There was a time in my life when I would weigh myself multiple times a day. Every half of a pound lost or gained was either a major victory or show-stopping tragedy, respectively. I was obsessed.
Even though I eventually got treatment for the eating disorder that sparked this constant need to know how much I weighed, my relationship with the bathroom scale remained an unhealthy one.
Then I got pregnant. Prior to my pregnancy my body had settled into my “happy weight,” but by the end of my pregnancy, I’d gained 35 pounds, which, while pretty average, put me at my heaviest weight ever (because, hello, another human being was growing inside me).
But all I saw was that number. Despite my best efforts not to look at the scale for nine months during my pregnancy, my curiosity got the best of me and I had to sneak a peek at my medical chart at my last pre-natal check up. So after I had my baby (and once I was cleared by my doctor to exercise, of course), I set out to lose my baby weight. I began doing the STRONGER workouts and watched what I ate.
I never reached my prepregnancy weight, though (as far as I know). But what I did reach was my prepregnancy pants size. Then I remembered something personal trainer Holly Perkins had said at a Women’s Strength Nation conference I’d attended:
“Imagine what your ideal body looks like — your size, shape, etc. — and your ideal weight. But what if you got on the scale with your ‘perfect body’ and weighed five to 10 pounds more than your ideal weight? How much would that matter? If you looked the way you really wanted, would you care as much about what the number on the scale said?”
That was my aha moment: Screw the scale! I was stronger than I’d ever been and basically the size I wanted to be, regardless of what the scale said.
5 Things I Learned by Ditching My Scale
After this light bulb moment — partly by choice and partly by circumstance — I stopped weighing myself. In fact, I haven’t stepped on a scale in three months. It might not seem like a long time, but for someone who used to have daily weigh-ins, that’s a major victory. And it’s definitely more worthy of celebration than a half-pound of water weight loss.
Here’s what I learned (and am still in the process of learning).
1. My weight only tells part of the story.
What’s my weight, really? To get all scientific, it’s a number that quantifies my body’s relationship to the Earth’s gravitational pull. And yet I let this number control so much of my thoughts and feelings about my body.
Here’s what my weight can’t tell you: how much muscle I have versus how much fat I have. You may have heard “muscle weighs more than fat,” but that’s not exactly true, because a pound is a pound is a pound. A more accurate statement would be that muscle is denser than fat, so the pound of muscle takes up less space than fat weighing the same amount.
That’s why two different people can weigh the exact same amount but look completely different (of course, there’s also height to take into account). And that’s also why you can work out for months on end and still weigh the same.
I see this a lot in our LIVESTRONG.COM Challenge Facebook group. People want to know why they aren’t seeing the number on the scale drop. What a lot of them fail to realize is that you can still be getting smaller without losing weight. That’s why progress photos are great when you’re looking for physical changes.
Read more: 11 Ways to Measure Your Fitness Progress
2. I am not the number on the scale.
Here’s what else my weight can’t tell you: how happy I feel when I work out, how much energy I have to play with my daughter or how good I am at my job. It can’t tell you any of that.
But I can tell you because I am more than a number on the scale. It’s taken me years to fully believe that. I’m a human being with a fully human body made up of flesh and bones and organs and muscles. Sometimes I weigh 125, sometimes I weigh 135. But that doesn’t change who I am as a mother, a partner, a friend or human being.
3. The scale wasn’t the problem; my perception was.
I don’t write any of this to convince you that scales are evil and you should throw them away immediately and never think about your weight again. There are plenty of situations where losing weight is necessary. If you’re carrying around too much excess fat, you can be at higher risk for a lot of chronic health issues.
So if you’re using the scale to help keep you accountable, bravo! However, if you’re like I was, and your relationship with the scale is a toxic one, it’s time to re-evaluate.
I asked LIVESTRONG.COM writer Kate Cummins, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, about this, and she said: “The best thing for this type of behavior is to totally disengage. Tell yourself, ‘I recognize that the number on the scale upsets me, and I deserve to feel confident and beautiful, regardless of a number on a scale.’ Make the choice with your conscious thoughts to either not step on the scale, put it in a room in your house that you don’t go into or just throw it away.”
And she ended with this gem: “More than anything, I tell all of my patients that they are so beautiful and worthy of feeling incredible, so anything that they choose to do that makes them feel ‘less than’ gets tossed out the window in the form of behavioral change.” Preach!
4. I’ll probably always be at least a little curious what I weigh.
All right, I admit it: I do get curious from time to time what I weigh. It’s been a while, so who knows what that number is? I’m a woman living in a society that tells me what I look like is important. And tied to that is my weight.
The difference now is that I don’t let that curiosity become an obsession. I wonder briefly if I weigh more or less than I did a month ago, and then let it go. Because, at the end of the day, it’s just not that important.
Read more: The Big, Fat Truth About Body Composition
5. My struggles with body image aren’t over.
Next confession: I am still concerned about looking a certain way. Even though I don’t obsess over my weight anymore, I think about what my body looks like — a lot. So it’s not like throwing away the scale is the key to happiness. But it was a really good start.
For me, it was a huge step in loving and accepting my body the way it is and for all of the amazing things it has done and continues to do. I may still struggle with my self-perception from day to day, but I’m working on it. Because I’m human. And a work in progress.
So if you’re struggling too, I’m here to tell you it’s OK to struggle. It’s OK to not be perfect. And if you need help, it’s OK to ask for it.
What Do YOU Think?
Have you ever struggled with your weight or body image? Do you weigh yourself often, or have you stopped weighing yourself like I did? What was your motivation? Was any of this helpful to you? Because as much as I love sharing my story, I also love hearing from others! Share your stories with me in the comments below or on Facebook or Instagram.