A client of mine wrote this honest account of her troubled relationship with the scale. I asked her permission to post it here because I thought that so many people struggling with food and weight might relate to her writing. I couldn’t have written it better myself, and I’m grateful for the insights that I can share here with you...
He was a numbers man, cold and objectifying, but I craved his contact and approval. It was a dysfunctional relationship, but he was hard to resist.
He was dominant and I submissive in our perverse relationship. I never considered it a choice; I just had to see him. I thought I'd die without him. I was somewhat dissociative when we shared intimacy at least once but sometimes multiple times a day in various spots on the floor outside my room. It was best on the wood that had a certain grain, never on the rug or in front of anyone. I was ashamed of my despair, which I hid in the back of my eyes, forcing the tears away. I didn't want anyone to see or even know what I was up to.
Enough of this. He's had free reign over me forever. He was there in my parents’ home -- actually in their room -- and in my various apartments later on. I guess it was my fault, because I would seek him out and want his advice, but he always made me so sad, like a victim -- not who I want to be, now or ever. I'm standing up, finally. I want to scream, "I want my body back! You can't tell me how to feel. Get out of my life! I can and will live better without you and will never judge myself by your number again."
I no longer could stand the anguish, waking to his shiny face and knowing he had the power to dictate my mood. What a pain he would give me, and I would take it out on myself, feeling "less than" and hopeless many days. It would take a lot to undo this feeling, but it nagged at me all the time. His approval also could send me into a tailspin, not knowing how to keep this going, especially because I wasn't really sure what I did to get it right one day but not the next. I wanted to beg him, "Please make this easy and tell me what I did and how to do it again." But, no, the great manipulator only gave random praise. And I was addicted. There was a time when I thought I had the perfect solution and one which no one would know: I could starve myself or binge and purge to get his praise. I have given up on that tactic, but need to take this next giant step: get rid of him and regain my life.
With lots of help, I came to my senses and broke up with him this morning. He's down in the dusty basement right now, probably in shock and wondering what he did to deserve this. But I had no choice; it’s as simple as that. I forced him into a tomb-like place, similar to the world I needed to escape. Now he's the one living in a box, one more skeleton out of my closet. I cannot let him or anyone hurt me again. I want my body back!! I need to stand up; life is waiting! I don't want to waste any more time. So, I'm moving on, and I can't and won't take him with me this time. I'm excited to feel the joy of movement again, and I rejoice in what my limbs and muscles can do. Here's to swimming, dancing, stretching, walking, and playing again!
I love the words of my client above because they so capture the lure of the scale and the way that a strong relationship with it can undermine one’s trust in the body and self. If you step on a scale first thing in the morning, you may feel happy or dejected depending on what the number is today. You may use the scale as the reason to eat or not eat -- or to eat certain things over others. It’s hard to listen to the body’s wisdom about what to eat when the scale is deciding for you. It’s hard to listen to your hunger or fullness and pay attention to what you really want when that number is calling the shots.
Let’s say your weight is up a couple of pounds today. This could be related to hydration, water retention, and/or the presence of food in the stomach or intestines -- as compared to the last time your weight was checked. Those of you who check your weight frequently know that weight is lowest in the morning and increases naturally over the course of the day. You also may know that it fluctuates -- going up or down in a way that sometimes doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason when you compare it to your eating patterns.
Many of my clients are simply astounded by the sense of freedom that ditching the scale provides. Some of them smash it, throw it out high windows, or hide it in my office closet until they feel really able to let it go. I’ve donated scales to the Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association so that they can use them for art therapy projects in their groups. The group members collage affirming, positive words and photos all over them. (You can try this at home.) Losing the scale makes most people feel, not ironically, like a tremendous weight has been lifted. And it is a major stepping stone in the process of trusting oneself to make food decisions based on self-care and not punishment or restraint.
If your doctor needs to monitor your weight because it is too low, or because you have a thyroid or other condition that effects your weight, then that’s fine. I personally can’t see any other reason to monitor weight outside of a medical visit or check-up. Most people are aware of shifts in their weight without needing a scale to put a number to it. In fact, some people start an exercise program and get discouraged because their weight initially goes up. Muscle weighs more than fat, so working out may make you leaner and healthier without changing weight very much. If you use the scale as your guide when you change your physical activities, you may be underestimating your progress in taking good care of your body.
If you are having a torrid affair with the scale, think about whether you really need him (or her) in your life. Instead, surround yourself with people and things that feed your senses, affirm your worth as a human being, and encourage you to take good care of yourself. Ditch it once and for all. And if you do, please share your story...