Weight loss is tough—but facing the scale can lead to depression and confidence issues too, according to a new study. Make nice with the numbers—finally!
There are a handful of ways to measure how healthy you are—fitness tests, body mass index, biomarkers in your blood, and, of course, the trusty scale. This last one causes perhaps the most distress to women (your pulse probably quickened just at the mention of it).
And in fact, that's how most women feel. A new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that women who weigh themselves more often are also more likely to be concerned with their own weight, have a more negative body image, lower self-esteem, and higher likelihood of depression. (Beware: Another Study Found That Body Shaming Leads to Higher Mortality Rate.)
But you really shouldn't let the scale define you! "It only tells you your relationship with gravity. It cannot dictate happiness, success, or self-worth," says Alexandra Caspero, R.D., owner of weight management and sports nutrition service Delicious-Knowledge.com. Plus, the scale doesn't really tell you all that much about your health. "If a client is obese, I can make that distinction without an exact number," she adds.
Between requirements at the doctor's office and the temptation in the gym locker room, though, sometimes you just want to know what your number is. And that's totally okay. So how do you step on without making the scale your enemy? Follow these four rules.
1. Check in once a week—max. "If you're set on losing or gaining a specific amount of weight, then I would recommend checking every one to two weeks," Caspero says. If you check in too often, that number on the scale could be affected by any number of factors—from your period to eating too salty of a lunch—and you're more likely to obsess over it if you see the number every day.
2. Weigh yourself on Wednesday mornings. Losing one to two pounds a week is a realistic goal, but your "progress" may be tainted if you don't stick to a schedule. "I once weighed myself every hour to show how much your weight fluctuates throughout the day—up to 5 pounds!" Caspero says. If you're going to use a scale, do it first thing in the morning, preferably after going to the bathroom to compare, she says. And do it on Wednesdays—a Finnish study last year found that weight fluctuates least at the mid-week hump. (Getting on the scale on Wednesday is just one of the tips in our Monday-Sunday Diet Plan to Lose Weight in a Week.)
3. Ditch the specifics and shoot for a range. Most of us know our happy number: It's the place where you are comfortable in your clothes, don't hate your closet every time you get dressed, feel happy when you head to the gym, and don't feel like a slave to dieting, Caspero explains. Knowing this, give yourself a cushion of five pounds around that number (so if your happy number is 135, set your hopes on the scale flashing somewhere below 140). "This prevents the extreme emotions that are often associated with a specific number on the scale," she says.
4. Find other ways to measure progress. Check the number, but also take note of other measures of weight: how your clothes fit and how your mind feels are Caspero's go-to's for assessing weight without a number. (You can also try these 10 Ditch-the-Scale Ways to Tell If You're Losing Weight.) Use these strategies in conjunction with the scale: If you've been working really hard and you love the way your clothes fit, stepping on the scale can help you understand what your happy number is. And on the flip side, if your clothes are feeling a little tight, stepping on the scale and seeing that you are way over your happy weight could help put it into context and motivate you again.