What is the purpose of a scale? Scales measure how much something weighs. They do it by measuring how much force exists between the object you’re weighing and planet Earth. Although scales measure force, they give you measurements of mass in kilograms, grams, pounds, or whatever. Bathroom scales are fickle devices. They can give you a different weight from day to day, or even moment to moment. Sure, the human body fluctuates over the course of the day and there are some cheap, less-accurate scales out there, but even relatively good scales can seem to be wildly inaccurate. Weight is not the end-all-be-all of health.
Too many people think that someone who looks thin is inherently healthy, and someone in a larger body isn’t.
This just is not true. You can’t tell a lot about someone’s actual health status just by looking at them. There are many things that contribute to the number on the scale, including bone density, muscle mass, and water weight. So we can see that scales are not particularly accurate or reliable and that weight is not a good measurement of health.
So why use a scale?
I am not saying that scales and weight have NO place in our lives. They can be a useful tool in certain situations. For example, when working as a nurse with newborns and premature infants, I have been taught to use a very accurate and calibrated scale to weigh the infant’s diapers to find out how much water loss we are seeing and to track hydration status.
When working as a nurse with patients on dialysis I have found it useful to track weight over the course of days or the week to monitor for potential cardiac overload due to water retention. A scale at the post office tells me how many stamps I need to send an oversized birthday card to a friend. Scales and weight are data points that can be useful but are not often helpful as a single data point on their own.
Even in medicine, it is best to look at a whole range of data points before making any decisions. For example, if my patient with dialysis has a weight change, I also want to look at lab levels for sodium and potassium values. If my premature infant seems to be having some insensible water loss or weight loss since birth, I want to look at potential factors such as infection, temperature, or congenital anomalies and correlate my weight trends with lab values, physical assessment, and vital signs.
Using weight on its own to determine health is simply not accurate or helpful and often creates more mental health problems if it becomes an obsession.
Should you buy a scale?
Personally, I have found that not owning a scale or weighing myself has brought immense freedom to my life and journey toward intuitive eating and an anti-diet mindset. However, this is still a personal choice and there may be reasons when having a data point of weight is useful. What I will encourage is for you to evaluate where your mentality is surrounding weight and the scale.
Are you able to see it as just one of many data points that may or may not be useful for making medical or health decisions? Are you able to acknowledge that the scale is not completely accurate and that weights fluctuate normally throughout the day? Does a number on the scale determine your emotions for the day? Do you define yourself, your success, or your health by a number on the scale?
If so, I encourage you to try to shift your mindset to see weight as simply a data point, not a definition. The scale is simply incapable of defining your worth, your happiness, your health status, or how long you will live. Why have we given it the power to define things that it cannot? Let us be a part of breaking this societal norm and putting the scale back in its place. For me that place was the dumpster.