*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.