Consider this your permission to never step on a scale again. Here's why that number stopped mattering to me.

Rochelle Bilow
February 18, 2020
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Getty / Tim Robberts

When was the last time you stepped on a scale and thought, "Rock on! I'm totally happy with that!"? For me, the answer is…never. Like so many of us, my body weight is a source of anxiety, shame and stress.

Most of us feel the pressure of losing weight or, at least, maintaining our current weight. And most of us have a magic number that we've decided is acceptable. Maybe we've randomly settled on it, but it's likely that somewhere along the way, we've taken a cue from our doctors or BMI charts. If the scale reads anything different, we suddenly feel like don't deserve to exist. We start body-shaming ourselves, berating ourselves for lack of willpower, restricting calories or nutrients and shaking our fists at the heavens for cursing us with "bad genes."

I don't know about you, but I can say this with certainty about myself: No positive life change has ever come from a place of self-flagellation. So a few years ago, I decided to stop weighing myself. In fact, I made a commitment to never, ever know my body weight or BMI. It has only ever brought sadness and frustration. Too low, and I'd worry about backsliding into my past disordered eating patterns. Too high, and I'd fear I was "spinning out of control."

It hasn't always been easy to stick to this decision. It often puts me in awkward conversations. But it has also contributed to the most peaceful and satisfied attitude I've ever had toward my own body. Oh, and I'm also rocking the most healthy, vibrantly-well body I've ever had. So yes—it has so been worth the effort.

You Really Don't Need to Weigh Yourself

At this point, perhaps you're thinking, "Good for you—but I use body weight as a measure of my fitness journey and/or quest for better health." Let me be clear: I would never fault anyone for taking steps to feel better in their own skin. Feeling good about our bodies is often the first step to feeling good about ourselves. But what if I told you that your body weight wasn't even a reliable indicator of health?

Dietitians, doctors and other healthcare professionals are increasingly prescribing to a "Health at Every Size" (HAES) mentality. The HAES movement is backed by decades of solid scientific research, and the evidence is clear: Body weight and disease may have a correlative relationship, but not a causal one. In other words: Sometimes fat people get sick. People don't always get sick because they're fat.

This research movement was pioneered by Dr. Linda Bacon, a person who struggled with finding peace in her body before founding the HAES community and its standards. What she learned, and teaches in her book, Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, is that we ultimately feel our best, and get healthy, when we find joy in eating and movement.

This doesn't necessarily mean a life of pizza and Netflix marathons. Through the principles of intuitive eating (another groundbreaking practice pioneered by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch in their book Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works), we learn to crave and enjoy a variety of foods and ways of moving our bodies. When we honor intuitive eating, our bodies naturally settle into our healthiest weight…a number that may be higher, lower or exactly where we think it "should" be. That's one really important reason to let go of the magic number.

As Dr. Bacon writes in her book, "The war on obesity has taken its toll. Extensive 'collateral damage' has resulted: Food and body preoccupation, self-hatred, eating disorders, discrimination, poor health, etc. Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we're fat or because we fear becoming fat." Yup: Poor health as a result of obsessing over our weight.

So if we're not supposed to pay attention to our weight, what are we meant to focus on?

Great question. The first step is taking stock of how you actually feel in your body. Do you have ample energy to pursue the things you love and show up for your responsibilities? Are you sleeping well? How's your digestion (which can also be impacted by stress)? Do you feel anxious and jittery, or generally calm and well? Sitting quietly with yourself will help you figure out the answers. If it seems like you have some work to do, consider seeking a dietitian or practitioner trained in the HAES standards (here's an easy way to search for one!).

An increasing number of medical practitioners are also taking a cue from the research of Carolyn Hodges Chaffee and Annika Kahm, who wrote the mind-blowing book Measuring Health from the Inside. Through their research, they have found our metabolic process and rate to be a much more reliable indicator of health—in other words, how efficiently and productively your body is at turning food into energy for all of its functions.

