The Problem with Numbers


I don't own a scale. Haven't for years. And the reason I don't is because the number has too much influence over my happiness. It's not something I’m proud of.

I was especially reluctant to write a post about it.

I wish it were different.

But it's not.

That number, whatever it’s been over the years (and it has been many things) has never just been an objective fact. It has always been tied to emotions of shame, if I thought the number was too high; or tied to pride, if I managed to get the number low enough.

I remember clearly the moment I became aware that it mattered how much I weighed. I was fifteen and a doctor looked at my chart, said my weight out loud and then said, “well, you’re a big, strapping girl, aren’t you?”

And I knew it wasn’t a compliment. Not the way he said it. I knew he wasn’t saying it in a good-for-you-you’re-so-strong-kind of way. He was saying I was too big.

He was saying I was fat.

And so began my obsession with weight. Not an obsession with getting healthy, mind you. Those are two very different things.

It was an obsession with making sure that the number on the scale was something I deemed acceptable.

And how did I figure out what was acceptable? Well, I turned to the media. Where else should a teenage girl go for perspective on a healthy weight, if not to women’s magazines and television?

The answer is: almost anywhere else. Truly. The acceptable numbers I came away with were low. Really low. Too low for my height and body type. Too low to achieve through healthy diet and exercise.

I have been real close to that weight over the years. I’ve also been many tens of pounds more than that. And here’s what I can tell you.

There were times when I weighed that little and felt physically weak and sick.

There have been times, like now, when I’ve weighed more than that and felt strong and healthy.

I have also been lighter than I am now and still felt good, and I’ve been heavier than I am now and felt physically awful.

So, the truth is that my weight at any given time is not the best indicator of my health. It just isn't. And weight loss has never brought me long-term, soul-deep happiness. Ever.

I know this intellectually.

But knowledge can be easily overtaken by emotion. Numbers can become more than numbers—they can become measures of your value as a person. Women are especially vulnerable to this false association.

I am.

And so, I don't expose myself to it. Because as long as I have an emotional reaction of any kind to the number on the scale. As long as it is anything more than an objective fact. As long as it would become the metric of my health, over and above how strong I am and how good I feel. As long as all of the healthy things I do for my body would be forgotten in the seconds it took for the scale to do its calculations.

It's not worth it.

While the scale is bad for me, it is not bad to want to gauge my health or to be aware of the state of my body. So, I check it in other ways--in ways that don't have the same emotional resonance.

To any of you who relate to my disordered relationship with the scale, here’s my advice: break up with it. Seriously. Setting a specific weight as a goal is a recipe for frustration, because you are tying your achievement to a result—to something over which you do not have control.

I could pick any weight I wanted and my body might never get there no matter how many healthy (or unhealthy) things I did. And if that number is my goal and I don’t reach it, then I tell myself I’m a failure.


If my goal is to increase the amount of weight I can lift. Or if my goal is to hold a plank for ten seconds longer 30 days from now than I can today. If my goal is to exercise for 30 minutes, five times this week. I can reach those goals. I know how to do that. That’s about things I do. Choices I make. There are proven paths to success I can follow. Those things are about getting stronger. Healthier. Those things can happen if my weight never changes.

See the difference?


The theme for this month is loving your body as it is now. So, we are going to spend the next several weeks talking about variations on that theme, and later this month I’ll have an announcement of something new happening at the studio. Nikki’s going to make an appearance on the blog for that. So stay tuned and I’ll see you back here next week.