Dana James featured in an article on Brydie.com.
Three years ago, when the scale I’d had in my bathroom since high school broke, I threw it away and never looked back. I was 22 and finally starting to feelcomfortable with my body for the first time. I’d been a slave to the number on the scale for the last decade—I had based my whole personal worth on it. So the second I no longer felt dependent on that, I took my freedom and ran with it.
During my years without a scale, I learned to take better care of my body. I learned to drink less, eat more vegetables, and get my steps in. I felt healthier and foxier than ever, and even though I no longer knew my exact weight, I had an approximate number in my head that I figured was about right. I think a lot of us keep that “goal number” in the back of our minds—the weight that represents our bodies at our fittest. Based on how I felt, I was pretty sure I was hovering right over that goal.
Of course, I had no desire or intention to know my actual weight. But a couple months ago when I went to the doctor to renew a prescription, I finally came face to face with a scale. Now that this moment had come, I was expecting to step on and see my “goal number.” But as the nurse inched that dial rightward, I started to panic.
There it was: my real weight—a full five pounds heavier than the maximum number I was imagining and eight pounds above my “goal.” (It’s worth mentioning that I’m 5’2″, so these numbers feel somewhat significant.)
Objectively, I knew my weight didn’t matter. I felt good; I looked good. Still, I couldn’t get that unexpectedly high number out of my mind.
I wanted to stop this freakout before it began, and I figured I couldn’t be alone. So I got in touch with a handful of trusted health experts to help talk me down.
According to registered dietitian Lauren O’Connor, the number on the scale should be taken with a big grain of salt. All it can really do is help you gauge whether or not you are within an “ideal range” for your height and build, she said. The key word here being “range.” Fixating on an exact number based on a height-and-weight chart or a weight you once were is not reasonable. “Factors such as bone size and frame, muscle mass, and even age play a role in the ideal weight range for an individual,” O’Connor says.
In fact, worrying about the number on the scale can be worse for your health than whatever that number actually is. It can lead to food restrictions, obsessive exercise habits, and a self-esteem nosedive. Plus, the relationship between your weight and physical health is not direct. “So many women have a complicated relationship with the scale, and part of that is because it is complex,” explains certified nutritionist Dana James.
Think of it this way: When the scale goes up, that means your entire body weight has increased, but it doesn’t tell you what the culprit is. It could be water, muscle, fat, or maybe just that you haven’t gone to the bathroom yet, says nutritionist Dr. Charles Passler of Pure Change. “Think about the last time you weighed yourself,” he says. “What time of day was it? Were you wearing the same clothes? Has your diet changed to justify the increase?”
Passler says to take an honest look at what you’ve eaten since you last weighed yourself. “It is unlikely you gained five pounds of fat in one week,” he says. “But if it is justified, own it.” Whatever the culprit is, there are easy things you can do to fix it.