Why Many Doctors Recommend Weighing Yourself Regularly To Lose Weight, & Why I Think They're Wrong.

I cancelled my Weight Watchers membership on Monday.  I did it because I wasn't using the tools I was paying for: the weigh ins, the meetings and the app.  I wasn't going to the meetings because it seems like people just want to talk about food, but I know a lot about food already.  

No one wanted to talk about why we eat too much: the availability of empty calories in literally every corner of the continent, the cramming shut of the void left by adverse childhood experiences around body and food, chronic financial and performance stress and the inability to quiet the mind long enough to satisfy whatever non-food craving roams below the surface. 

I didn't use the app because whenever I start counting anything, calories or points or whatever, the old neuroses flair.  I started counting calories when I was a teenager and began restricting my calories in earnest in my early 20s.  Reducing my daily caloric intake to below 1000 was an all-consuming objective and I spent many hours re-counting because my brain was so foggy that I couldn't focus on addition.  I can look at any meal and pretty easily guesstimate what I am about to eat. 

 I usually know if it's too much or too little.    And you probably do too because my story is a common one. 

Me on a bike tour of Berlin in 2008.  

Me on a bike tour of Berlin in 2008.  

I didn't like weighing in because every time I did there would be a rush of associative emotion, good or bad.  There would be guilt or self-satisfaction, frustration or accomplishment.   When I was very ill, I used to get such a strong rush of endorphin from watching my BMI circle the drain.  I was living in Vienna at the time and after work I would go to the gym, work out with whatever energy I had after having eaten just a few pears all day, and step on the scale.  The scale always showed a loss and I was briefly happy.  But then I also couldn't stand up without almost fainting, was incontinent of urine towards the very end and slept in my winter coat because I could not regulate my own body temperature.  But number on the scale plummeted and I felt good about that.  Weighing in is a turbulent roller coaster.   If I am going to take an emotional trip,  I would rather it be fueled by the important things in life, like my family, friends and fur baby.  I know if I am gaining or losing weight.  I can tell by the way my clothes fit, my energy levels and how I feel in my body if I can slow down enough to listen.  

The evidence around weighing in, or self-assessment of weight, was addressed in Weighty Matters today.  Weighty Matters is a blog run by renowned Canadian obesity specialist, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff.  He has written about scale seduction and fear of weighing in before but today he looked at a poor quality study arguing that people who weighed themselves every day also adopted more weight control measures and lost more weight overall than people who weighed themselves less than everyday.  The study is poorly powered, retrospective and absolutely equates correlation with causation.  While Dr. Freedhoff agrees that the study is bullocks, he agrees with the message: weighing in works

There are so many studies on weighing in.  This one showed that people who are losing weight weigh in more and people who are gaining weigh in less.  This New England Journal of Medicine study took people who had already lost weight on their own and tried to figure out how to prevent regain.  At least they admit:

...frequent self-weighing could be either a cause or a consequence of weight-loss maintenance.
— Wing et al.

Many studies have found exactly the same thing when it comes to weight loss and gain as those above. This review from 2010 also noted that most research in this area is methodologically flawed, and overwhelmingly relies on white women as subjects.  With diet research, we are generally not talking about a ton of weight because the research time frames are pretty short and because dieting doesn't really work unless there are other big shifts happening.  And the new frontier in the work on obesity is biochemical, genetic and environmental.  I have control over one of those things. And that makes me lucky because many people don't even have that. 

I actually stopped using Weight Watchers ages ago, and I've quit and come back many times before, but I stopped paying for it this week.  It's just a crutch I have, a way point for when I feel like life is kind of scary.  My response is to go back to dieting and my old tools.  But I've got a new set of tools that are helping me on the path to a healthy mind and a healthy weight.  Even when I use these tools regularly, which I absolutely don't because I am human, I am not thin but I am happy.  And when I am happy, I don't gain weight.  This is the core connection that most obesity research fails to capture.  

So do what you will with the data but know that fat isn't just about the fat and food isn't just about the food.  Weigh in if you want but work on the other, deeper stuff too.  If you choose not to weigh in, take time everyday to show your body some gratitude and it will tell you if it's feeling over-couched and under-nourished.  

I have my unrelated sisters.  And I also have two online communities with awesome people.   One is called Live More Weigh Less by Sarah Jenks and one is by kickass coach Jessi Kneeland at Remodel Fitness.  Both of these communities are filled with people trying to live well and build each other up.  You can call it cheesy, but they're both remarkable.  I also reach out for support when I need it.  Usually, I struggle with something in life like a difficult conflict, malaise or anger and I go to the work of Laura McGrath at Ready for Change.  

Mostly writing and sewing .  But  whatever floats your boat. 

I try not to become enamoured by material gain because it's so fleeting and unsatisfying.  I say this as someone who recognizes that most people in the world survive, somehow, without fulfillment of their basic material needs and this is a topic that brings me great distress.  I also say this as someone who has used the material to satisfy immaterial needs.  However, there is a diminishing return on wealth.  At some point, it's just numbers on a screen.   I have been a student nine of the last eleven years so, no, I am not yet there.   

What I mean is that I try not to get too angry when I don't look how I used to look.  Immaterial things don't launch me from one corner of the universe to the other without good reason.   I try to spend less on transient things. 

I am bringing a full mind to each moment, whenever I can, as best I can.