Opinion: what it says on the scales is not always an accurate reflection of your health status

As a nation, we appear to have become obsessed with weighing ourselves. This behaviour is further normalised by living in a culture where our self-esteem and self-worth appear to be determined and reinforced by presenting the perfect outward appearance. While the consequences of obesity are recognised internationally as a major health concern, we instead appear to be aspiring to ever skinnier ideals instead of striving for healthy body and minds. The mismatch between one’s current shape and one’s ideal shape leads to widespread body dissatisfaction, which can trigger internal anxiety and increase our levels of stress with researchers identifying skinny ideology as a predictor of low self-esteem, low self-efficacy and depression.

For the majority of people, a desire to eat more healthily and exercise more regularly is a positive step in the right direction. Because obesity has a direct influence on our mortality and acts as a risk factor for various diseases and health problems, we know that a nutritional diet and an active lifestyle can help to prevent some fatal chronic diseases, thereby increasing not only longevity, but also quality of life.

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From RTÉ 2fm's Jennifer Zamparelli, psychotherapist Joanna Fortune on body image language

But for some people, the preoccupation with weight can quickly become a fixation. The behaviours they engage in can become unhealthy and sometimes even dangerous. Left unchecked, dysfunctional obsessions with body weight can escalate into an eating disorder, which can sometimes become life-threatening.

Because obesity is a preventable disease, regular self-weighing has become a widespread ritual in the battle of the bulge. Faced with a growing obesity problem, interventions have been developed to help individuals to lose weight or avoid weight gain. These include regular exercise, moderate caloric restriction, appropriate daily water intake, and regular self-weighing.

Of these four, self-weighing is perhaps the easiest to apply, and is believed by some medical practitioners to be effective because it allows people to monitor their progress, detect changes in their weight, and apply corrective action if needed. Frequent self-weighing can be recommended in the context of weight management under the premise that it will increase awareness of how your behaviour affects your weight. The aim is that this constant self-surveillance will lead to behavioural change, and ultimately to successful weight maintenance or loss.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Donal O'Shea, HSE National Clinical Lead for Obesity, outlines the Government's new approach to tackling Ireland's obesity problem where 6 in 10 adults are obese or overwight.

But while this sounds great in theory, the bathroom scales have received conflicting endorsements. Some healthcare practitioners caution against use, due to the potential to cause negative emotional and psychological consequences associated with weight management failure.

However, there is no denying that self-weighing is an important, helpful and effective intervention for some people when used as part of an overall weight management strategy. The popularity of self-weighing cannot be denied with many people professing to self-weighing on a regular basis, which may be monthly, weekly, daily or even in some cases twice daily. This often happens even if they are not taking part in a specific programme designed to promote weight loss.

We often prioritise our weight at the expense of our health in pursuit of the ideal body. The scales is not a health advisor and your weight is not always an accurate reflection of your health status. One’s health status is determined from the interaction of a number of complex factors, including genetic, metabolic, behavioural, and environmental influences, it is not as simplistic as just continually monitoring a number on the scale.

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From RTÉ Radio 1's Drivetime, Della Kilroy speaks to transition year students from Sutton Park School about the negative impacts of social media on body image

With the ‘thin ideal’ rapidly taking hold, coveted body standards are becoming increasingly unattainable for the general population. If you are emotionally and psychologically impacted by your bathroom scale, then perhaps it is time that you re-evaluated your relationship with your body image in the fight against the detrimental effects of the cult of thinness.

Imagine a life where we switched our mind set and celebrated our bodies instead of resenting them. Where we changed our internal dialogue from a negative, berating voice to a positive, compassionate one. Where we looked in the mirror and embraced the saggy bits, the droopy bits and the wrinkled bits.

Your relationship with your body is one of the most important and complicated relationships you will ever have. It is through our physical body that we actually get the opportunity to experience life. Becoming comfortable in our own skin and taking back control over our own body image will promote self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-compassion. Changing the way we think about our body and how we look can take time. If your emotions are weighing you down, why not rebalance the scale by embracing your imperfections and learning to accept and love your body no matter the type, shape or size?


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