I had a doctor appointment last week, one where I knew I was going to be asked to step on a scale to reveal my weight. During the lowest point of my eating disorder, I would have walked into that appointment knowing my exact weight. And I mean down to the tenth of a pound. Yet, I still would have been riddled with anxiety as I stepped on the scale.
Since then, a lot has changed. I have gotten rid of the scale in my house, for instance. So, when the nurse kindly asked if I would mind stepping on the scale, an unfamiliar realization washed over me – I had no idea how much I weighed anymore. I told her that while I was open to being weighed due to the nature of the appointment (which, as an aside, you do not have to be okay with), I did not want to know or talk about it. I turned around while she weighed me, my focus shifting away from the scale.
After a lifetime of being weight-focused – losing it, maintaining it, fear of gaining it, staying ultra-thin for dance, maintaining a certain clothing size, wondering how much someone else weighs, working to get down to a specific weight (much into adulthood, post-college, post baby) that rivaled my lowest weight in *high school* — here is the number one thing I have learned about weight:
The number is virtually useless.
It is not a snapshot of overall health.
Lower is not better.
Controlling this number will not lead to joy.
Aside from some very specific scenarios: making sure a baby is gaining weight – thus, eating enough– in the weeks and months post-birth, knowing how much of certain medication to safely give, and to determine tube feedings for an individual in need, for example, knowing and talking about the number you see when you step on the scale provides little to no insight about your health and wellbeing.
I was sickest when I was at my lowest adult weight. When I was receiving the most compliments, when people were asking me what my secret was. For me, my lowest point marked a time where I was anxious, obsessed, malnourished, isolated, full of shame: not at all your billboard for good health.
In fact, another imperative lesson I have learned about my weight (second only to the previously stated lesson) is:
The more I focus on the number I see on the scale, the more unhealthy my behaviors and I become.
There are so many things that are MUCH better indicators of my overall health than the amount of physical space I take up in the world. And the same is true for you: your weight is not the sum of your health. Your health is not determined by your weight. You are not more valuable when you take up less space [More on this here in a previous blog post].
4 Indicators of Health That Have Nothing To Do With Your Weight:
1. Eating Normally
Facing and challenging the mentality that food is evil has made me so much healthier – physically and mentally. As we mention often here at Wildflower, food is more than fuel. So eating “normally” includes emotional eating, social eating, experimenting with new foods and recipes, eating for pleasure, all in addition to eating for physical nourishment. Doing this has made me so much healthier.
2. Moving Joyfully
Moving my body to feel good. Learning to move my body because I want to. Expanding my understanding of what meaningful and joyful “movement” is: Walking through a park, chasing my daughter around the house, and the real joy has come from not intentionally tracking it. With the focus off of the scale, my movement has become a way to experience the world around me more meaningfully instead of a way to manipulate the number I tracked so closely.
3. Connecting Regularly
Fostering meaningful connection and community has been one of the most important habits that has had a positive impact on my mental health. Being around family members, connecting with meaningful friendships, and having the energy and mental fortitude to actually begin pouring into these [something I don’t have when I am obsessed with my weight] is a much more accurate measure of where my overall health and wellbeing lie than my weight.
4. Checking in with Yourself Consistently
Checking in with my emotions, mental state, and physical state is a behavior that has told me a lot more about my health than the scale ever could. I do this through therapy, journaling, and prayer. An obsessive focus on weight as a measure of health was a way for me to *avoid* checking in with myself. The ways you check in with yourself may look different, but it is important to do it in a way that is helpful for you.
The Futile Effort of Weight Control: Understanding Your Body’s Set Point and Natural Fluctuations
One last thing to know about your weight: our bodies work hard to stay in a weight range it feels “safe” at. There is scientific evidence that suggests that our bodies have a “set point” that they like to stay around and within. Contrary to what some may think, though, this is not a specific number, but rather, is a range that your body likes to fluctuate within. Your weight will (and should) fluctuate with life transitions: carrying a child, motherhood, job changes, menopause. This is part of the reason most diets fail. Our bodies are wired to keep us alive and healthy, and a conscious attempt to lose weight is something that our bodies recognize as a threat, which leads to weight cycling. Long story short: attempts to know, obsess over, and control our weight are often, ultimately, done in vain.
So, what do I want you to know about your weight today? About the number itself? Nothing. I want you to remember that you don’t need to know the number, you don’t need to control the number. That it can tell people virtually nothing about you. That there are so many more [better, more viable] indicators of a healthy mind and body than the number you see when you step on the scale. I want you to remember that attempts to control your weight will likely leave you feeling frustrated, anxious, and full of shame. And lastly, I hope that as your desire to know and control the number fades, the power it has over your mind and sense of self worth fades, too.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
All images via Unsplash
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