How to Stop Weighing Your Food
The food scale was one of the hardest things for me to let go of in recovery. So hard in fact, that I used it for a lot longer than I care to admit. At one point, I didn't even know WHY I used my scale anymore; it had simply become a habit! Whatever purpose it was seemingly serving, the act of weighing food kept me trapped in a restricted life. I am incredibly proud to say that I have been able to let go of the food scale completely, and in this post I share how YOU can FINALLY let go of it too! I tell you about my personal story with weighing food and share THREE key tips on how I was able to let go of the food scale for GOOD.
You wanna know something I love? When I have an idea for a piece of content and then someone on Instagram DM’s me asking me to create THAT VERY PIECE OF CONTENT! In this case, that piece of content is How to Stop Weighing Your Food! I’m going to be very upfront with you in saying that the food scale was definitely one of the hardest things for me to let go of in recovery. I weighed every gram I ate for a lot longer than I care to admit, and that’s also why it took me so long to finally share this piece of content with you. Not to mention, I couldn’t find ANY resources on how to stop weighing food when I was trying to let go of the scale myself. Every Google Search I did just led me to posts either on how to stop counting calories, or how to stop weighing your body.
But I didn’t need any more how to’s regarding these two topics. I wanted to learn how to stop weighing my food. I had long overcome obsessive calorie counting and weighing myself, and using the food scale was no longer even related to restricting my food! At one point, I didn’t even know what purpose the food scale was serving. Later on in my recovery, I no longer weighed food because I wanted to use it as a means of eating less or to control my weight, I just couldn’t deal with not “knowing” how much food weighed. I would literally weigh individual carrots and whole bananas - things I already knew I would eat entirely - regardless of their weight. But still I would weigh them, just to be able to attach a number to what I was eating. The food scale had totally lost its original purpose of controlling amounts, but had simply become a habit. Using the food scale had become so engrained in my daily life that I couldn’t IMAGINE not using it anymore.
Perhaps you feel the same right now. Maybe you do still struggle with calorie counting and weighing yourself, or maybe you just can’t fathom a life without scales or numbers of any kind! If so, you ARE in the right place because I get you…I feel you…I understand you…and I’m here to tell you that it IS 100% possible for you to eat and enjoy your life without ever having to weigh a single gram again. I thought I was just doomed to weigh my food forever…but here I am today, free of the food scale, and in this post, I’m going to be sharing exactly how you can become free of it too!
My Relationship with the Food Scale
Oh, the food scale. Man, did I have a long relationship with that bad boy. I remember walking into treatment in 2017 with my food scale in my suitcase. I knew they were going to check my bags and I knew they were going to take it and I knew there was no way I was let alone going to be able to use it during treatment, but still. Just in case.
Those three words pretty much sum up my entire relationship with the food scale. Just. In. Case. It started off with a purpose; I mean, doesn’t every eating disorder behavior? I had initially adopted the measuring cups and spoons system after my very first forced treatment in 2012. I was only 12 at the time, and I remember my parents being totally disgusted by the idea of their sick child measuring food. I remember them questioning the staff at the treatment center, saying things like “she’s already so obsessed with food, isn’t measuring just going to make it all worse?”. They would then explain to my parents how the treatment center made use of the meal plan exchange system, and measuring food was the only way to accurately stick to it.
My parents would nod their heads, implying that they understood. Even though unwillingly, they would agree…because they WERE willing to do anything that could make me get better. Even if that meant measuring everything that went into my mouth from now on. Obviously, my eating disorder loved this. Not the eating part, of course, but the fact that everything was not only planned on my meal plan, but now also precisely measured, just made eating feel slightly “safer”. However, every time you give your eating disorder an inch, it will try to take a mile. And that’s exactly what it tried to do one day we were taking a family trip to Walmart.
I can’t even remember what we were doing there; perhaps buying a new tent for an upcoming camping trip? Who knows? What I do remember clear as day, is that my favorite section was always the cooking section. I’d run off to the plates, bowls, and kitchen utensils, and engorged myself in the most recent edition of Skinnytaste. I’d mentally note all of the suggested swaps and substitutions: applesauce for oil, nonfat yogurt for butter, cauliflower rice for regular white. It was in one of the diet magazines that I noticed an article about owning a food scale, and how this single item was the key to completing your diet-friendly kitchen.
