I’ve had an almost 20 year love/hate relationship with my scale.
It all started in 8th grade when we were “weighed in” for the first time. I got my blue slip of paper that said, “113 pounds.” I still remember. It was more than everyone else, even though I was plenty thin and fit. I was embarrassed, so I lied about it. It was the first time I felt ashamed of my body.
As a dancer, during my “awkward” years, I was told to “suck in,” while others were praised for their girlish figures. My body was changing and I hated it all. I noticed rolls where I barely had any and invented cellulite when I looked at myself from behind. I started “watching” what I ate but knew too little about nutrition to realize that “low fat” often meant “high calorie” and along with natural body changes at my age, I ended up gaining weight instead of losing it.
Then came high school. As a dancer it was easy to be self-conscious and compare. The summer before my junior year I ended up loosing about 7 pounds…on accident. My body finally settled in to itself and all the dance practice and conditioning was having a nice effect. I got lots of positive attention that year and it felt incredible. If losing 7 pounds was good, then losing more had to be better.
I started weighing myself every day, sometimes twice a day. I found a book about calories and memorized every entry of every food I ate. I exaggerated my own caloric intake and stopped eating everything I liked: pizza, bagels, cheese, chocolate, dessert, salad dressing. I talked myself into the idea that I didn’t like any of those things anyway….I was oh so in control and getting oh so skinny. The scale was my very best friend. My happiest time of the day was when I watched the numbers go down. Really, truly, nothing tasted as good as skinny felt. I often wondered why everyone didn’t live like I did–I was on top of the world.
The college years got worse. There were no home cooked meals and no healthy food in the fridge, so I subsisted on a ridiculous amount of bubble gum, tic tacs and Diet Coke. I ran at least 5 miles a day and took exercise classes to supplement my calorie burn. Looking back, I can’t believe I functioned at all.
I brought my scale to college and remember weighing sometimes 6 times a day. I would weigh with my boots and coat on, then peel each article of clothing off until I was left with nothing on and the smallest number the scale could find for my body. I’d step on it 3 or 4 times just to make sure it was as low as it would go. After not eating all day, walking campus and attending classes, it was my favorite afternoon ritual.
I remember mornings after I’d allowed myself to eat dessert with my roommates and the scale showing a bigger number than the day before. It was a bad day. As punishment, I would try and fast or eat only cabbage and mixed vegetables or just the skin of an apple. I’d vow to never eat treats again. I thought about food all of the time. I always felt hungry.
There were some really bad times. The summer after my freshman year my body shut down and said, “Enough.” My hair started falling out in clumps in the shower and my period stopped; I felt like I had to lie to everyone. I knew it wasn’t okay, and I was scared. After that, I tried to at least be a little smarter about my addiction. I started eating a little more and munched on low calorie foods that were high in nutrients. I put on 2.5 pounds and it killed me. But, my period came back and my hair stopped coming out in clumps.
Looking back, I feel extremely blessed to have been able to always consume just enough to not permanently ruin myself. I feel so grateful that I was able to still get good grades and feel friendly, happy and confident most of the time. I am in awe of my loving and supportive friends and family. I’m so thankful that I was never able to make myself throw up…because I would have tried that too, I am sure of it.
After marriage, at the urging of Mike, I let go a bit, and I could not control anything. If I started eating, I couldn’t stop. My body was in a feast or famine mode because it didn’t know when it would be fed again. I had lost the natural “full” trigger and usually ate until I felt sick. Still weighing multiple times a day, most of the time it ruined my day. I’d go the whole day without eating anything, then binge from the time I got home from work. Mike’s love sustained me and made me feel thin and beautiful even when I wasn’t. Boy, am I grateful for him.
Luckily, having babies reset my metabolism, mind, and view on health. I was better than I had been in ages, but I was still fighting my former self. There is nothing more exhilarating for a scale addict than watching the numbers go down after having a baby. I would weigh myself every morning with my scale set 4 pounds heavy…just so I would never be surprised by the number on any other scale. If mine was 4 pounds heavy, I’d always be pleasantly pleased by another. I knew enough about myself to avoid that type of tailspin.
My weight in the morning decided lots of things: if I should feel happy, if I should smile, if I should think about others, if I should eat breakfast or lunch or just wait until dinner, if I could have dessert, if I should wear a fitted shirt, if I should cuddle up with my husband. I still did these things, but it took work. I could be feeling great, feeling like I looked great, then step on the scale and it could change everything.
I would even bring my scale on vacation in my suitcase…after all, how could I enjoy a trip without knowing my weight?
Then we moved. I left my scale in Arizona and my cheap grad school self didn’t want to spend our money on a new one. So, for the first time in 18 years, I was scale-less! It was frightening and empowering at the same time. I checked in with the scale once a week at the gym, and that’s it. It was truly shocking to see that my weight stayed basically the same from week to week. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to self-regulate without seeing the numbers on the scale, but I found out, I could.
In the beginning I didn’t know if I should feel like I was having a “fat” day or a “skinny” day. I realized I’d never really looked at myself or been in tune enough with my body to be a very good judge. I just trusted the scale to decide for me. In the past it had dictated my whole life, so it was quite the adventure to be personally in control. It was up to me to decide if my body needed another helping or if was okay to have some chocolate or if it was time to turn up the exercise, but it was really, really great to let go.
Three years later, I feel healthier physically and mentally than I ever have. There are no more “off limit” foods. I eat when I am hungry and try to make mostly healthy choices the majority of the time because I feel better when I do. I eat dinner with my family. I love dessert. I stay away from fads. I started yoga, dance classes and Zumba which have all made me look forward to exercising. I still have rough days, still pinch my love handles and still wish for a 6 pack, but I am also pretty okay with reality. I do my best not to compare (though sometimes my best is not awesome). I try to spend more time being grateful for a body that is physically healthy and can do almost everything I ask it to do, even after having 4 kids.
I always wished I could be the girl that could order pasta, eat dessert, use salad dressing and butter, and just be normal. Now I am. I have a scale again, but only step on once or twice a week (It doesn’t rule my world any more, just keeps me honest). I feel grateful Every. Single. Day. for a fresh start.
So, if you are struggling, please know that it can and will get better but you have to want it. Life is so much more than your weight, your exercise and your food. It is hard, so you will need help. Please get it. It is so worth it. If you know someone struggling, help them get help. They will need you to love them through it all. A book that is great for both those with an eating disorder and those struggling to understand it is Life Without Ed, I highly recommend reading it!
Moms and dads, watch your daughters carefully. Help them understand what being healthy and treating their body well means. Offer nutritious ways to fuel up and encourage physical activity. You both must tell them they are beautiful, because they are, not incessantly but sincerely and not just when she is all dolled up. Vocally appreciate beauty in all shapes and sizes…it is not one size fits all, be sure they understand that. Mothers, be your daughter’s best example of someone who loves her body and treats it well; she hears everything you say and those words turn into a soundtrack she will have on repeat every time she looks in the mirror or steps on the scale. If you have only boys, you are not off the hook! Raise them to be men who value women first for the inside but who can appreciate physical beauty in all varieties. They hear what you say, how you critique, and what you value. They internalize it and mimic it, make sure it is worth repeating.
There is nothing like the freedom that comes from letting go of what brings you down and pushes those you love away. It is possible to have a loving, satisfying relationship with your body, food, and even your scale. Believe it or not, it can all be laid-back, casual, and not one bit toxic.