The Worst Thing You Can Do if You’re Trying to Lose Weight

by | Sep 29, 2014

beauty pageant

I have always had tremendous pride in everything I do. If something has my name on it, I go the extra mile (or 10 miles if necessary) to make it excellent. Even the thought of sending an unedited email or a sloppy text message makes me cringe.

Call it pride, call it self-respect. Whatever it is, I was born with it. My dad always tells me about how he and my mom would spy on me in my crib practicing the alphabet or reciting days of the week. But as soon as I knew they were there I’d stop and wouldn’t show them what I was working on. I wanted to make sure I had it right before anyone could see. I did this in my crib.

Naturally I had a similar pride about my appearance. Sadly, women in this country are taught at a young age that we will be judged (harshly) by how we look. I saw it in my own family as my aunts gossiped about each other’s “Pino thighs,” at school where overweight children were teased and tormented, and on TV where thin, beautiful women got all the attention.

Although I could write a book on how despicable this is, it isn’t realistic to believe our value system is going to change anytime soon. Instead, today I want to focus on one of the consequences of this mindset and what we can do to combat the negative impact it has on our behavior.

When we see people constantly being judged by their appearance, it is natural to start confusing our bodies with our self-worth. Instead of seeing the number on the scale as a data point, we start to see it as a character flaw. This is a big problem.

During the 15 years I was a chronic dieter, I was invariably in either one of two states. If I was in the beginning stages of a new diet I would be hyper-focused on my food and weight. I would diligently document every calorie, every gram of fat and every carb. I would go to the gym and stay on the treadmill for as long as possible (usually at least an hour, often more). And every morning I would jump on the scale and see how good of a person I had been the day before.

During these times I was typically rewarded for my efforts, and would watch with pride as the weight on the scale slid down toward zero. Sure I was hungry and exhausted, but at least I felt good about myself. It was like getting an A on an exam.

Then there were the times when I gave up. When my resolve would slip, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat another pint of non-fat cottage cheese. I’d go out for drinks with friends and someone would order fries or nachos. “I’ll just have one bite,” I’d tell myself before polishing off half of it by myself. Then on my way home I’d stop and get a burrito or a pint of ice cream and take it up to my bedroom to finish it off.

Those days felt like getting an F in life. There was no enthusiastic hopping on the scale the next day. I knew I had “been bad” and didn’t need any more evidence. Instead I’d dress myself in my loosest pair of “fat jeans” and baggy t-shirt and hope no one noticed the shame painted all over me.

Shame is the feeling that comes from comparing your actions with your values and seeing them fall short. Shame researcher Brene Brown calls it, “The fear of being unlovable.” In moments of shame, we don’t even love ourselves.

When we feel ashamed, we hide. We hide our bodies in baggy clothes, we hide from the knowledge of our own behavior. If I were between diets I would go for weeks or even months without stepping on the scale, because I didn’t want to know how much damage had been done. I wasn’t ready to face it or do anything about it, so I would just ignore it. I was letting the ostrich be my spirit animal.

In order to change behavior you must acknowledge it, not hide from it. You need to study the triggers and rewards guiding your actions and find ways to adjust them. You must view your actions objectively, like a scientist. You need to formulate a hypothesis about what might create a different result next time, then test it. If your new method works, you have your answer. If it doesn’t you need to try again.

If you believe your body is a reflection of your self-worth, then you are incapable of analyzing your behavior objectively and instead blame yourself when things don’t go as you hope. You end up telling yourself things like, “I’m lazy,” “I need more discipline,” or “I’m incapable of losing weight.” You essentially paralyze yourself with shame.

Even worse is that shame makes us feel anxious and threatened, leaving us in comfort-seeking mode. More often than not we find this comfort in the form of food, alcohol, or other dangerous habits, causing a downward spiral that can be incredibly difficult to stop.

