Recently, I found myself explaining to someone’s mother how encouraging her daughter to weigh herself was exacerbating her eating disorder symptoms (binge eating, in this case). As I did so, it occurred to me that there are four pathways to this relationship. They might seem intuitive, but it helped to spell out the matrix of consequences for this family.
If someone (let’s call her Veronica) steps on the scale and sees a number that’s higher than she anticipated, she might experience distress. For many who struggle with binge eating disorder, food is the most convenient and effective coping mechanism. So, the urge to binge can increase.
If she weighs herself and sees a number that’s higher than predicted, she could also have an urge to restrict her intake in an attempt to suppress her weight. As it typically does, restricted intake will likely result in future binge episodes.
Now, if Veronica steps on the scale and sees a number that “passes the test,” or one that is lower than expected, she could similarly restrict her intake as a way to continue this weight-loss trend. Again, binge eating is a likely consequence.
And if she weighs herself and sees a number that’s equally satisfying, it’s possible she might choose to celebrate by overeating or might feel that she is entitled to eat past fullness as a reward for her success.
Many will endorse one or more of these possibilities as potential outcomes of weighing themselves in early recovery. While some professionals believe that access to weight information in eating disorder treatment is always contraindicated, I think that there are certain benefits to learning this information.