight plays are more dominant role in defining a woman’s perceived attractiveness as opposed to a man’s – consequently, it has been proposed that women who regularly engage in self-weighing may do so out of an effort to manipulate, maintain or manage this aspect of their desirability (Klos, L et al. 2012, p.553).

As a result, studies suggest that individuals who engage in more frequent self-weighing or weight-management and monitoring practices are often more appearance oriented and invested in achieving or maintaining a socially acceptable weight and shape.

What if we focus on internal body cues instead?

Even though regular self-weighing has been associated with weight loss, there is no substantial or consistent evidence regarding the psychological implications of engaging in this behaviour long-term (Benn, Y et al. 2016, p. 188).

Alarmingly, self-weighing, in culmination with other restrictive practices (i.e. calorie counting, macro – counting, etc) have been adversely associated with eating disorder severity (Romano, K et al. 2018, p. 841)

On the other hand, adopting an intuitive eating approach and focusing more son on body neutrality as opposed to body weight, have been shown to favourably support mental as well as physical health, as well as being considered a viable treatment for both eating disorders/ disordered eating and obesity (Ibid).

However, externalising our sense of self-knowledge both disempowers us and disembodies us to a certain extent – especially when an “unfavourable” body weight comes to dictate dietary intake.

Ultimately, as with most actions, it is the intent that shapes the outcome.

When the internal is taken care of, adequately nourished, and honoured, the external tends to take care of itself!

The Take Away Messages

  • Self-weighing serves as a means or metric mode of measuring and monitoring progress towards a weight-related goal, yet evidence suggests that it can be associated with psychological distress – such as lower levels of body- satisfaction, restrictive eating patterns or binge eating to name a few.
  • Self-weighing is often heavily promoted within the sphere of public health as a means to control obesity, but fails to account for the psychological impact of this message and does not provide the tools required to foster both mental and physical health
  • The psychological implications of regular self-weighing appeared to be gendered – insofar as women, due to social conditioning, are more liable to associate a specific scale weight with desirability
  • Intuitive eating, and the practice of honing body knowledge, stands as an effective treatment for eating disorders and kinder weight management.

If you are looking to stop being at the mercy of the scales and finding the true meaning of health, our team of experts are here to help! Contact us at hello@embodyhealthlondon.com for more information and we would love to support you.

Charlotte Munro, BSc

EHL Team x  

 

References

Benn, Y et al (2016), ‘What is the psychological impact of self-weighing? A meta-analysis’, Health Psychology Review, 10, pp. 187-203. doi: 10.1080/17437199.2016.1138871

Gorin, A et al. (2019), ‘Eating pathology and psychological outcomes in young adults in self-regulation interventions using daily self-weighing’, Health Psychology, 38(2), pp. 143-150. doi: doi.org/10.1037/hea0000689

Klos, L et al. (2012), ‘To weigh or not to weigh: The relationship between self-weighing behavior andbody image among adults’, Body Image, 9, pp.551-554. doi: 0.1016/j.bodyim.2012.07.004

Neumark-Sztaine, D et al (2009), ‘Self-Weighing in Adolescents: Helpful or Harmful? Longitudinal Associations with Body Weight Changes and Disordered Eating’, Journals of Adolescent Health, 39, pp.811-818. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2006.07.002

Pakanowski, C et al. (2015), ‘Self-Weighing: Helpful or Harmful for Psychological Well-Being? A Review of the Literature’, Current Obesity Reports, 4, pp. 65-72. doi: 10.1007/s13679-015-0142-2

Pakanowski, C et al. (2016), ‘Self-Weighing Behavior in Individuals with Eating Disorders’, International Journal of Eating Disorders, 49(8), pp. 817-821. doi: 10.1002/eat.22537

Romano, K et al. (2018), ‘Helpful or harmful? The comparative value of self-weighing and calorie counting versus intuitive eating on the eating disorder symptomology of college students’, Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, 23, pp.841-848. doi: 10.1007/s13679-015-0142-2

Steinburg, D et al. (2014), ‘Daily Self-Weighing and Adverse Psychological Outcomes: A Randomized Controlled Trial’, American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 46(1), pp.24-29. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2013.08.006