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Diet therapy

Are you afraid of the scales?

Everyday we measure things such as time, distance, food, progress, goals, money, sports scores,blood cholesterol, blood pressure, petrol, baking ingredients etc yet many people shudder at the thought of weighing themselves. Are you one of them?

Whether the scale is measuring someone trying to gain or lose weight I have had many patients who dread seeing that number result.

Common fears of weighting

People often complain that the scales are

  • “Judging me as a bad person if I gain”
  • “They suggest I haven’t tried” (to gain or lose)
  • “The more I weigh myself the more I gain”
  • “They put pressure on me”
  • “They stress me out, make me anxious, make me eat”

Confronting the fear of weight

What do we weigh when we weigh you?

Many people just think of fat when they think about weight. They tell me that if they weigh more it must be because they have put on fat.

However when we weigh the human body we don’t just weigh our body fat but also our blood, body water, tissue, bone, body organs, body waste, muscle, brain etc. All of these things are vital for us to sustain our life and good health.

If it is necessary for their ongoing health, Dietitians are trained to help people to gain or lose weight from the right component of body mass. We certainly don’t want people to lose weight from their vital organs, bones or muscles!

Scales don’t tell us the whole picture

Our body weight is determined by the volume of things that pass through it. Such as what and when we last ate or drank, went to the toilet etc . Weight can accumulate prior to a women’s period because of fluid retention and things such as altitude, heat and humidity can also make our weight vary.

The scales are just a machine.

They can’t judge you. It is you who attach’s meaning, judgement and feelings to those numbers .

Equally because they are a machine the numbers can be changed. They aren’t permanent. It is you who has the control over changing those numbers and changing how you feel about them

Consider the positive use of scales

Instead of blaming the scales for the number you see use them as a tool to help you to get healthier

Knowing your weight can save your life

For instance if you were in a car accident and taken to hospital the doctor treating you would estimate your weight and accordingly determine how many litres of IV fluid replacement and drugs you may need in order to survive.

Recreationally weight can determine how much bungy cord or type of parachute to allocate if you planned a jump.

Working with a Dietitian you are working as a team.

Weighing yourself is not compulsory to treatment of weight related health issues nor does the weighing result just reflect on you.

Scales are just one component that can help to measure not only your progress when making dietary changes but also provide a feedback loop for the Dietitian to measure how effective their treatments and teaching are for you.

This treatment is not just in making the dietary changes necessary for you to gain or lose weight but in helping you to develop coping strategies. Helping you to become more mindful of why, what and how you are eating and to pinpoint the environments and people that might undermine your efforts to make progress.

Non weight measurements of progress

There are lots of other ways to measure progress than just weighing. Eg:

A nutritional assessment

Keeping a 7 day food and fluid diary for analysis can help a dietitian to assess when and how much you eat and the cues that may lead to your over or under eating.

An assessment can also show the energy, types and proportions of carbohydrates, fats , proteins, vitamins, minerals and fluids that are helping to make your body each day.
So often I find that over and under weight people simply do not eat enough food and can be quite deficient in key nutrients even if their overall energy intake is greater than needed. Often it is these deficiencies that perpetuate the weight problems.

Assessments can be repeated at regular intervals to measure the Dietitians teaching method as much as their patients needs.

Waist and hip ratios

Using a tape measure to check waist and hip measurements a Dietitian can determine the level of fat accumulated around your abdomen. This is known as visceral fat which affects the body’s ability to control fat and sugar breakdown. Keeping a track of your waist to hip ratio can help you to monitor your progress.

Blood tests

In association with your doctor, your Dietitian can interpret from your blood tests how well your liver and kidneys are functioning. Whether you are deficient in nutrients such as Vitamin B12, calcium, folate, iron, Vitamin D etc. which can be corrected with dietary intervention.

Blood tests can also help to determine your susceptibility to allergies and intolerances and measure your risk factors for developing gout, diabetes, heart disease and digestive upsets. These test results can be repeated and help to guide your dietary and medical treatment.

A holistic approach can help

Although weight is important to health and body function mental health can also have a huge bearing on the successfulness of any dietary program.

  • Building healthy relationships with family and friends
  • Having a job that you enjoy
  • Feeling valued and loved irrespective of the size and shape you are
  • Learning new things
  • Taking up a new hobby can help you develop your creative side. So at the end of the year you haven’t just gained or lost weight but taught yourself a new skill.

I like to think that over the last 40 years of being a Dietitian I haven’t only helped thousands of people gain or lose the weight they needed in order to be healthier but also encouraged them to become artists and potters and gardeners and builders, golfers and musicians etc.

One last important point:

We can see a child growing as it gets older and we understand how important it is to feed our children well for better health and performance.

Yet many adults fail to appreciate that their bodies haven’t stopped growing.

Just like a photocopier our body is churning out new copies of our hair, nails, replacing tissue in vital organs such as our heart and lungs, rebuilding bone, remodelling us.

It is never to late to change the paper/ the body materials, to alter the model, to build a stronger and fitter you.

“Its only too late if we don’t start now”- Barbara Shear


The author recognises that knowing ones weight can slow the treatment of some people (such as those with eating disorders/ distorted body image issues) and endorses the importance of a multi-disciplinary professional  approach for those affected. Dietitian’s are trained to assist so see your doctor for a referral.

More articles by Lea on this subject:

Changing the ‘weight talk’ may bring better health
Overcome misconceptions about weight for better family nutrition
Don’t let disordered eating ruin your performance
7 myths of weight loss
Dietary help for women with PCOS
Don’t let energy deficiency ruin your health
Feeling full is the secret to weight loss
Dietary help for depressed athletes

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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