To break the cycle you must find a way to decouple your eating habits and your self-value. Few people construct their eating habits consciously, so yours most likely reflect what is easiest and most comfortable for you given the other factors in your life (where you live, where you work, how you grew up, etc.). They do not say anything about whether or not you are a good person or worthy of love. You are. And any behavior can be changed if you make it easy or rewarding enough.

Learning to view your eating behaviors objectively, without judgment, can be very difficult and takes practice. The first step is to stop hiding and sheltering yourself from the discomfort of information.

An excellent exercise is to commit to stepping on the scale daily, even if you ate more than you wanted to the day before.

Remember that the scale goes up and down for everyone over time, and try to see it as a data point rather than a verdict on yourself as a person. You can learn a lot from the scale when it stops being your enemy. You can start to connect the dots on what works and what doesn’t.

When I stopped fearing the scale I found that vacations and splurges have less of an impact than I predicted they would and I almost never gained the 5-6 lbs I feared. It’s usually more like 1-3 lbs, something that disappears fairly quickly when I get my habits back on track. Because I know this now, I no longer fear holidays nor go into a downward shame spiral when I get home.

You also start to notice patterns from daily weigh ins. For instance, I was surprised to learn that I am inevitably 2 lbs heavier the day after eating sushi. This was shocking the first time I saw it, because I assumed sushi was healthy food. But I’ve seen the pattern so many times now that I know it is actually short-term water retention, likely from soy sauce and rice, and that the weight disappears completely the following day.

In the past, those 2 lbs would have crushed me and likely spurred a manic 2-hour stint at the gym. These days I expect it, and it is comforting to know my body so well.

People often tell me they don’t want to weigh themselves every day because they don’t want to obsess about their weight. But fearing and avoiding your scale doesn’t make you any less of a slave to it.

If you really want to stop obsessing over your weight learn to stand on your scale without shame or pride. Do it daily, until the fear is gone.

Do you ever hide from the scale?

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44 Responses to “The Worst Thing You Can Do if You’re Trying to Lose Weight”

  1. AJ says:

    I love this post, and I love you for sharing an experience to which I can completely relate.

    While I can detect when I look a tad bit heavier in my pants or a dress, I’m not pleased but I do try my very best to separate that emotion from self worth. I remind myself that most people don’t really notice the change. And even if they did, why would I care what they think? The people who matter in my life could care less what the number says on the scale.

    I weigh myself every day, and I find it helpful. You are the one who has taught me that it’s okay to eat sugar once in a while and it’s okay if the scale displays a number that is a little higher than it was before. You helped me realize that it’s all okay, and that I can have faith in the process of losing and maintaining weight, and yes, sometimes gaining a small bit of weight due to changes and fluctuations in life. It’s all a process of observing habits, looking inside, learning, forming strategies, experimenting, and, most importantly, loving oneself. I have faith in my eating and exercise habits and in my commitment to live a happy, healthy life to the fullest. Thanks again, Darya. =]

  2. Sarah says:

    I’m in the never-weigh-myself camp. I have never owned a scale. I’m not hiding from it; I just don’t see how knowing my weight would improve my quality of life, and definitely can’t imagine bothering to weigh myself every day! I’m not understanding the purpose in this. I eat based on what makes me feel good, and I think that’s a lot better for me than eating based on what I weigh.

    • Darya Rose says:

      This post is for people who want/need to lose weight. If you’re already happy and healthy then it doesn’t apply to you.

      • Trina says:

        I love this post and you are spot on. So many times baggy clothes have been my shelter . I appreciate your honesty and also we as women need to start loving our Eve’s more and stop comparing ourselves according g to what others think how we should look. I’m just happy that my heart still beats and my lungs fill with air

  3. Morgan says:

    Boy do I identify with your journey! I was/am Straight-A-making overachiever, and I absolutely translated that pattern into how I obsessed over losing weight. I so appreciate hearing someone else tell a similar story.

    Also, your advice to weigh yourself everyday is very interesting! I have never considered how doing that, if you approach it the right way, might actually minimize its power. Great point.

  4. Sharyn says:

    I’m hiding from it right now.

