On being scale-free
*Trigger warning: Some discussion of past dieting/body-shame issues*
Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga recently published a fantastic blog post about some of her recent thoughts and experiences during her commitment to go scale-free for six months.
Her post inspired me to do some writing about my own scale-free experiences: why I chose to do it in the first place, why I continue to do it, and what I get out of it.
When I first decided to go scale-free, I think I was just tired. Not physically tired as much as emotionally tired. I had gotten into the habit of weighing myself at least twice a day, most days. It was a throwback from my old points-based dieting years. My fancy digital scale even shows me my weight to the tenth of a pound. After all, those dieting gurus always said that every little bit counts right? But, naturally, that means each little bit counts in each direction. And, given that heavier is supposedly "bad" and lighter is supposedly "good", the scale was my judge and jury and my punishment should the scale show my weight was higher than the last time was shame, a feeling of unworthiness or incapability, frustration, and self-reproach. The mental dialogue would begin: "If only I hadn't had that extra helping at dinner or that cream in my coffee". And so I would berate myself for every supposed mis-step because, every little bit counts don't ya know?
When I made the decision, with my wife's support and encouragement, to stop dieting - it was mostly because I realized that dieting had created a very unhealthy relationship with food. Food was about control. The points system that I used to sing the praises of was my downfall. I had an allotment of points to use each day and so the majority of my time was spent thinking and planning about how to get the "most" out of them. I became an expert on the foods that would give me the most "volume" of food for the least points so I wouldn't feel deprived. I did not think about hunger or fullness signals. I did not think about what my body was craving or why it might be craving it. No, what I thought about was things like - "I can have TWO baked potatoes with fat free cottage cheese or only one chocolate bar for the same amount of points!" I wasn't thinking about which my body wanted or needed or which would actually make me feel satisfied. It was all about volume. I was good at it. I felt in control. I could eat LOTS of food if I just ate the right things. I realized that this process was making me into a food-obsessor. It's all I thought about or talked about. That was when I realized I needed to take a break.
I had to accept that walking away from this lifestyle of food and points-budgeting was going to be hard if I was also obsessing over my weight. So when the points sytem went.... so did the scale.
First I cut back to weighing myself once a day. I noticed that was upsetting me because I was refusing to do the points system anymore so even the tiniest fluctuation on my fancy digital scale (that showed each tenth of a pound!) would send me into a panic.. So, I weaned myself to once a week. This went on for a while, but each trip to the scale would have me judging myself and my choices..
Then finally, about a year ago, I realized the scale had to go. I needed to trust myself and my body and just stop obsessing. So I put the scale away. In a cupboard and out of sight.
I think I have checked my weight exactly once since that day.
I can't even begin to describe the freedom this change gave me. When I first backed off the scale, I kept waiting to experience this massive weight-gain. My only way to really be aware of my body size was to notice how my clothes fit, and I kept expecting to balloon up in size. It never happened. I maybe went up one size from my lowest size ever.
But the most amazing thing is how my relationship with food changed. I think about my body more when I eat. I think about what my body is craving. I think about when I'm hungry and I notice, far more often, when I am full. I am not answering to anyone for my food choices - only how I feel. So, if I get a burger and fries and a shake and notice that my belly feels heavy and icky after, next time I crave that kind of food, I'll get a much smaller amount or split a burger and entree salad with my wife so I can have a little of what I crave without making my body feel abused in the process.
I came to a lot of these understandings about developing a healthy relationship with food - on my own. And then, I read Linda Bacon's Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight. That book validated my experiences. Until then, I'd wondered, somewhere in the back of my mind if avoiding the scale was just my way of beign "lazy". After all, society tells us that if you're fat - it's okay only IF you're trying to stop being fat. Right? Reading that book reaffirmed all the reasons why I ditched the scale in the first place.
Armed with more information, I now have no problem standing tall, looking people in the eys and saying things like:
"I have no idea what I actually weigh"
"No, I'm not trying to lose weight"
"No, I don't diet anymore - period"
"Yes, I would like a piece of cake - thank you!".
In the beginning, ditching the scale had felt like my dirty little secret; the kind of thing I should never admit to anyone. But what I have come to realize is that it was really one of my greatest accomplishments and I am damn proud of it!
Nowadays, I don't miss the scale at all. I see it, every once in a while, flipped over on its side, shoved into the corner of the cupboard, covered in dust and I don't feel tempted to pull it out. I just don't feel like I need to know how much I weigh anymore. I know how my body feels. And that is what is important to me now.
Ditching the scale gave me the freedom to recognize that a number on a scale can never define me or inform people about the type of person I am. I have so much to offer this world. I am worthy of love and affection. I am worthy of respect. I deserve to feel great about my body. And no number can or will ever change that.
I wish more of us could. see that we are not a number. We never have been and we never will be. We are each unique spirits with incredible potential.
It is so important to care for the bodies we inhabit, but sometimes that care doesn't look like we think it will. I feel like the most important thing we can do to care for our body is to first, stop judging it. Embracing body positivity, body love, body acceptance begins with recognizing that there is nothing inherantly BAD about your body or your Self. Our bodies are NOT our burdens - they are the most precious things we will ever own - and the most sacred places we will ever inhabit. And we each only ever... ever get one of them.
Learning to love your body is a journey, and there aren't any rules or maps or directions on exactly how to make that journey. Each person's path to self-acceptance is their own and will come with its own unique challenges and rewards.
