My whole life, the scale has been my judge. Whenever I got on it, it told me who I was and what I was worth.
I lost weight? I have been a good girl and stuck to my diet. I’ve gained weight? I’m a fat failure with no willpower or self-respect. I’ve stayed the same? Slacker. I’m at goal weight? Fantastic! While I’m doing so well, I should lose a few more pounds.
Only when I stopped dieting and focused on my health did I finally lose weight and get into a healthy relationship with my scale. I used it as a guide rather than a judge, confirmation that I was making good changes rather than the sole measure of how I was doing.
Then I turned 40 and my body changed. Although my diet and exercise were the same, I gained some weight. I started cutting portions and dropping “fatty” foods, trying to fix the problem using dieting tricks, but nothing worked. I stayed at the higher weight for years.
I finally went to a nutritionist for help, partly with my weight, but mostly with my poor health. We made lots of changes to my diet, including the big switch last summer from vegetarian to eating meat again. My health improved dramatically, but my weight didn’t change much. I tried not to be disappointed, but I was. Even though I focus on my health, there’s a part of me longing to be skinny, too.
Once my physical health had improved, I felt like I should pay some attention to my actual weight. Knowing that physicians consider body weight a good predictor of potential long-term health problems, I asked my doctor what a healthy weight would be for me. She whipped out her calculator and used the Body Mass Index formula to calculate my “perfect” weight. According to her, I was overweight and needed to lose at least eight pounds.
I made it a priority. I asked my nutritionist to adjust my food plan and I started getting more exercise. I got on the scale to monitor my progress. Over the next few months, I lost a few pounds. Just as slowly, they came back.
I was puzzled and frustrated. My clothes still fit fine. In fact, they were getting looser, and I was able to wear some of my tighter clothing more comfortably. But I wasn’t at the magic healthy number my doctor gave me. What was going on?
I complained to my husband that I wasn’t losing weight. He said, “You must be. You’re smaller than you were.” Then he pointed out how much more muscle I have now that I am eating meat and lifting weights and he reminded me that muscle weighs more than fat.
This is the first time in my life that old adage has actually applied to me. How many times has someone told me “muscle weighs more than fat” to make me feel better about slow or non-existent weight loss? Every single time I thought it was a lame excuse. I knew I hadn’t built enough muscle to affect my weight loss.
Today it’s finally true. My body is heavier than it was, but it actually takes up less room.
This pisses me off. I’ve been told by a professional what I need to weigh in order to have good health. But here I am, the healthiest I’ve been in over a decade, and I am above her number. And I know I can’t get there.
I can’t exercise more without hurting myself. I can’t eat less without going crazy. Even if I could get down to that “healthy” weight, I wouldn’t be healthy or happy when I got there.
Health is more than a number on a scale. My weight is just a statistic, a measurement about one aspect of myself, like my height or my age. It’s not the whole picture and it certainly does not tell the whole story.
As a result, I’ve let go of the number entirely. It’s no longer part of my goals. I’ve stopped weighing myself. My clothes will tell me if I am putting on pounds, and my mirror will show me if they are flabby or firm. I don’t need a number to tell me if I’m taking care of myself. My body is happy to share that information with me all the time.
The judge is retired. My scale sits in the closet untouched. And my life is just fine without it.