  5. Tracy says:

    I have lost 25 lbs since July (about 32 to go) and this article sums up the biggest single change I made. I shifted my mentality from one of beating myself up whenever I wasn’t perfect to observing my behavior and learning/adjusting from it. I weigh myself every day, paying attention to trends only, and find it to be very helpful. I have the same observation about sushi (as well as monthly periods).

    I took a “fake it till you make it” approach and now that I’ve found some success, I know I can continue and eventually maintain. I feel such a sense of calm now. I was truly at the end of my rope prior to July, believing that I simply could not lose weight.

    • Darya Rose says:

      That’s wonderful, congratulations Tracy.

      Mind if I ask what happened in July?

      • Tracy says:

        The biggest thing was committing to getting on the scale and tracking my food (the good, bad or ugly) every day – two things I know are supposed to work. Prior to that, I would avoid weighing myself if I had been “bad” and I wouldn’t track if I knew I had gone way over (all or nothing syndrome).

        I figured if I was consistent (something that I’ve always struggled with), eventually success would come. I was sporadically weighing and tracking in May, with daily compliance starting in July.

      • Tracy says:

        I’ve also really been using your home court concept…I eat pretty much the same breakfast, snacks, and lunch every weekday. I swap out dinner a bit more (rotating among different proteins + veg).

        I find this gives me a bit more flexibility on the weekends for socializing and going out.

    • Darya Rose says:

      I love it. Congrats again and keep it up :)

      • Tracy says:

        I should have also mentioned that during this period I was on vacation for two weeks and had two girls weekends away. Needless to say I think it’s working after losing through that much travel! And I still had a great time. :)

  6. Alexandra says:

    Thanks so much for once more, a great post! However, I do want to share that a while back, I had gained a lot of weight while being abroad (following my first serious heartbreake). Upon my return home, I went to a diet Dr. I followed his diet perfectly (with that perfectionism you described). I was having dreams of the sweet rolls and corn the Dr had told me to avoid (it wasn’t a great diet, but I didn’t know any better then, and he was an MD). I didn’t lose any weight whatsoever. I still remember the horrible feeling of looking at the scale staying in the same number despite my sacrifices and wanting to burst into tears. It wasn’t until I stopped grading myself with the value on the scale and when I let go, that I returned to my original weight. I think that what you said is completely true, but we are all different, have different stories behind the weight gain and they are as important as our eating habits. Finding the why is essential. In my case, I was in a really bad emotional place when the weight gain started, and the weight only increased the stress. Stress affects our hormones and that can lead to retaining such weight despite dietary changes. Not to blame all weight gain on that, but it’s important to explore it too…

  7. Elle says:

    This post came at the right time for me. Today was the day (prior to reading this post!) I decided to stop hiding from the scale. Yes, the number wasn’t what I wanted to see but now I can go about changing it w/data and feedback, not just hoping/praying/dreaming.

    Thank you!

  8. Tracy says:

    Elle- I highly suggest the Withings scale (or similar wifi scale)…it automatically records your weight. You can view all sorts of charts and graphs. I’m addicted and it’s fun to see the line go down.

  9. Wanderlust says:

    This timing of this post was perfect. I had just avoided the scale yesterday morning b/c I was afraid of what it would say (after a party the night before). I love the approach of thinking of the scale as a method to collect data – and not my teacher grading me. I have read Foodist – but it is great to be reminded by your posts! My elephant is forgetful!

  10. Mb says:

    Hi. For years I didn’t believe in weighing myself trusting my belt knotch to let me know when I needed to cop on. However in the past 6 weeks I have been weighing myself daily using the “happy scale ” app to record it. I am amazed at the fluctuations on a daily basis and the impact of my period. I want to lose maybe 7lbs which I know isn’t a lot but it has been my nemesis for over a year now and I can’t beat it. I hope by monitoring my weight daily and noting what exercise,if any, and what food I’ve eaten, I’ll get to a slimmer me eventually.

