This over-valuation means that people with eating disorders judge their self-worth largely, or even exclusively, in terms of their weight, shape and their ability to control them. This over-valuation in turn leads to other features of eating disorders, such as restrictive eating patterns resulting in low weight, extreme dietary restraint resulting in binge eating and so on.
The problem of frequent weighing
A common consequence of over-valuation of weight is frequent weighing.
The intense concern about weight leads many people with eating disorders to weigh themselves frequently, often several times a day. This frequent weighing sets up a vicious cycle, in which the preoccupation with weight causes frequent weighing, and the frequent weighing maintains the preoccupation with weight.
An individual’s weight naturally varies within a range of 2 or 3 kilograms, depending on factors such as hydration levels, contents of bladder and bowel, stage of the menstrual cycle, and recent meals and drinks.
Frequent weighing is likely to result in over-interpretation of insignificant fluctuations in weight, and often leads to further restriction of food intake.
If the reading is the same or higher than a previous reading, the individual may interpret this as indicating that they need to diet harder, and if the reading is lower than a previous one the individual may interpret this as indicating that the dieting is working, and that they need to persist with it.
A helpful parallel comes from considering a person who has experienced an episode of cardiac arrhythmia. As a result of this episode, s/he may become over-concerned about pulse rate, and so feel the urge to check it frequently. The frequent checking maintains the over-concern, as it keeps thoughts about the pulse rate in the forefront of the mind, and it also makes it likely that insignificant changes in pulse rate will be over-interpreted and behaviour adjusted accordingly.
The benefits of weekly weighing
During treatment for an eating disorder, an underweight person will need to re-gain the weight they have lost.
Limiting weighing to once a week during therapy sessions, is likely to be a very important factor in breaking the vicious cycle of weight preoccupation and frequent weighing.
In fact, assessing weight over the past four weeks is the best way to obtain a reasonable idea of any actual weight changes; using this longer time period has the effect of over-riding inconsequential day-to-day variations. Plotting weekly weights on a graph allows interpretation of an overall trend, rather than focusing on an individual point on the graph.
It is often extremely anxiety-provoking for someone with an eating disorder to consider limiting their weighing to just once a week. Removing home scales from sight, and limiting their accessibility is likely to be important, as well as avoiding other opportunities for weighing – such as scales in gyms and chemists.
However, once weighing has been limited in this way, the individual’s preoccupation with their weight often reduces more quickly than they expected that it would.
If you struggle with an intense concern about your weight, and as a result weigh yourself frequently, please consider making an appointment with me, so that we can discuss ways to break this distressing vicious cycle.
Author: Bridget Hogg, B.Sc. (Hons), M. Sc. (Clinical Psychology)
Bridget Hogg is a Brisbane Clinical Psychologist drawing primarily on DBT, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Mindfulness training to assist individuals with anorexia or bulimia.
It is an act of courage and self-care to seek therapeutic help for ongoing psychological difficulties, and Bridget respects and admires all clients who take the first step in that process by making their first appointment. She is passionate about helping people improve the quality of their lives, particularly those for whom life feels at times extremely difficult and painful.
To arrange a session with Brisbane Clinical Psychologist Bridget Hogg, you can freecall 1800 877 924 or book online now!