Despite having maintained a healthy weight for 15 years, I still dread the scale. Decades of experiences conditioned me to fear the scale. There was the humiliating annual school health-check weigh-ins in front of classmates. When I was a teenager and went to a dietician, there were trips through the hospital’s kitchen for weigh-ins on the delivery scale which registered up to a ton, because the dietician’s office didn’t have a scale that registered beyond 299 pounds. To add insult to injury, everyone in the kitchen was snickering, knowing where the dietician was leading me and why.
Then there was the time after high school that I tried a weight-loss program which involved buying pre-packaged, pre-portioned foods. It was an expensive commitment, but I was enthusiastic to lose weight and for the first month, was successful, just as they promised. I dropped around 20 pounds–about 5 pounds a week–which was great. However, no one–including myself–could tell I had lost weight. Plus, I was starving all the time because I was on a 1,200 calorie diet. I finally caved and just pigged out for one whole weekend. When I bashfully showed up at my next appointment for the dreaded weigh-in, I’d gained 16 pounds. I’ll never forget hearing my counselor not quite surreptitiously enough expressing her astonishment that I could gain that much weight in a week.
In reality, I didn’t actually gain 16 pounds. The human body- especially women’s- regularly fluctuate depending on the source of our calories, exercise, and hormones. Most commercial diets, like the one I tried, are designed to minimize water weight, which is in part why people get amazing results after just one week. Lettuce, celery, and sauerkraut were among the ‘banned’ foods in my diet because they caused water retention. Carbohydrates also hold more water, which means that eating more foods containing them are more likely to be reflected on the scale than the same calories in fats or proteins.
I had also been eating so few calories that once I ate ‘real’ food again, I undoubtedly ingested well-beyond what I’d been eating even before starting the diet, making up for lost calories. Needless to say, once I went down that road and was essentially mocked by the counselor, I didn’t stick with it. What I learned from that expensive, failed experiment was that I was very vulnerable around ‘real food’, trying to cut too many calories at once set me up for failure, and that if I was going to lose weight, I couldn’t put myself in a position where someone would judge me.
About two years after I started maintaining a healthy weight, I stopped weighing myself. It came on the heels of a time where I reverted to stepping on the scale almost every day. I don’t entirely remember what sparked it, but I ended up driving myself insane, obsessed with the number that popped up the scale. I finally had enough and decided to give it a break. But what began as the intention to go back to just weighing myself weekly developed into a fear of getting on the scale, afraid of what the number would be. I ended up going a 1 ½ years without weighing myself. This avoidance was just as unhealthy as weighing in daily.
Finally one day, without much forethought, I stepped on the scale, deciding to face the demons that had been haunting me. Not getting on the scale and making up scenarios in my head were just as bad as getting on the scale and reacting in a knee-jerk manner to the reading. It turned out that I weighed pretty much the same as I had 1 ½ years before, which I really knew, since I hadn’t replaced my wardrobe. It was at that point that I decided I would not avoid the scale anymore, but my entire view of myself still was set by those numbers.
So the stupid scale only has this intimidating, psychological power over me. Even during the weight-loss portion of my lifestyle change, when I was regularly shedding pounds, I clung to the scale’s readings, celebrating or badgering myself for every ounce of difference. To this day, I put so much credence in the numbers, so conditioned by the readings on the scale that I lose sight of the bigger picture.
I ‘m working on cultivating a healthier relationship with the scale, though, admittedly, I am always anxious when I step onto it. Instead of immediately thinking of what a horrible, overindulgent person I am because I ‘gained’ weight from the previous week, I consider whether or not my eating habits have changed. If not, I let it go and invariably the next week, I will have ‘lost’ weight. If I honestly think I have been eating more or differently, I think about what factors influenced the changes and try to be conscious of them when I approach food. Invariably, the next week my awareness will be reflected on the scale. So all in all, the scale has never been my friend, but I’m working on decreasing its power over me.