As with any good journey, though, it's not about where you end up, it's about having the courage to take the first few steps with a sense of curiousity and wonder and just see where they take you. You never know where the path will lead. But the experience of walking it will transform you.
Self Care is a Journey
I had a difficult day on Saturday.
The responsibility for having such a difficult day lies fully with me, however I like to see days like this as opportunities for growth; to learn even more about myself and how to better care for my body and spirit through the practice of Yoga.
I've been offered some amazing opportunities, recently, to attend development workshops designed for Yoga Teachers to expand their knowledge and improve their offerings to their students at an affordable rate that makes these opportunities for expanded learning accessible to many. These workshops are led by highly respected Yoga Instructors in the local community.
These workshops have been an amazing blessing in my life. I generally get to attend at least two each month and I always seem to take away something really valuable from them. Some of the recent workshops I've attended have focused on topics like Mantras, Important Muscles in Yoga (like the pit of the abdomen, and the Serratus Anterior), the Sacrum, Yoga Mythology, and more.
This last Saturday, the workshop I was attending focused on some intersections between Buddhist philosophy and Yoga, particularly with relation to the Subtle Body. I had been particularly excited about this workshop because it sounded like it was going to get into some areas that I haven't had much exposure to, yet.
The topic of the workshop was fascinating. The instructor shared his views on the buddhist philosophies surrounding the Subtle Body, and how the energy channels that run through the body can be accessed through a practice of Yoga Postures. He spent over an hour on the lecture portion of the workshop and then began to lead us in a Yoga Posture sequence designed to help us light up these areas of our Subtle Body.
I'd had a gradually worsening headache throughout the first portion of the class. I had tried to ignore it so that I could pay attention to the instructor. But when the physical portion of the practice began, I became immediately discouraged when I realized that even down-dog was causing me pain. But, instead of listening to my body, I was listening to my mind telling me to do whate everyone else was doing. To not draw attention to myself by doing something different. Then the instructor began to lead a series of very advanced postures that were beyond my capabilities to do safely: advanced twists, arm balances, and inversions.
And that is when, emotionally, I just sort of shut down. I had been struggling with the warm-up portion of the practice already because of my headache. But as he began leading everyone in Tree Pose with half-lotus, followed by Warrior III, followed by a series of advanced seated twists, advanced Bridge variations and more... I was forced to face the fact that the entire sequence of postures he was teaching were too advanced for me to participate safely.
Normally, in the interest of self-care, I would modify each pose so that I could access the same intentions/energies of the practice through poses designed for my body. But my head was pounding I was so distracted by my discomfort that I was unable to come up with alternatives for most of them. So, I tried to do a few of them anyway, hurting myself in the process until finally - I just stopped. I did a few gentle twists, and squats, and rested, but all the while I was feeling sorry for myself and embarassed at my inability to "keep up".
While the instructor led the class in Shoulderstand and several variations, followed by plow pose, I rested in Legs-Up-The-Wall and tried not to cry from frustration. I hadn't been able to connect to my subtle body because I was focusing all my energy on how I wasn't doing what everyone else was doing. I felt embarassed and stuck. I had essentially trapped myself with my thoughts. By the time we got to Savasana, I was mentally, emotionally, and physically tense. I just couldn't let go.
After the workshop, I realized how much pressure I had been putting on myself at every single one of these workshops to "keep up". I was putting myself in the position of being the "spokesperson" for fat health. I was so committed to making sure I could "prove" that Fat Yogis could still be awesome Yogis that I had become totally disconnected with the entire reason I practice and teach Yoga in the first place: to experience (and share with others) the profound transformation that can take place when you accept yourself, and love your body.
Knowing that compassion for myself is what my Yoga Practice is all about doesn't always make it easier to put into practice. And in these moments, when I want so desperately to be a wonderful example of a Fat Yoga Teacher who can keep up with all the other Yoga Teachers, it can FEEL impossible.
This was a necessary lesson for me. In my excitement to be among my Yoga Teacher Peers, I forgot the most important thing about my Yoga: Acceptance and Care of my Self. I failed to care for myself when I got caught up in ego and competition and "trying to prove I could keep up" instead of doing what my body needed in the moment: which was truly to just sit.
It can take a great deal of courage to do your yoga differently in a class environment. I remind my students many times in each class I teach that it's OKAY if their yoga looks different. It's OKAY if they are resting during a pose that is not right for them that day and it's OKAY if they do a completely different pose if that is what they are called to do. It is easy to be compassionate with others. It is easy for me to remind my students to treat their body with care and listen to what their body needs. But compassion and care for self is something I find much more challenging than compassion and care for others.
Body acceptance, and body positivity are not something attained in the blink of an eye - if they are ever fully attained at all. Rather, this self-love is work. Hard work. Learning to truly accept and love and care for yourself, properly, all the time takes constant attention and diligence.
In retrospect, I learned a lot this weekend about how I have been approaching these Yoga Teacher development workshops. I'd been approaching them with a sense of pride and ego and "I can do what you can do". I learned that I need to leave that at the door if I am to get the most out of these experiences. I need to work even harder to listen to my own body - even more than I listen to the instructor at times. I need to self-care and ensure my body has what it needs to practice safely.
Most of all: I need to remember that my Yoga will always look different. Because I am different. Not better than. Not less than. Just different. That is what is so beautiful and inspiring and empowering about Yoga - that it is different for everybody and every BODY.