The Scale: Unruly Foe or Innocent Bystander

As humans, we weigh everything on a scale. A scale of 1-10. A scale of units of measurement. A scale of time, statistical relevance, effect or affect. A scale of pleasure/distaste. The list goes on. Yet none of these scales tend to be so tethered to our emotions as the scales we weigh our bodies on. Maybe because it seems more personal – to weigh your own self. Take a moment and think about how you feel mentally and physically the moment before you step on a scale. Are you fearful? Anxious? Excited? Angry? Does your heart race or slow? Do you feel a pressure in your chest? A frog in your throat? The emotions we feel as we approach a scale and wait for that digital read or balance to stop teetering are tied to our experiences. People who have intentionally sought weight loss and were successful over a moderate amount of time often approach the scale excited…until they plateau and their continued efforts are not reciprocated with a continued lower number. Diet-plateau-binge cycles may ensue and their relationship with the scale becomes more complicated, more convoluted. It incites a higher mental and emotional response each time they approach that scale of slippery tricks. One day we feel excited, comfortable with the number that gleams back at us. Our efforts are validated. The next, we feel angry and anxious over the number that sneers in our confused faces. Suddenly we attribute a person to our scales – they are kin to the mean girl who made fun of your shoes in 8th grade, the kids who picked you last for their dodgeball team, the boss who never acknowledges your hard work. We come to despise these inanimate objects, yet we want them to like us, notice us, validate us.

The scale, is…just a scale. It is simply a tool to express a unit of measurement. It does not know how hard you have been working, it cannot measure your hormone levels, the amount of urine in your bladder or stool in your bowel, how much sodium you consumed or how much water you are retaining. It does not recognize if you are naked or clothed or that you meticulously stripped off your hair tie and wedding ring to meet it in your bathroom that morning. The scale has no ability to reveal truth about you, your efforts, your worth, your health, or your body. It reveals a unit of measurement, a weight. It is no different than the scales used to measure our produce at a grocery store. When measuring grapes the scale does not know that the bag you have placed on it is going to cost you $8. It does not reveal any information about the grape to stem ratio in the bag, the sweet or sourness of the grapes inside, the water content of each individual grape. There is so much to us (and grapes) than what we have the ability to see or assess from the number presented on a scale.

Scales are not going anywhere but the way we respond to them, the way we allow them to make us feel, what we do with their information, can if you allow it. It is going to look different for each individual. For some it may mean throwing their scale away and deferring knowledge of weight values when weighed in clinical settings. It may mean coming to a place of satisfaction, contentment, and confidence with ones nutritional intakes, physical activity, and body image that weight does not hold value above how we feel physically, mentally, emotionally. It may be a combination of both, in steps, which lead us to approach our inanimate objects and obtain their info with ease and discernment. We must acknowledge for ourselves personally that the numbers revealed on our scales are not indicative or definitive of health, worth, or ability. We must acknowledge that we do not need inanimate objects, numbers, or even other people to validate us.

“The scale has no ability to reveal truth about you, your efforts, your worth, your health, or your body.”

Weigh Instead Your Mental Health

My scale sits in our guest bathroom. I know it is there but it is very rarely used. Not because I am avoiding it or uncomfortable knowing my weight, but because it simply does not matter. There was a time when I used my scale daily/weekly and wrote down the number reflected back to me obsessively in a food journal or planner. A pointless act that weighs heavy on mental health no matter what the scale reads.

But today, a thought I have not recognized in my brain for a while resurfaced. It has been a rough few weeks filled with garage floods, financial burdens, long work hours, minimal sleep, emotional stress, and less than glamorous pregnancy symptoms. My nutrition and physical activity have stayed pretty “per usual” (thanks, intuitive eating). Nevertheless, I woke up this morning and thought “I should weigh myself.” Maybe it’s because I am pregnant. Or maybe because during times of uncontrollables, I seek comfort in control and management.

Instead of acting on this thought, I accepted it, and assessed the aforementioned reasons why the thought entered. Better, I asked myself what I planned to do with the information. I played scenarios: If I had gained weight, would I restrict or manipulate food intakes? Would I re-arrange my schedule to fit in a longer, more intense workout? If I had lost weight, would I applaud myself and analyze what I had done to “earn” a few lost pounds? Would I use it as an excuse to re-engage an all or nothing mindset on food over the long holiday weekend? All the scenarios led to less than desirable yet familiar and somewhat comfortable, security blanket type, paths.

Rather than choosing the mentally slippery slope of weighing my physical body during a period of high stress when my motivations of what to do with the information may have been compromised, I chose to weigh my mental health. None of the scenarios playing in my head based on a silly number led to compassion, honor, contentment, or satisfaction for myself. Why would I treat my hard-working able body in that manner? Why would I treat my mental health that way?

Weigh your mental health when struggles arise or old thoughts/habits creep in. If you find yourself at a crossroads of choosing compassion or self-destruction, choose compassion. Always.

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