Over email, Hodges Chaffee explained further: "BMI is probably the most damaging message a physician can convey to an individual. I prefer to call it 'Bad Medical Indicator.' It is supposed to provide a reliable indicator of an individual's fatness. It does not take into account the individual's bone density, muscle mass, body composition, ethnicity and sex. Athletes that are fit and healthy are often in the overweight to obese category." So if the labyrinth of metrics used to calculate BMI isn't a good indicator of health, how can stepping on a home bathroom scale be helpful?

It's Normal to Be Afraid of Being "Fat"—but You Don't Have to Be

So if we know that body weight and/or size doesn't result in better health, why weigh ourselves or obsess over the number? For a lot of folks, it's because we worry that others won't find us attractive unless our bodies look a certain way. And you know what? That's a real fear. Society vilifies people in fat bodies. Remember that "war on obesity"? Let that sink in for a moment: As body justice educator Melissa Fabello pointed out in the course material for a digital course about body positivity, that language implies war on people in fat bodies. Wow.

I get it. Nobody wants to be an outcast, unloved, hated or made fun of.

Thankfully, we're making room for important leaders in the body acceptance and body justice movement. Pioneers like Virgie Tovar, author of the book You Have the Right to Remain Fat and the "Lose Hate Not Weight" movement, and Sonya Renee Taylor, activist and author of The Body Is Not an Apology are standing up for the rights of people who live in marginalized and oppressed bodies.

The tide is shifting slowly, but it truly is shifting. We are now recognizing that beauty, health and attraction are not so narrowly defined.

So How Do You Ditch the Scale—and Retrain Your Brain?

Change isn't easy. While you learn new ways to be in your body, be gentle with yourself: It takes practice and many missteps to form new routines. Here are a few actionable steps you can take to be a warrior for unconditional body acceptance, starting with yourself.

Get Rid of Your Scale

This one can be tricky if you live with other people who actively use a scale. If tossing it in the trash isn't an option, consider asking your family, partner or roommate if they will store the scale in a hidden place that you don't have daily access to. It's tempting to take a quick peek at the number if the scale is in a place you occupy multiple times a day. At the very least, put it on a high shelf that's out of immediate reach.

Take a Stand at the Doctor's Office

You don't have to get weighed during most doctor's visits. Isn't that wild? It's become such a part of the routine that most of us don't even question it. But it's a bit odd, when you think about it, to step on a scale in order to address your ear infection.

As you're adjusting to life numbers-free, you can always refuse to be weighed. A simple, "I would rather not be weighed today, thank you," will suffice, but you may also choose to engage in an honest conversation with your medical practitioner about why you're abstaining. If this all feels a little too confrontational and stressful, just turn around so you're not facing the number and request that it not be read out loud. Here's an enormously helpful article about how to navigate this situation.

Move Your Body Every Day

Please note that I did not say, "Attend a high-intensity sweat sesh every day." The key to feeling well, strong and mobile, is to embrace a variety of forms of movement, and to do them all in moderation. That may look like a Crossfit workout on the weekend, some restorative yoga on Sunday night, a walk with your doggo most days, going out dancing on Friday…you get the picture. If you've been showing up to workouts out of habit or because you feel like you "should," it's time for a fun question: "How do I feel like moving my body today?"

In my experience, when I stopped obsessing over the number on my scale I gave up going to fitness classes. I realized that the only reason I did it was because to rationalize food choices and as a way to suppress my weight. But releasing myself from the requirement my body meet a certain criteria meant that I was free to explore other things that I actually loved, like yoga, hiking, and cross-country skiing.

Follow Body Acceptance Social Media Accounts

Go ahead and delete the #fitspo accounts that ultimately trigger more than they inspire you. Replace the obsessive numbers-counting influencers with radical body acceptance accounts and people who question outdated standards of health, like @theeverybodyisbeautifulproject, @effyourbeautystandards, @decolonizing_fitness, @bodypositivedietitian, and @drjoshuawolrich.

Be Gentle with Yourself

Holli Zehring, the executive director of Ophelia's Place, a nonprofit that provides eating disorder recovery support resources, has some final advice: It takes time and effort to undo the years of diet culture that have been built up in our brains. She reminds us: "Be gentle with yourself, this can sometimes trigger some of our deepest wounds and this is not an easy thing to work yourself out of. Joining a community of folk doing the same work can be really empowering, and you don't have to do it alone!"