While my parents were in search of the key to heal me, I was constantly in search of the key to control my food. Measuring cups and spoons were great, but now that I discovered there was an EVEN MORE ACCURATE way to track portion sizes? Sign me up! I quickly ran to find my parents and led the way to the kitchen area where I had been hanging around, gently placing the fanciest-looking food scale I could find in the cart.
“What’s this for?” my mom asked, grabbing the food scale out of the shopping cart and placing it back on the shelf.
“It’s so that I can better stick to the new meal plan!” I responded, cheerfully.
My dad chimed in: “Aren’t we already going out of our way to measure everything using those stupid cups and spoons?”
“A food scale is much more accurate” I reassured. “This is the best way to ensure I meet all my needs”.
My very mentioning of “meeting all my needs” was like music to my parent’s ears. They exchanged a quick glance at each other, nodded in unwilling agreement just like they had when the treatment staff told them about the measuring spoons system, and motioned me to return the food scale to the cart. I carefully placed it on top of the large, rainproof tent, and briskly walked to the next section of the store before my parents could get the chance to change their minds.
From that day on, nothing went into my mouth without having been placed on the food scale first. I would cut off small pieces of bread to ensure the weight matched the serving size on the nutrition panel, and would spend up to 10 minutes adding and removing single oatmeal flakes until the weight was precisely a certain number of grams. More often than not, I would be fiddling with the tare button for so long, that I doubted the food scale could still work properly after being turned on for that long, and it would be better to start the weighing process all over again. I was sure the amount I had weighed prior was still going to weigh the same, but still. Just in case.
I took the food scale with me everywhere I went: on camping trips, weekends away, and even on longer vacations (when those were still in the cards at least, before I was too sick to travel). I always kept spare batteries in the drawer alongside it, just in case the food scale would sporadically turn off and I would spiral into a panic. I learned that “always-keep-a-spare” lesson the hard way, when I was weighing my sweet potatoes one day, and the scale suddenly read “empty” and shut down.
A not-so-sweet (potato) story
It was in that exact moment, that I shut down too. We were about to sit down to a family dinner of sweet potatoes, fish sticks, and steamed spinach. I had carefully selected and dabbed the oil off the 5 smallest fish sticks I could fish out of the pan (pun totally intended) and had arranged a perfectly portioned pile of spinach alongside it. As soon as I was done weighing the sweet potatoes, we could finally have our family dinner. Everything had long gone cold at this point, but everyone seemed (or at least pretended) not to notice. What was most important, was that I was eating; even if it took me 20 minutes to weigh everything out.
On the edge of their seats to dig into the food, I exclaimed “I can’t eat! The batteries just died!”. My mom looked at me, wide-eyed, as if I had just announced a third world war. I saw my sisters sink deeper into their seats. Suddenly, my dad got up, and smashed two halves of sweet potato onto my dinner plate.
“This is what’s for dinner and this is what you are going to eat! Now sit down for God’s sake and have a normal family dinner with us!”
I shifted my gaze towards the floor, feeling tears gathering behind my eyes.
“I can’t eat yet. need to know how much the sweet potato weighs” I muttered in an almost inaudible tone.
“I’ll just run to the store and get some batteries” my mom declared, already grabbing her big silver purse.
“No!” my dad interrupted again. “How hard is it to just eat 2 damn pieces of sweet potato?”
I was still staring at the creaked wooden kitchen floor, completely muted by my sheer levels of panic and fear. There was no way I was going to eat any amount of “damn” sweet potato unless I knew how much it weighed.
I think we can all foretell how this little sweet potato story ended: my mom bought the batteries to avoid an even further outburst, and I had insisted on coming with her to escape further drama with my already enraged father. When we came home from the store, my mom and I had dinner together and all seemed to be okay – for now. But we had all learned a clear lesson: always keep spare batteries for the food scale. Just in case.
Until one day, I had decided spare batteries were no longer enough. What if the entire scale broke down? What if it wasn’t the batteries that were dead, but the scale itself had lived its life’s course? An eating disorder convinces you that you can never be too sure, so I bought a second food scale. Again, just in case.
Well that’s all I’m going to share for now as far as my personal story with the food scale goes, so I guess you’ll just have to read my future book to learn more! Right now, I want to shift gears and share three tips that helped me to finally LET GO of the food scale.
