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What to Do When Stepping on the Scale Unleashes Your Inner Self-Critic

By Cassie Christopher August 18, 2023 Mindset

You step on the scale and the number staring back at you is higher than you wanted. For some, this can start a cycle of self-criticism and restrictive eating that can corrode self-esteem and ruin your day.

Take Mary for example. She had been put on a diet from a young age to manage a health condition and struggled with her weight her entire life.

By her early 60s, after decades of dieting and regaining weight, stepping on the scale felt traumatic.

Why Stepping on the Scale Unleashes the Inner Self-Critic

If stepping on the scale can ruin your day, then consider what it means to you to live in a larger body.

The Impact of Weight Stigma

Weight stigma is the social rejection and devaluing that occurs to people living in larger bodies. It is a very real phenomenon that can cause anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem in victims.

Weight stigma happens when medical professionals only focus on your weight instead of offering other treatment options, employers choose not to hire people with larger bodies, or loved ones negatively comment on your size.

Because having a larger body is stigmatized in culture to mean someone is lazy, not attractive, has poor willpower or moral character, etc., you get the cultural message that you are undesirable (this is called weight bias internalization).

The Impact of Others’ Perceptions

A 2011 study from Ohio State University found that the most important factor for whether a woman liked her body was how she believed her body was perceived by others, not her actual size.

Furthermore, women in their 60s were more likely to believe that others wouldn’t accept their bodies if they were larger, compared to younger women.

The takeaway: Women in their 60s are more likely to believe their bodies won’t be accepted if they are larger, and these same women may base their own body acceptance on how they perceive others accept their bodies.

How Data Can Turn Against You in Your Mind

So, if you are getting the message from the world around you that living in a larger body means you are not acceptable, lazy, and whatever other terrible things women hear, you might start to criticize yourself when the number on the scale goes up.

Research suggests weighing yourself regularly may help you lose more weight. The research into whether or not weighing yourself is psychologically harmful is conflicting, however.

While the scale only returns data about the force of gravity on your body, for some the number on the scale holds meaning rooted in weight bias and the at-times cruel perceptions of others.

Weighing yourself can feel like a declaration of how good you’ve been or how worthy you are of love and validation by others.

And when the scale isn’t going down, it’s not uncommon to start beating yourself up, sometimes mirroring what has been said to you about your weight as a child or into adulthood by people who should have cared for you better.

For women with eating disorders, weighing yourself can be harmful. If you suspect you or a loved one has an eating disorder and want help, contact your regional eating disorder helpline. In the US that is the National Eating Disorder Association.

Anyone may choose to opt-out of weighing because it feels unhelpful. If you need to be weighed for medical reasons, you can ask your medical team for a “blind” weighing, where you get on the scale backwards.

How to Stop the Self-Critic When You Step on the Scale

Determine What the Number on the Scale Means to You

We’ve discussed popular narratives about what it means to live in a larger body (weight stigma), and the stories we tell ourselves based on what we think others believe about us.

The first step to taking back control of the scale is to decide what the number on the scale means to you.

If I could suggest something?

I encourage the post-menopausal women I work with on healing emotional eating and loving their bodies to view the number on the scale as simply data.

No, I don’t mean data that reflects how “good” you’ve been, or how worthy you are of admiration and appreciation.

What I do mean is data that has no judgements associated. Like a clinical assessment. Either your metabolism is doing what you want it to do, or it’s not.

If something isn’t going the way you want it to, you can use that same non-judgmental approach to assess what you might change to reach your goals.

Self-criticism comes when you believe that the number means something important about you, so finding a different way to think about the number on the scale is the first step to stopping the flagellation.

Assess Your Own Views About Weight

What do you believe about people who are fat? Those beliefs can impact your self-criticism if you believe you are fat.

Assessing your own weight bias and practicing compassion for others will help you treat yourself kindly as well.

For myself, when I notice I have negative thoughts or assumptions about others’ bodies, I mentally back-track and replace the judgmental point of view with something kinder and not weight-related.

This practice has helped me be kinder to myself about my own weight. (You can learn more about my journey with weight here.)

Brainwash Yourself

You are inundated with messages about your body all the time.

Thinking of an alternative view of the scale or thinking something nice about someone with a larger body will probably not do anything.

But reminding yourself frequently of the new beliefs you want to hold about yourself and others can help.

Here are two ways I propose to brainwash yourself:

Surround Yourself with a Supportive Community That Is Working to Dismantle Weight Stigma

In my program, the Stress Less Weight Mastery, I meet with groups of women weekly to discuss body image issues and troubleshoot barriers to healing emotional eating.

Being immersed in a new way of thinking in such a group can be helpful to having these new ideas stick.

Create Affirmation Statements and Either Write Them Down or Say Them Out Loud Every Day

Affirmations are positive sentences that reflect your new belief.

Some examples could be:

The number on the scale is non-judgmental data that doesn’t reflect my value and worth.


My weight doesn’t influence my happiness.

Whatever your affirmations, they have to feel true for you.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How often do you weigh yourself? What does the number on the scale mean to you? How has that number’s meaning evolved with age? Do you think you can learn to consider that number as nothing more than data?

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The Author

Cassie Christopher is a Masters-trained Registered Dietitian who helps women in midlife and beyond create a supportive relationship with food, their bodies, and health so they can eat with joy instead of eating to seek joy. You can get immediate help when you're experiencing a craving by downloading Cassie's Cravings Busting audio guide.

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