Traumatic Dieting

How to cope with the effects of long-term dieting and how to achieve healthy weight loss.

Do You Suffer from Scale Addiction?

Food addiction's not the only addiction for dieters.

Should you be hiding your scale?
For many, weight loss is a traumatic affair, and one of the most common afflictions of serial dieters is a condition I refer to as scale addiction.

Traumatic dieters tend to live and die by the scale. It's the barometer of mood and the arbiter of how things are going. A day where it's down is a "good" day, and happiness abounds. A day where it's up and suddenly the storm clouds circle.

During weight loss efforts scale addicts tend to weigh themselves many times per day. They start out weighing themselves stark naked before breakfast, and then again after workouts, before meals and of course before bed.

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While scale addiction is certainly not a condition written about in medical textbooks, that doesn't make it any less prevalent.

I've met many scale addicts.

They tell me that rationally, they understand that getting on the scale multiple times a day won't make any difference; that they know that weight doesn't change that rapidly, but that they just can't help themselves.

Sometimes for those folks, I recommend that turn their scales over, take out their batteries, put tape over their solar strips, or move them to the trunks of their cars.

The thing is, scales are truly frustrating devices because they don't simply measure caloric intake vs. caloric expenditure. Scales also measure clothing, water retention, constipation, time of month, and time of day differences.  

Folks who do weigh frequently will know that weight fluctuates both day by day and within a day.

So for scale addicts out there, here are two things you need to know.

Firstly, there are 3,500 calories in a pound, and while bodies are definitely not mathematical instruments whereby, if you do or don't eat 3,500 calories, you'll see a pound change on the scale, bodies do obey the laws of thermodynamics. Weight is mass, and mass is energy. If you step on a scale on a Wednesday and it's 3 pounds heavier than Tuesday, unless you consumed the caloric equivalent of at least 19 Big Macs more than you burned, the scale is weighing something other than true weight. You can't gain mass without putting in the energy.

Secondly, your weight doesn't matter.

That's right, your weight doesn't matter.

What do I mean by that? To put it simply, what moves the number on the scale is not the act of standing on the scale, it's what you're doing and choosing during the times you're not standing on the scale. It's your lifestyle and your choices that change your weight. You need to determine how you're doing by evaluating what and how you're actually doing by asking yourself questions such as: What have your dietary choices been like? How's your fitness? Are you being thoughtful? Are you organized and consistent?  

So boil it down even further–you need to ask yourself if you're doing your best. Remember too, "best" doesn't mean "perfect." My best last weekend on a trip to New Brunswick included some deep fried scallops and some fabulous fish and chips. Your job, regardless of your weight, is to live the healthiest life you can enjoy, not the healthiest life you can tolerate, and scales truly can't weigh in on that balance.

While scales can be helpful to illustrate trends, weight fluctuations, both inter and intraday, are normal, and sometimes you'll simply weigh more than how you're doing.

At the end of the day, it's your life that can change the scale, not the other way around.

My recommendations? During a weight loss effort weigh yourself at most once a week, stark naked, before breakfast, after pee. During a weight maintenance effort, weigh yourself daily and get to learn your body's weight fluctuations and more importantly, use the scale to nip any weight regain in the bud rather than let it get out of hand–a phenomenon which can often happen if you're practicing scale avoidance.

We'll cover that one next week.

Yoni Freedhoff, M.D., is the founder and Medical Director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, Canada.

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