  11. Jason says:

    Stepping on the scale is good for tracking, but what we really need is a better way to measure fat loss. I know of a couple ladies who had some fat to lose, and by the time they were “done”, they weighed more than they started, but they looked amazing and you could really tell the difference. Quite drastically, in fact!

    Sure, some people have a lot to lose so we should see some progress on a scale, but I’m still afraid for most people that it’ll become a crutch and their only measure of success, and the scale is a *terrrible* measure of success.

    Personally, I weigh every day because I’ve realized the point of your post, that it’s useful as a tool to see trends and such, but it’s not going to determine how I feel about my progress. But I also realize that at some point it’s going to be useless to see what I weigh from day to day and the way my clothes fit will help me determine whether or not I’ve let things slide.

    So I guess I agree with you, but at the same time I don’t know it’s the greatest practice in the world. :)

    Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement!

    -j

    • SLA says:

      Great post Darya! I can wholeheartedly relate to the fear-of-the-scale woes and have actually been navigating my own turning point in now viewing it as a healthy tool to not lose track entirely. I think what I fear most is reverting back to the extra ~20 lbs. I used to carry and which I quickly lost in the 9 months before my wedding. That final # I reached was entirely arbitrary but it matched my high school weight, which I’ve been told is a healthy weight to maintain at. Anyway, it soon became apparent that maybe my diet + fitness lifestyle was no longer sustainable and I’ve slowly had to adjust my mindset that maybe it’s okay to have my weight creep up and fluctuate between an extra 3 (now 6!) lbs. Either way, my point is I am driven by metrics and am slowly viewing the scale as just a tool to keep me generally in line and on track for a healthy and active lifestyle. I’m slowly ignoring the absolute numbers and just picking up patterns and trends, like others have mentioned (post-sushi and menstrual gains, small binges, etc.) The scale really doesn’t have to be the enemy!

    • sharon says:

      How about waist size as an extra measure?

  12. Charlie Baker says:

    I did not use a scale for years, relying solely upon the fit of my clothes to determine if I was gaining or losing weight. I was a long distance runner, so my weight fluctuated within safe boundaries. Then, as I hit my 50s, I began to run less, eat out more, and took a stressful job, the pants stopped fitting, and I had to size up. I got comments about my belly. I bought a scale. I don’t “diet” as such, but I’ve made major changes to my eating patterns, and I’ve lost 25 pounds over three years.

  13. Amber says:

    Wow. This message. I don’t think I have had anyone describe the place I am in better than this. The fear of being unlovable. Just when everything else is going great in life and I should be completely happy, I let my weight get out of control and start affecting my confidence and how I feel others will perceive me. Very much as a defense mechanism, making it easier to blame others when I am feeling insecure or scared.

    It’s definitely time for me to stop hiding from numbers and facts because avoiding them is CLEARLY not making them go away. But it certainly makes it easier for me to pour an extra glass of wine at night or justify not eating as well as I should because, “since I didn’t work out, it doesn’t really matter any way. I’m too far from where I need to be for it to matter.”

    For the last two years I have been under the school of thought where my internal message to myself is, “Where did my discipline go? If only I could find the motivation I had when I was 40+ lbs lighter. Getting out and running every day just doesn’t sound fun anymore.” And the weight stays on. Even despite my sporadic bouts of gym-joining and early morning walking sessions.

    Thanks for shedding some light on a very tough issue.

  14. Lisa says:

    I love hearing that people who weight themselves regularly see the same kind of patterns I see. But, the part of Darya’s recommendation that is the most difficult is separating feelings from self-worth. I’m very sensible, but I can’t help feeling less special when I see how men treat beautiful, thin, young women–or how the media portrays these gorgeous beauties. I used to think maybe those women weren’t smart or nice, but that’s just not true at all. They are intelligent and kind AND they look amazing. I’ve spent time with some of these women, and they really do have it easier. I can’t tell you just how powerful the impact of media messages are on our psyches. I was fortunate to spend this entire summer in a remote wilderness cabin with my family, and with no TV. I have never felt so awesome–in mind and body! Now, when I find myself feeling bad, I invariably find that I’ve been watching TV regularly. Now, I grab a book or start a house project instead. (Oh, and I ditched cable since I hardly watch TV anymore and I’m saving money too!)

