Recently, a series of TV commercials showed women stepping on a scale – but instead of a number, they were given a word, such as "Joy!" The tagline was: "What will you gain when you lose?" This is exactly the kind of message health professionals like Rebecca Scritchfield, a registered dietitian who has a private practice in Washington, D.C., compete with every day: The idea that our worth is somehow tied to the scale. "I didn't like the commercial, because the message is that you can only feel joy, happiness and confidence if you lose weight," she says.
Scritchfield identifies herself as a weight-neutral practitioner, and she subscribes to the Health At Every Size (HAES) model in her practice. The HAES movement is gaining traction as many people realize there's another way to approach health, rather than having a constant showdown with the bathroom scale. Indeed, some research suggests that a fixation on that scale number could be counterproductive to living a healthy life – and may even derail weight loss efforts at times.
If you would like to kick your scale to the curb, take heart – many health professionals support the decision and point out that it's not actually necessary to weigh yourself to be healthy. Here are three steps to do a scale detox in your life.
1. Define your reason for using the scale. Are you aiming for a certain number? Or are you trying to guard against gaining too much weight? Now reflect on this: Would you act differently today, depending on the number on that scale? Many people do, and this is where the destructive pattern begins – the scale is dictating the steps you take toward health, but health is so much more than just a number. "Think about your health in terms of mental and emotional," says registered dietitian Marjorie Nolan Cohn, who's the author of "Overcoming Binge Eating for Dummies." "We're all more productive and positive when we're not stressing about the little things. And while your weight may be a concern for your health, knowing a number on a day-to-day basis is generally not healthy for anyone."
2. Redefine your version of healthy. Banishing the scale does not mean that you stop caring for your own health. Instead, redefine what it means to be and feel healthy. "If your intention is to become more active and more fit, you could pay attention to how long you're able to be active before you get tired, and notice how that changes with regular movement," suggests Michelle May, a physician and founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating programs. Nolan Cohn, meanwhile, recommends identifying non weight-related goals, such as maintaining a healthy eating pattern, getting enough sleep and measuring physical abilities. Other important health measurements might include checking your blood pressure, and for some people, blood sugar.
3. Stop weighing yourself and banish weight thoughts from your mind. This is where the rubber meets the road: Deciding to simply stop weighing yourself and re-focus your thoughts on health, not weight, is where the magic of HAES happens for many people. As May points out, "A sustainable approach to self-care comes from the inside out; it is the result of all the little decisions we make each day. None of that can be weighed." Your body deserves healthy food, plenty of sleep, relief from stress, hydration, movement and social interaction – these needs don't change based on your weight. Focusing on what you can do to take care of yourself in this moment is the key. As Scritchfield says: "Accepting your body as it is right now allows you to make decisions about caring for yourself in the present moment, which is, after all, the only moment you have any influence over."
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Melinda Johnson, MS, RD, is the Director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics and lecturer for the Nutrition Program at Arizona State University, and a Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Follow her on Twitter @MelindaRD.