WEIRD FASCINATION SERIES - HEALTH : What is it with the number on those bloody scales?!

Listed Under: Blog

I’ve eaten dust for days and these bloody scales still tell me I’m a heifer!


So #Lockdown2020 has prompted me to put pen to paper and write about something I’m increasingly passionate about in my work with my Nutrition clients, but also as a woman, no, as a human, in my 40s!


All too often I hear my clients breaking their hearts, before or even during their journeys with me, about the number that appears on their bathroom scales. Now many professionals, several of whom have a huge media presence, have already advocated throwing away these “sad steps” once and for all. I find myself not quite in this camp yet, having battled with my weight for a lot of my younger life; I know they still provide some sense of control or reassurance to me, but I am saddened and amazed at the emphasis we seem to put on a bloody number in one given moment in time!!!


Have you ever been to a slimming club? Have you felt that tension as you shuffle in that queue towards the dreaded scales and then just cannot understand it when they give a different reading to the bathroom scales you stepped on not half an hour ago at home, despite your 15th psychological wee of weigh-day morning!? You don’t understand when you’ve “been so good all week”! Why is it we expect our body to ‘perform’ and give us the perfect reading at any one moment in time, on a given day of the week, hour of that day, when our weight is going to be recorded on a chart?  Why does everything fall apart if we put on half a pound, a pound or more? 


Even if we don’t go to a slimming club, but are in a routine of weighing ourselves at the same time each week (not in itself an unhealthy habit), why is it the reading on that collection of metal, glass and plastic has such huge significance for some of us? Why is it we let that determine whether it’s then going to be a happy day or a day when we feel sad, disappointed, disgusted, dejected, or like some kind of failure…..again! When did we get so reliant on a set of numbers to determine our overall health, our mood, our self-worth and, for some, the ability to be loved by others? When you put it like that, it’s utter madness, right?!


The diet industry has grown enormously (pardon the pun) over the last 50 years and the advent of social media has only forced this under our noses and provided us with further ‘ideals’ to obsess about. Now hang fire with the eye rolling dudes. If you have a super healthy and grounded view about your own weight, health, never compare yourself to others and think I’m talking a load of old naval-gazing codswallop – that’s cool – but so many people are not in that situation and I see increasing numbers of friends, as well as my clients, becoming utterly obsessed with their weight and trapped in this constant cycle of comparison where they always find themselves lacking, wanting, failing. Surely that’s not good for anyone’s soul.


So, in pursuit of a little scientific balance, I undertook an experiment over the last month to see what really goes on in the ups and downs of a 40 something woman’s life. I decided to weigh myself at the same time every morning on the same scales (those afore-mentioned bits of metal, glass and plastic) to observe what happens to my weight when I’m not actually making any effort to change the way I am eating. Sharing these results is quite a scary thing I guess, or it would be if I obsessed as much as I used to about people knowing my weight! (If that’s all you’re looking for, then crack on saddo!) What I hope you realise is the variation that seems to happen naturally for a whole number of reasons is probably quite a normal thing.



My starting weight and finishing weight were very similar over the test period, (a difference of only 0.3lbs) but the variation in between was a jolly interesting journey! I expected my weight to go up when I had my period, because “that’s what happens for us girls” right? Actually, this month, it didn’t much (Day 15-23). Interesting really, as on other months, I feel like a beached whale at that uber-hormonal time!!  In my late 30s, when I lost a significant amount of weight, I always had a slight weight peak around ovulation time. Maybe that’s the peak I saw at the start of the test period and again at the end, but even this isn’t as significant as I thought now in my mid 40s. 


Over the course of the month though, at any given moment in time, my weight fell somewhere in a range of just under 4lbs. That sounds like quite a lot to me, but what I hope it demonstrates is the variation that does happen without us necessarily changing anything about our eating and exercising habits to create a change in our results.


On none of these days did I have a mahoosive binge and blowout and eat a whole packet of cheese Doritos, a tub of ice cream, 500g of Dairy Milk and wash it all down with a bottle of full fat Coke! Yes, I ate some chocolate with my boys; Yes, I had some nuts and cider with Adam, and I think we even had a bottle of wine one night because we fancied it whilst cooking and eating tea together. Equally, on none of these test days did I starve myself, eat just lettuce or live on dust, fresh air and a prayer. There have been lots of salads and BBQs in the warm weather, but risottos and hearty dishes when the weather has changed too, as well as a selection of glorious creations from our Hello Fresh boxes! 


My exercise has been limited to a dog walk each day and yoga or pilates via online sessions, which for me is a reduction in what I would normally enjoy in a ‘normal’ week not on lockdown. My hydration is good, as I’ve always been an advocate of drinking plenty of water in a day, so I know this has had little effect on my results. 


So what have I realised over this period of time? 


Firstly, I will not be sorry to ‘step away’ from stepping on the scales every morning. For me, it is not a healthy daily practice. Whilst I like to know that weight checking opportunity is there if I want it, I can see how easily the every-day weighing can feed an already unhealthy obsession for some people. Some reputable health journalists out there will still advocate this as a way to keep yourself on track each day, but I think you have to seriously consider whether this habit serves you or not.


Secondly, there were definitely days when I felt more slender, fitter, or toned, but the number on the scales and the comparison to days when I didn’t feel that way, certainly didn’t tally. How could that be if my weight is what truly determines whether I’m doing well on a health and fitness journey or not?  Equally there were days when I felt sluggish, lumpy, frumpy, literally heavy, but the numbers didn’t go up the way I expected then either! What’s all that about?!


Subsequently I began thinking about all these stereotypical views we have about what causes weight changes in us and how we justify these changing numbers when we see them;

Excuses like ….

“I’ve got PMT”

“Well I’ve got my period this week” 

“I’ve been working out lots and muscle weighs heavier than fat doesn’t it?”

“I’ve been eating bananas” (WTF?!)


Our weight can fluctuate for all manner of reasons; salt intake and the water we then hold onto, hormones changing throughout the month, how much glycogen we store in our muscles and the water we correspondingly hold to balance that out, how much water we have drunk in the last 24 hours, swelling in the body due to circulation issues, inflammation in the body as a result of something we ate or and because of an injury from over exercising…..and probably many other things besides.


What I took away from this exercise was confirmation of what a distorted view so many of us have about the significance of those numbers on our journey to good health. Unfortunately, that journey to good health has been hijacked over time by the over-emphasised pursuit of the perfect weight - whatever the f**k that is! When did that become our ultimate success criteria?


So my question to you moving forward is this…How much emphasis are YOU putting on that number when you step on those scales? What power are you allowing that number to hold over you and the choices you then make? Are they the right or wrong choices for you? How much influence is it having on your day, your mood, your self-esteem and on your relationships too? Are you always looking for that external validation of your beauty, your worth, your value because the scales tell you you're a 'big fat failure' today?


What other success criteria could you develop in your pursuit of optimum health? Some people have no scales at all and take note of how their clothes fit, how their digestion is working, how much energy they have, how ‘well’ they feel, how brightly their skin glows, how they feel when they look in the mirror after a shower, how they feel in their own skin, how long it takes to recover from their weekend bike ride, how quickly they can run 5k, whether they can run 5k at all! 


So come on…….


Is it time to switch your thinking…..


Is it time to bin the scales, (or at least put them away somewhere) and decide what new markers of success could work for you?