  15. What a well thought article! So many women are in pain daily over their weight and how they feel it affects their self worth. Learning to love ourselves regardless of the scale, and turning the scale into a friend rather than an enemy, will really help. I appreciate you taking the time to right this. We can feel your heart in it from personal experience! Thank you! :)

  16. La says:

    Dr. Yoni Freedhoff (www.weightymatters.ca) has some great posts about how to effectively use a scale if you’re trying to lose weight (weigh yourself once a week under the same conditions) or maintain your weight (weigh yourself every day to get a sense of how your weight can fluctuate daily). Don’t fear the scale, but don’t let it define you, either. It’s merely a reflection of a point in time, and only ONE measure of your body’s current state.

  17. Nikki says:

    This post really struck close to home. I’m generally a very logical person, but when it comes to that number on the scale it sends my emotions into a tailspin. I’ve been avoiding the scale for about a year because of not wanting to be a slave to it. But avoiding it is making me more of a slave and more emotional about the weight I may or may not be gaining! So I’m going to take your advice and desensitize myself to the number.

  18. Denise says:

    “People often tell me they don’t want to weigh themselves every day because they don’t want to obsess about their weight. But fearing and avoiding your scale doesn’t make you any less of a slave to it.”

    My shrink tells me not to weigh because of this logic. However, this statement REALLY stirred something in me. I think I will try it. I’m not losing weighing or NOT weighing!

    Thanks for caring

  19. Namrata says:

    Hey Darya, A lovely article I must say. It completely relates to me, especially since I have been trying to lose weight ever since I was in school. I was always the fat kid amongst my friends and boys refused to talk to me. I did manage to lose weight during graduation but by wrong means because of which I was dignosed with a bad illness. I have recovered completely now and I have lost weight off and on, however I never could maintain it. I can see now what I was doing wrong all this time. So thanks for this article. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it works. :)

    • Darya Rose says:

      There’s a lot more to losing weight than weighing yourself, but not letting your weight define you is a huge step in the right direction. There’s lots of resources here at Summer Tomato that can help.

  20. Darya,

    You hit the nail on the head for me;

    “In order to change behavior you must acknowledge it, not hide from it. You need to study the triggers and rewards guiding your actions and find ways to adjust them. You must view your actions objectively, like a scientist. You need to formulate a hypothesis about what might create a different result next time, then test it. If your new method works, you have your answer. If it doesn’t you need to try again.”

    I was your typical middle aged father, husband slowly gaining and retaining the pounds, like rings on a tree stump.

    It wasn’t until I looked at my problem from a logical/scientific perspective, that the pounds started to shed off me and stay off. Your weight is your life’s baggage and you can re/learn how to travel lite.

  21. Christa S. says:

    Darya –
    Thanks for the article! I want to track my food habits, but just as important may be tracking how I think about my food. Have you read this article yet? http://www.livescience.com/14617-brain-calories-ghrelin-hunger.html I’d be curious what you think about it. Thanks!

    • Darya Rose says:

      Yep, saw that study ages ago. There are many similar examples, with exercise and other things as well. This is why I’m SO anti-dieting mentality. It is counterproductive, has the opposite effect as our intent.

  22. Cherie says:

    First of all, thank you for your work. This is truly important work you do, and you are a BLESSING to many.
    I had anorexia for many years, and used the scale to “play games” with myself – most of these games were shame based, especially if I got to 100 lbs or over.
    The last time I weighed myself, two years after recovery (about 5 years ago), I weighed 120 and cried. I have no idea what I weigh now, but I know it’s more than that.
    I am SO PETRIFIED of scales that it chokes me up to even think of stepping on one, especially with the type of freedom you speak of. However, I want to lose weight healthily so I can feel better while running — but it’s more for the sake of breaking some awful eating habits I developed during recovery.
    Needless to say, the scale/weight issue is complex. I am so excited to have had your site and book recommended to me. Your insight and wisdom are greatly appreciated. There are many things you say that I need to hear.
    Any advice for that first time stepping on the scale after a 5 year hiatus? How can I quiet the voices that will try to take away my victory over eating disorders?