#1 Know your WHY when it comes to letting go of the food scale
My very first tip is the same first tip that I give in my post on how to stay motivated in recovery. I encourage you to read that post if you haven’t already, as this tip is going to be an elaboration of what I share there. That said, my first tip for letting go of the food scale (and to obviously stay motivated in continuing to not weigh your food!) is to create a list of reasons for WHY you want to stop weighing food. I am currently listening to an audiobook on Audible titled The Magic of Thinking Big and there are so many amazing lessons and quotes in there! One of my recent favorites is: “Success requires heart & soul effort…and you can put your heart & soul only into something you truly desire”.
Just like I said in my post on motivation, we are often wondering why we’re not achieving the things we say we want. We blame our inaction on external circumstances or say that things happen as the result of good or bad luck, but these are simply excuses to stay a victim. And I get it; it’s SO much easier to be a victim because then you don’t have to take responsibility and it’s impossible to fail, right? Well, wrong.
Not taking action and not believing you are capable of succeeding is the very mindset that’s causing you to stay stuck. Achieving ANYTHING starts with BELIEVING you can achieve that thing. In this case, you must wholeheartedly BELIEVE it is possible for you to live a life in which weighing food is no longer part of it. To get to that point though, you must know WHY you want to live that life. You must have REASONS for living that life. You are currently so used to living a life that revolves around food and numbers, that becoming someone who’s free of those ties WILL take hard work. And the only way to push through and put in the work is if you have strong enough reasons for doing so.
The scale-smashing story
This actually reminds me of another story involving my food scale, one that I personally believe made my attachment to the object worse. You know how I mentioned that I brought my food scale to treatment with me in 2017? Well towards the end of my treatment, as my treatment team was making a plan for me to succeed in the big bad real world, I was given an ultimatum. I was told that if I wanted to be discharged from residential treatment, I would first have to smash my food scale. I didn’t agree with this, and I honestly never have been a fan of using violence to remove the meaning of an object. The whole scale-smashing trend that I’m sure we’re all aware of, never resonated with me, because it isn’t the physical scale that’s doing any harm. It’s an inanimate object that doesn’t really do anything. Ultimately, the number on the scale is simply the force of gravity on an object. Little physics lesson here, but that’s all it is. And that number only has as much power as you give it.
Anyways, back to the story. Even though I didn’t agree with smashing my food scale (I would have been so much better off selling it on Ebay or something!) I wanted to get the heck out of treatment. I didn’t really have much of a say in the matter besides obeying my treatment team, because they were the ones who were going to set me free. I know I’m making it sound like I was a prisoner which I obviously wasn’t, but to this day it still kinda feels like I was. I definitely believe residential treatment HAS its time and place, but the fact that they treat everyone the same and make so many assumptions about what’s “best”, is what I believe triggers relapse when you come out of treatment.
This is why I am so so confident in my 1:1 Coaching Program, because I take a 100% individualized approach to you as a person and I don’t treat you like another sick patient; because you’re not! Not to mention, when you apply for coaching with me, we work together to find solutions and strategies to improving your life as a WHOLE, not just around food and exercise. I will NEVER tell you what to do because that’s not my place. I am NOT you. And most of all, I know that telling you what to do simply doesn’t work. Recovery MUST come from internal drive and desire, and coaching is simply a tool that helps keep you on the right track. If you ARE interested in 1:1 coaching with me, you can schedule a FREE 20 minute strategy session HERE!
To elaborate on what I said about forced action not working and recovery needing to come from within, let’s finish this little food-scale-smash story to show you just how inverted my treatment team’s ultimatum packed out.
As you probably already guessed, I ended up smashing the food scale because I was desperate to get out of treatment. But as soon as I was finally discharged, can you guess what I did? Yup, I went out and bought a food scale. Not because I wanted or needed it, just to prove that no one could tell me what I should do. If this isn’t proof that telling someone with an eating disorder WHAT they should do doesn’t work, I don’t know what does. Deep down, YOU have the answers and YOU know what to do. You just may need someone to help you find those answers so you can finally take action. I am so excited to help you unleash your full potential through 1:1 Coaching!
#2 Change your Environment
My second tip for how to stop weighing your food is to switch up your environment. As I learned in another one of my favorite books Atomic Habits, our environment has a MASSIVE impact on our habits. The ways in which we behave can be attributed to several factors, environmental cues being of those. Let me give you some examples:
When you are working on an assignment and your phone buzzes, you will most likely feel tempted to check it. If you come home after a long day and it’s all dark, you will flick the light switch on. When you’re grocery shopping and see your favorite snack bar is on sale, you’ll probably add it to your shopping cart. In all of these scenarios, a cue in your environment prompted you to take a specific action. If your phone had been turned off, you would have never picked it up. If you came home and it was still light out, you would never have flicked the light switch on. If the snack bar had not strategically been located in a for sale bin near the checkout counter, you probably would have only purchased the groceries you had originally come to the store for.
