Sue has been weighing herself once a week. She was confused and disheartened that her weight had gone up a little this week. After all, she told me, she had stuck to her plan and, on top of that, had done considerably more exercise than usual.
I asked Sue if this was a typical reaction for her—feeling disappointed when the scale didn’t go down as expected. She acknowledged that yes, this was a long-term problem. She also told me that in the past, if she expected the scale to show a higher weight (because she had eaten more than planned), she often avoided the scale altogether. The scale avoidance had often led to her gaining a LOT of weight because she didn’t have to face the consequences of abandoning her eating plan.
I told Sue that I thought she suffered from “tyranny of the scale,” that is, her mood was way too dependent on the number it registered. I told her it was difficult to get over the problem unless she started weighing herself every day. In fact, I told her, I not only wanted her to weigh herself, but I also wanted her to start graphing her weight.
Sue needs to see, over and over and over again, that daily fluctuations in weight are NORMAL. She had thought that the scale should go down every day or every week as long as she was sticking to her plan. She didn’t know that the scale is supposed to register a higher weight some days. It doesn’t mean she’s become fatter. If she’s stuck to her diet and exercise programs, it means she retained water, had some hormonal changes, ate saltier foods, ate later than usual the evening before, or experienced some other normal physiological change that we couldn’t identify. In fact, I told her, “Don’t look for why your weight is higher on any given day—unless you didn’t stick to your eating plan. Just assume it’s a normal fluctuation and that the scale will come down again within a few days.”
I told Sue that if she’s only weighing herself, without making a graph, it’s more difficult to prove to herself that daily fluctuations are normal—and that if the scale goes up or stays the same, it will come down soon. But this is crucial! It’s also hard to prove to yourself if you’re only weighing and graphing once a week. That’s why it’s worth the effort to weigh yourself daily. After 15 or 20 episodes of seeing the fluctuations, you won’t worry any more. You’ll know the ups and downs are normal and you’ll get over your fear of the scale.