Thursday, September 19, 2013

Scales: You have been using them wrong

When I was little, I felt a sense of pride each time I got on a scale and the number was just a little higher.  It meant I was growing up and getting bigger!  But by fourth grade I weighed 60 pounds while my friend Cathy still weighed under 50, and for the first time I wanted the numbers to stop going up, and maybe even start to go down.  I started worrying about my weight a few years earlier, but fourth grade was the first time I started thinking that my weight was something I was supposed to control and measure.  It was the first time that I can remember thinking that my weight said something about me, and I didn't like what it was saying.

By the time I was 13, I was already restricting food, and focusing on my body as a way of not dealing with other issues in my life that I felt I had no control over.  By 14, my self-worth was completely bonded to my weight and by extension, my appearance.  For the next seven years, I dealt with crippling emotions of self-doubt and accompanying eating disorders that I vigorously denied.  How can you have an eating disorder when you still look fat?  The concept was ridiculous to me.  During those years, I thought that analyzing the numbers on the scale was my way of testing my validity in the world, when really I was using it as a physiological weapon against myself.  It was like a game, or a challenge.  Could I get down to 100 pounds?  What if I could get down to 90?  The noise from everything in my life that I couldn't control could sometimes be blocked out by intrusive thoughts of losing more weight, and I felt like I needed these thoughts to stay sane. 

It is not too dramatic to say that nothing very good happened to me during these years of self-torture, or at least, nothing good happened to me because of me.  I was too busy trying to get smaller to bother making the rest of my life more meaningful.  Even the good parts of my life were drowned out by hateful thoughts of self-loathing.  I was jealous of everyone, and I hid myself away as much as I could.  My already introverted personality became magnified by the thought that I wasn't good enough, and it partnered with the idea that I would let myself have a life once I finally could make myself skinny enough to be worth knowing.  My perception became my reality and I became less loving, less useful to society, and less emotionally connected to the people I loved.     

Eventually, I realized that constantly hating yourself is one of the most self-indulgent things you can do. How can you make a difference to anyone when your main thoughts are all about yourself?  It sounds strange, but the obsession with getting thinner and thinner can become like a drug.  The idea of meeting your goal and finally being skinny enough is very addictive.  The problem is, you can never meet your goal because you can always lose more weight.  You can never win.  Winning for an anorexic is death, pure and simple.      

Throughout those years, I had moments in time where I felt healthier, or tried to let go of the idea that being thinner would one day make me "good enough", but it was hard to let go of something I had woven into every fiber of my being for so long.  But at some point, I realized that I would never be happy, or help to make anyone else happy, if I kept thinking that a number on a scale was going to save me from my problems. 

When I decided to get healthy, I started by letting go of my desire to constantly compare myself to others.  I forced myself to look in the mirror and say, “you are beautiful,” even when I didn't feel it.  I started working toward goals that had nothing to do with my body.  I stopped buying clothes in the size I wanted to fit into, and started buying clothes that actually fit the body that I was in.  It sounds so simple now, but in reality, it was a lot of work. 

Despite the fact that I am super confident now, sometimes, my weight still challenges me.  I lost a lot of weight because of my illness (I have Crohns disease) in 2009, and ended up getting back down to 100 pounds.  Unfortunately, it really messed with my head, and set me back a few steps in my journey for a while. I worried that once I was at a healthy weight again, I would have a hard time giving up my super thin status, and in 2011, when I finally did start putting weight back on, every pound was psychologically difficulty for me.  I had hated being so sick and so thin, but I was afraid that people would judge me for the weight gain, and I was afraid of how I would judge myself.

But I wanted to fight fair this time, and give myself a real chance to get better emotionally as I was getting better physically.  I looked closely at my thought patterns, and when I started to obsess, I forced myself to focus on something else, even if it was something hard like dealing with my emotions about being so sick with my Crohns.  I used my tools that I had made up all of those years ago when I told myself that enough was enough.  I asked my husband to take my scale away and I tried to focus my energy on getting well, on living a good life, on making others happy, rather than spending all of my time indulging in unhealthy thoughts about myself.  As I reached my pre-illness weight, I tried to remember what being happy in your own skin feels like, and I made it through somehow.

Eventually, I started to notice that I liked the extra weight.  It made me feel like I wasn't about to break or float away, the way I felt when I was so sick and unable to eat.  I felt substantial.  I felt whole. I held onto that feeling, and I let myself learn to love myself again, no matter what size I was.  

Some days, when I fell my jeans getting tighter, or I think my face looks puffy, or I just feel sad about something I can’t control that has nothing to do with my appearance at all, a part of me wants to start focusing on my weight again as a way of distracting myself or as a way of rewarding myself with the prize of a lower number on the scale.  But I don’t.  I can’t.  I won’t go back to living that way ever again.    

Scales weren't invented to be self-worth readers; they were never made to tell you if you were good enough or not.  They are not meant to be a weapon or a reward.  If you are genuinely dealing with a weight that makes you unhealthy, then a scale can be used as a monitoring tool to help you figure out where you feel your best and healthiest, but even then, the number you see says nothing about you as a person.  You will never be worth more than you are right now.  You are already worth everything you would be worth if you were thinner.

When was the first time you got on a scale and let yourself believe that the number you saw defined you?  I realized that I was worth a lot more than that, and so are you.  What could you accomplish with all of the brain power you devote to telling yourself that you need to be something other than exactly what you are?  

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story!

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    1. Thanks for reading it Meg! I'm going to totally check out your blog now BTW. ;)

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  2. You're the best. Also, even if you don't feel like you made much good happen for you during your hardest years, you should know that you made SO much good for the people around you.

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    1. Bestest, I was just thinking about how I never would have made it without you and Rachel! Of course, our friendship was always a magical place that was completely separate from all of that mess. I love you!!!

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  3. Nikki I just found your blog and love the updates on growing out your pixie. I too am growing mine out and documenting with pics but I'm only on month four. I plan to post on my blog when I hit a year in review. Keep it up!! Cheers! ~M

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    1. Oh my gosh, isn't it painful? I tried growing out my hair so many times and always ended up going back to the pixie. Good luck! Thanks for reading! I am going to check out your blog now. :)

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