    • Darya Rose says:

      Thanks for writing, Cherie. Congratulations on your recovery, it is very courageous to try to address these issues as you are doing.

      Probably the best book I’ve read on getting over these kinds of emotional hurdles is one called Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. It gives you specific techniques for addressing the fear.

      But I imagine there are lots of things you can do in the meantime to decouple the number and your self-worth. Is there something you absolutely love that makes you feel safe, like a stuffed animal or photo? Maybe try getting on the scale with that item? It would certainly make you weigh more than if you were holding nothing, but that’s the point. Lower isn’t better. The number isn’t you. Focus on the joy and comfort you feel from the item instead. Start to make the scale feel like a happy place, so the number isn’t a threat.

      See what I’m getting at?

  23. Tracy (a different one) says:

    Oh this is helpful! I am a stubborn hard worker (at school I was even told to do less work) and the harder I try to do anything, make money, get an ex back and lose weight… the further away these goals get.
    I have never deliberately managed to lose weight no matter how I good I am and how often I go to the gym.

    However if I am happy it falls off me, even if I eat loads of bad things. I do wonder if it’s something to do with cortisol. I am really stressed out when trying to lose weight.
    It’s particularly infuriating as I probably wrongly believe my happiness depends on my weight. If I am thinner somebody might be attracted enough to find out more about me and maybe love me.

  24. ForWardMJ says:

    You know…I once lost alot (110 lbs) on Weight Watchers. That was before having 2 beautiful girls. Now with almost all of that weight back on I beat myself up daily because I know the program so well but cant make myself follow it. I think the truth is that I dont want to. I think part of the problem with tracking is that the weekly weigh in is just too far away…leaves too much time for me to give up. However daily weighins Im thinking could just make tracking fun again. Im getting on board!!

  25. Carly says:

    Love this post Darya! I have to admit I have been avoiding stepping on the scale for a few months now. I keep waiting until I have a long stint of ‘good eating habits’ but after reading this, I know I’m fearing the number and don’t want to be disappointed in myself.

    I did it, and was disappointed that what I feared was true. 10 lbs over where I would like to be. But at least it’s a starting point.

    Thanks for giving me the courage to face the music and start cleaning up my daily eating habits again!

  26. Lets learn something new. says:

    I have been fighting a weight issue since H.S. I look at my kid pictures and look normal. Then came the ‘a little pudgy’ comments. First time I got overweight was in boarding school. Drs. kept me in my weight range with medication starting at 14 until I moved to Florida where doctors, chorus here, ‘eat less.’ Bariatric,regular drs., internal medicine. Thyroid was discovered and ‘eat less’ continued. Then I read, if you don’t eat, you can’t lose weight. Now that made sense. It’s how I’ve lost and am maintaining this 7 pound loss. I have 20 to go. Not because I am huge, but because I don’t want to be a diabetic and my sugar is not 90 like the dr. insists it should be. I need to learn what to eat, not to eat less. Food in the USA makes people fat. Or like this British doctor friend said to me, what is it Sam that clothes shrink in the closet in this country?

  27. Vicky says:

    I have a question. I have always thought it was better to weigh yourself weekly, not daily, because since weight fluctuates so much every day (and within every day), it’s not a great metric for seeing if you’re actually making progress or not. I can see how applying this same idea of consistency and weighing yourself no matter what every single week makes sense – but am wondering about the difference between daily and weekly weigh-ins. Thanks!

    • Darya Rose says:

      It depends what your goals are. To get an accurate perception of weight, weekly is fine. The point of daily weigh ins is precisely to see how much weight fluctuates daily and learn that those fluctuations are meaningless. That can help divorce your emotions from the number.

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