The scale is a tool

What about the scale? Throughout her childhood, I had been afraid to put Juliana on a scale. I looked for “innocent” opportunities to check her weight. Doctor’s visits, obviously, but also the scales in the dressing room at the pool–I’d check my weight and ask all my kids if they wanted to check theirs. If I took in one kid to urgent care for an earache or something like that, all 3 of them came with me and we’d kill time by checking our height and weight while waiting for the doctor. But Juliana usually declined.

Since I didn’t check her weight regularly, I am guessing that she gained about 30 pounds in a year from the age of 12 to 13. By not checking her weight regularly, I also missed this steep weight gain as it was happening–more than half a pound a week.

Why was I afraid to put her on a scale? Eating disorders and self-esteem issues. I didn’t want her to tie her self-worth to a number on a scale. I didn’t want to create the impression that food was bad because it was making the number on the scale go up, or that it might be a good idea to starve herself to get to a lower number. When Juliana was 9, her BMI had spiked up again. I asked a family therapist about using a scale with a 9 year old, and she was emphatically against it, for the same sorts of reasons.

For some kids and teens not using a scale might be the right answer. But, the scale is a very valuable tool. Information from the scale allows you, as your child’s coach, to continually tweak what you are doing to help your child achieve a healthy weight. If your eating plan is effective, the numbers on the scale will demonstrate that by going down. If it isn’t, they won’t.

Yes, I know, muscle weighs more than fat and takes up less space. Your child could be adding muscle, staying the same weight, but slimming down. Could be. But unless he or she is on an exercise program that would justify a belief in added muscle, I would be wary of hoping that is happening, simply because the hope delays making tweaks to your eating plan to improve its effectiveness.

What about body composition measurements? We tried a home body fat monitor, but the numbers varied too much day to day to give useful information about the effectiveness of the eating plan. Unlike with a scale, there is far too much variation in the measurements of the body fat monitor from day to day to know if you are losing body fat. Juliana’s measurements bounced up and down between 25% and 35% from day to day.

We started with weekly weigh-ins, which was the procedure on the Packard pediatric weight control program. But now we weigh in daily, because we don’t want to waste time on a losing strategy. She feels great eating low carb, and she’ll eat this way the rest of her life, and yes, eventually she’ll reach her goal weight one way or the other; but she still wants to slim down without wasting time. I think everyone does. So if you can use the scale as a tool, and not obsess over the number, you should.  Juliana is doing well with the information from a daily weigh-in.  You have to judge for yourself whether using the scale is going to do more harm than good for your child.

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