Self Weighing Leads to Depression and Disordered Eating
Especially in teen girls and young adult women.
10 years ago, researchers at the University of Minnesota set out to determine how self-weighing would impact the weight, psychology and behavior of teens and young adults. They’ve followed 1900 young people for the last 10 years, and late last year they released their findings.
What they found wasn’t very happy.
The project, know as EAT (Eating and Activity in Teens and Young Adults), used a Likert Scale to have participants report on self-weighing, their perceptions of ideal weight, level of weight concern, body satisfaction, self-esteem, and depressive symptoms, and they reported their engagement in unhealthy and self-destructive dieting behaviors. Researchers also tracked participants’ BMI.
The goal of the project was to understand how self-weighing impacted the other variables they were tracking.What they discovered was dismaying: girls and women who self-weighed had increased weight concern and depressive symptoms, and lower body satisfaction and self-esteem. Unsurprisingly, they engaged in dangerous dieting behavior at a higher rate and had increased risk of disordered eating.
The most dismaying part of all this? Self-weighing had NO IMPACT on weight. So, these kids are suffering from decreased quality of life, engaging in dangerous dieting behavior, and not experiencing any weight control benefits. It is not worth it.
These results echo the findings of other studies, like this one from 2012 that found that adolescents who self-weighed the most had the highest risk of binge eating and unhealthy dieting behavior, and again that self-weighing did NOT effect their weight.
Many studies have shown that self-weighing can be a helpful weight control measure for adults, but these studies raise serious concerns about its use for teenagers and young women. Based on my own professional experience, I think that it is a tool that should be used prudently, and probably discouraged for anyone with a predisposition toward disordered eating, regardless of their age.
I created my Healthy Habits for Teens coaching program as a direct response to the prevailing paradigm in Diet Culture, that places primary focus on weight, at the expense of the mental and physical health of younger and more vulnerable populations. In my program, self-weighing is actively discouraged and the primary focus is shifted onto establishing and nurturing healthy, balanced eating, exercise and lifestyle behaviors, as well as the self-esteem and critical thinking skills necessary to successfully navigate Diet Culture.
I encourage other Fitness and Health Professionals to begin to shift away from the focus on the scale that is so prevalent in our culture. It places our clients at higher risk of depression and eating disorders, and has very little benefit, especially for the youngest and most vulnerable people we serve.
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