The Scale is But a Number

This article discusses eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

One of the most common misconceptions people have about me is that I’m bubbly and happy all the time, and that I live completely problem-free.

Though I wish this were the case, it couldn’t be further from the truth. After years of silence, I want to share my story of body dysmorphia and anorexia.

My body’s shape and weight weren’t an issue to me until senior year of high school. As an athlete, I didn’t obsess over how much I exercised or how much I ate. After I put food in my body, I moved on with my life.

In my junior year of high school, after multiple head injuries forced me out of sports and put me on months of bed, I desperately searched for a solution for my headaches, fatigue, and dizziness. After reading online that eating clean could potentially speed up recovery time, I vowed to cut out processed, fried, and sugary foods. If it wasn’t fruit, vegetable, or fish, I wouldn’t touch it.

To maintain a daily regime, I counted calories, downed 10 cups of water, and refused to eat past 8 p.m.. And initially, I did feel different. I had more energy, and felt clearer mentally.

I also unintentionally dropped 20 pounds.

I hadn’t really changed. Nothing about me was different; I wasn’t any smarter or more deserving of attention. And yet, classmates, parents, and even teachers started complimenting my “transformation” when I started my senior year.

It’s funny how those little comments can have such a big impact on your life. I got an incredible rush from the attention It pushed me to maintain that number on the scale. I began associating my happiness with the number: the lower, the better.    

Just one more pound, I can so vividly recall telling myself as a freshman. Just one more pound, and I’ll be fine.

I followed this demoralizing and destructive routine my first three years of college. I kept a scale in my room to track my weight and developed a morning routine where I’d step on the scale first thing every morning. I dreaded that number, the number that determined my mood and actions the entire day, the number that held the weight of the world.

Being down a pound indicated progress. I could breathe easy, and to some level even treat myself to a fun day.

Up was failure. Disappointing, all-consuming, hopeless failure.

The solution? Eat less. Exercise more. Make up for that gain.

The formula was straightforward, but the process itself was unimaginable.

Eventually, I lost my willpower to engage and connect with people beyond surface-level small-talk. Sure, I could keep the conversation flowing, and follow through with thoughtful questions to engage.

My fear of uncovering my unspoken disorders fostered a social defense mechanism. I always withheld information pertaining to my own life, and deflected any questions directed my way. I couldn’t bear the idea of my peers judging me, or my friends turning against me.

After a period of time, I couldn’t take the guilt building in my chest any longer. My self-inflicted torturous thoughts made my heart race and my head spin. Palms sweating, all color drained from my face. I finally had to tell someone.

This summer, I developed a close enough relationship with my boss where I could comfortably confide in her. One day, I burst into her office, and desperately spoke the words.

“I have an eating disorder.”

The words echoed around the room, and evaporated into nothing. They had bogged me down for years. And finally, in that  moment, I felt lighter. For the first time in years, I could finally breathe.

We sat in silence for a minute.

“This doesn’t change how I perceive you,” she reassured me. “This doesn’t make you a bad person; this doesn’t change who you are, or what you can do. But I want you to ask yourself: Is your weight going to determine your happiness the rest of your life?”

Everything clicked – all my preconceived fears faded. At the time, I didn’t realize that in losing weight, I had lost a bigger part of me. For years, the all-consuming, ever-present, and inescapable grief and anxiety held me back from being fully present, engaging, and enjoying the fundamental pleasures of life. I was no longer living.

I left my scale at home. It was the hardest decision I made. During the first few days, all I could think about was how that number was changing, how I looked in my clothes, and how others were viewing me. But I didn’t have a choice.

Looking back, I wonder: Could people really know what was going on? Did anyone actually see what I was going through?

Even without the scale, I know I’ve gotten bigger. I know I look different, and my clothes fit differently. But that doesn’t hold me back anymore. It doesn’t determine my merits or ability, or the person I am.

In the absence of the scale, I’ve formed more reasonable and sustainable habits that work for me. I don’t have to look perfect to win the approval of my peers. I exercise because it feels good, not because I have to. I eat when I’m hungry or I need the fuel, regardless of the type of food or time of day.

The number on the scale no longer defines me. My individual value and human worth cannot and will not be measured by the size of my jeans, or the number on the scale. Controlling that number, that foolish and hopeless number, is no longer the end goal.

For years, I’ve been ashamed of my eating disorder. I’ve hidden it away and used every possible excuse to hide it, to pretend it doesn’t exist. But in sharing my story, I’m no less of a person than I was before. My eating disorder does not define me.

I’m not in any way completely recovered from the disorder. I still battle my insecurities and cravings on a daily basis. But I no longer fall victim to the scale.