The same goes for the food scale. Whenever you go to prepare food, I’m willing to bet there’s a specific way in which you go about doing so. When I would prepare my breakfast during my food scale days, the way in which I made my oatmeal was more of an automated series of actions rather than a conscious cooking process. I would start out by walking into the kitchen, grabbing my food scale from the drawer, and placing it on the counter I had disinfected beforehand (hello OCD!). I would then grab the canister of rolled oats from its usual place, and proceed to carefully weigh a certain number of grams in the same glass dish I always weighed my oatmeal in.
By the time I had added my protein powder, almond milk, flaxseeds, everything else that makes oatmeal delicious, and the oats were finally cooking on the stovetop, I could barely consciously remember any of the process. My brain had formed a habit around precisely weighing every ingredient in a certain order, so that my brain could work more efficiently and focus on other tasks. The eventual cooking of the oatmeal on the stovetop was simply a result of certain cues in the kitchen. Had my food scale not been in its usual drawer or had the oats not been in the same cabinet, my brain would have had to recalibrate and find an alternative to complete the breakfast-making process.
I know this may sound like a super elaborate analyzation of such a simple process as making some oatmeal, but understanding that the tiniest cues can contribute to the formation and continuation of a habit, is essential in letting go of habits that no longer serve you…and adopting new habits that will!
When I committed to stop weighing food, I had to remove the cue that allowed me to weigh food. I had to remove the scale from the drawer so that when I did automatically try to reach for it, I was reminded of why it wasn’t there. In the beginning, it obviously made me anxious and there were several times that I would go out of my way to fetch the scale from the spot I had hidden it in.
When I realized just moving the scale wasn’t enough, I thought about what new cues I could introduce to make it easier for me to actually pursue making my food without being cajoled by the invisible attractive force of the food scale.
In the place of my food scale, I stuck a piece of paper with all of my reasons for why I wanted to stop weighing my food (and yes, this is that very list that you created after hearing tip 1!). When you combine your WHY with a change in environment, you are setting yourself up for success. You’re no longer being a victim of your environment or circumstances, but an advocate for your recovery and an architect of your surroundings.
My third and final tip for how to stop weighing your food is to VISUALIZE yourself preparing food without a food scale. Several studies have been conducted to explore what happens in the brain when someone is visualizing a certain experience vs actually doing it. With advanced brain imaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (also known as MRI), scientists have found that when you visualize something, the same parts of the brain activate as when you are actually doing the thing. This means that intentional visualization has virtually the same effect on the neural pathways in your brain as if you were really engaging in the activity in reality! I mean, how COOL is that? This is why manifestation and believing in the law of attraction really work, because these techniques involve visualizing and eventually realizing your dream life.
The power of visualization directly ties back to what I said earlier about believing a desired outcome is possible, because you can only fully immerse yourself in the visualized experience if you truly believe that experience can exist. So, when it comes to preparing food without using the food scale, the first step is to BELIEVE a life without the food scale is possible. In my Extreme Hunger Course as well as in my 1:1 Coaching with clients, we ALWAYS focus first on shifting limiting beliefs and opening your mind to the possibility of what may seem impossible, because only with a fully open mind can you embrace anything and everything that comes on your recovery path!
Once you wholeheartedly BELIEVE it’s possible for you make a meal without weighing the ingredients, you can start your visualization of doing so. Focus on all the senses such as where you will be, what it will smell like, what sounds may be present, anything you think will be involved during the big leap of creating your first meal without using the scale. It’s super important to get as clear as possible on every detail when you are imagining this preparation of a meal, because it means more neural pathways will be activated, and thus, your brain will be more familiar with the experience when you actually go to your physical kitchen and really make the food.
Phew! There you have several snippets of my personal story with the food scale and three tips that massively helped me in finally letting it go. If this post inspired you in any way, it would mean the world to me if you could screenshot it and share it on Instagram! or if you know anyone who you think would also benefit from these tips on how to stop weighing food, be sure to share it with them! Life is too damn short to weigh single flakes of oatmeal.
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