I started watching what I ate around third grade. A boy in my class had made a crack about my weight — an aspect of my physical self I’d never even pondered before — and, suddenly, I was self-conscious about and uneasy in my body. I didn’t dive into actual, formal diets until much later, but third grade marked the beginning of my weight obsession. An obsession that lasted beyond my college years. I won’t bore you with the details because honestly? They’re textbook self-loathing and body dysmorphia. My story could be anyone’s.
Then, sometime in my late 20s, I realized that I was expending so much energy hating my body that I was exhausting myself into despair. For years I had tried to change my body with diets and exercise, believing that its shape and size were the root of the problem, but I just kept on hating it. And it wasn’t until I began exploring fashion and style – dressing in fun, flattering, and form-fitting clothes – that an unexplored universe opened up to me. For the first time, I respected my body. I realized that there was nothing wrong with my body. I saw my body as integral to my identity. I wanted to show it off, and decorate it joyously, and hone my personal style so that I could understand it on new levels.
And it took a while after that, but eventually I realized that my relationship with weight and dieting were absolutely toxic. That my weight had nothing to do with my worth, that my beauty went far beyond a number on a scale, and that obsessing about my body could quickly undo all of my affirming work. So I stopped weighing myself. I kept exercising, attempting to eat well, and monitoring my health and even my body’s size and shape, but I broke up with the scale. Here’s why.
Daily weight fluctuations are virtually meaningless. For ages, I weighed in daily. I felt compelled to check in with my body via the scale, and each morning brought renewed curiosity. My weight would fluctuate wildly from day to day, and those changes upset and unnerved me, until I finally accepted that they had relatively little reflection on my overall well-being. Everything I’ve read and been told by health experts leads me to believe that daily changes in weight mean virtually nothing. Not to be overly graphic, but the timing of your most recent satisfying poo can mean weight in either direction. How much water you’re retaining, what you ate for dinner, what your hormones are up to, and countless other factors contribute. I know that many people see the value of monitoring weight on a less frequent basis, and to each her own. But since I felt compelled to weigh daily, it was relieving to finally accept that those numbers had very little real meaning.
The scale can be a day-ruiner. Stepping on the scale and finding an extra pound or two would absolutely destroy my chances at having an enjoyable day. And since, as I mentioned above, the information conveyed by that scale had very little to do with my body’s health, the cycle felt even more infuriating. Why risk feeling inadequate and miserable just for the sake of some arbitrary number?
Weight is not the only measure of health. Despite our country’s obsession with weight, weight loss, BMI, and body shape — especially for women — there is strong evidence to suggest that some people deemed “overweight” or even “obese” by national standards are healthier than some people deemed “normal.” Health is complex, changeable, and HIGHLY individual. To declare that anyone over a certain weight simply cannot be healthy is to willingly overlook factors like eating habits, frequency of exercise, and stress levels. Some folks who do everything that medical science recommends to maintain a healthy lifestyle will still be bigger than medical science estimates they “should” be. Weight is not the sole dictator of health.
Bodies talk. Over the years, I’ve found that I’m perfectly capable of monitoring my body’s shape and well-being without my scale. How do I do it? I pay close attention to how I feel, and listen to my body. If I feel sluggish and exhausted, chances are I’m eating more burgers than veggies. If I feel heavy and bloated, chances are I’ve been slacking off on my cardio. If my skin feels raw and pimply, chances are I’ve overdone it on the sugar. My body talks back, and it pipes up any time it feels neglected.
I grudgingly allow my doctor to weigh me when I go in for check-ups. And you know what? I’ve stayed within five pounds over the course of the past five years. I understand that the scale can be a powerful tool for motivation and understanding, but it can also be a source of unnecessary anxiety and self-hatred. Having kicked the habit myself, I can say with certainty that I’m happier and healthier without the constant worry of weigh-ins.
Sally McGraw is a Minneapolis-based blogger, freelance writer, and communications professional who writes the daily style and body image blog Already Pretty.