It’s very stressful that every time we go to the doctor, we get weighed. This stress is part of the health damage caused by weight stigma.
A small group of rebels is discovering that we don’t *have* to be weighed every time we go to the doctor, and our kids don’t either. We can actually make an informed choice to step on the scale (or not).
If stepping on the scale is not stressful for you or your child, that’s fine. No problem. But lots of people find it very stressful. This article provides support and empowerment for people and parents who would like to say “no” when they (or their child) are asked to step on the scale.
Weight-based care is the norm
Weight-based care is the norm in our society, but we don’t have to take it for granted that doctors and other healthcare professionals need our or our kids’ weight. Many people, and a lot of kids, feel tremendous stress about stepping on the scale every time we go to the doctor.
Stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office, regardless of the purpose of the visit, is one way that healthcare providers provide weight-based care and perpetuate weight stigma. Healthcare providers are key contributors to weight stigma, and weight stigma has been firmly linked to poor health outcomes, including eating disorders. [1, 2]
The good news is that we can ask that we or our child not be weighed, or ask for an explanation of the value of being weighed. Rather than automatically complying and stepping on the scale, we can make an informed choice to be weighed based on the medical reason for doing so.
Reasons we can ask to not be weighed:
- Most health conditions can be addressed without knowing weight.
- Because we live in a fatphobic society, being weighed and talking about weight causes feelings of stress and shame. Many people feel anxiety about seeing the doctor, and will avoid going to the doctor in order to avoid the scale.
- Weighing a person every time they come in for an appointment and talking about their weight like it’s a problem perpetuates weight stigma, which is a bigger health risk than body weight.
- People can follow a Health at Every Size program and pursue healthy behaviors regardless of weight status.
Weight-based care is stressful and often unnecessary
It turns out that health is not as linked to weight as we have been told it is. In fact, weight is a very poor indicator of lifetime health and longevity.
So why do we get weighed every time we go to the doctor’s office? And why do they always want our kids’ weight? A lot of it is what’s called “medical ritual.” Just like the white coat, being weighed is not a critical part of healthcare, but it has become a way healthcare providers practice.
It’s important to listen to healthcare providers and consider their recommendations carefully. Medical advice is critical, and it’s why we trust doctors with our health. But being weighed before every appointment is not medical advice, it’s medical ritual. We’re not saying never get weighed, we’re just saying that it’s OK to ask why it’s necessary to get weighed.
This is not medical advice! We are only suggesting that patients should be empowered to request the reason for being weighed so that we can make an informed choice.
How to say I don’t want to be weighed
In general, it helps if we approach this from a calm, confident place. Based on our informal research, the best response to the automatic request to “please step on the scale” is “oh, I don’t get weighed,” or “oh, she/he/they doesn’t get weighed.” Just smile and leave it at that. Most of the time you will get a strange look and/or a surprised grunt or comment, but they will move on.
Doing this is surprisingly hard and stressful. We are rebelling against closely-held societal standards in which we follow the doctor’s orders even when they don’t give them to us directly (it’s usually nurses who weigh us).
That’s why we created these “Don’t Weigh Me” cards. You can keep them in your wallet or pocket to remind yourself that it’s OK to not automatically step on the scale. If you like, you can give these cards to healthcare workers to help explain why you or your child are not automatically stepping on the scale.
These “Don’t Weigh Me” cards are free. They’re the same size as a business card. We want you to be supported in requesting healthcare that is free of weight bias. Just give us your mailing address, and we’ll be happy to send you a few cards to keep on-hand. If you want more, just let us know!
Frequently asked questions about not being weighed at the doctor’s office
Q: You’re not a doctor. How dare you say this?
A: You’re right. I’m not a doctor. This is not medical advice. If a doctor says you need to get weighed, that’s between you and your doctor.
Q: But what about watching my kids’ weight so it doesn’t get “too high?”
A: Too high for what? We’ve been told that we’re in charge of our kids’ weight, but in fact their bodies are in charge of their weight. Weight bias begins with the twin concepts of a) lower weight is better; and b) if you’re at higher weight, you should lose weight to be healthier. Neither of these is true. To find out more, please read this article from Linda Bacon: Worried about the kids? Fear of obesity is much more health-damaging than high weight itself.
Q: But doesn’t getting weighed help my child get diagnosed for an eating disorder?
A: If you suspect your child is at risk for or has an eating disorder, then it may be medically necessary to obtain their weight for diagnosis purposes. This is a clear case in which being weighed is medically necessary and you can make an informed choice.
Q: What if my doctor won’t see me without me (or my child) stepping on the scale?
A: If your doctor says it’s medically necessary, then you should make an informed choice about stepping on the scale. If your doctor wants you to step on the scale to meet insurance requirements, then you need to decide how you feel about that. If your doctor wants you to step on the scale so that their paperwork is complete, that’s a different discussion. The point is that it’s an informed choice that we get to make. We don’t have to step on the scale just because someone tells us to.
Ginny Jones is the editor of More-Love.org. She writes about parenting, body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders.
1] Implicit and explicit weight bias in a national sample of 4,732 medical students: the medical student CHANGES study, Phelan et al, Obesity, 2014
2] How and why weight stigma drives the obesity ‘epidemic’ and harms health, Tomiyama et al, BMC Medicine, 2018
3] Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review, Holt-Lunstat et al, PLOS Medicine, 2010