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Breaking Up With The Scale

A Journey Out Of Orthorexia

May 24th, 2012

By Vivienne Palmer, posted by PEERtrainer Founder

The great irony of this piece is the punch-line: I weighed myself.

Ever hear of orthorexia? It's when someone develops an unhealthy fixation on healthy foods. Total first-world problem, I get it, but I think that might be me.

It all started after I had my second child and got really skinny. Like, scary skinny. As in, my friends were starting to do interventions and call me up to encourage me to have extra desserts.

Despite the fact that I looked emaciated at 122 pounds (visualize the veiny arms, bony chest and somewhat Karen Carpenter-esque smile) I was so completely psyched to weigh what I did in high school that I chalked it up to jealously.

Looking back on those days it wasn't really that hard to be skinny. Between the breastfeeding, the two tiny children, and the postpartum depression-fueled anxiety, it was pretty easy to get thin. Then disaster struck: I got happy and started to gain some weight.

I needed that weight and I never got to the point where I needed to lose weight, but that number 122 on the scale became my nemesis, my former unattainable glory.

I've read that people who weigh themselves daily are more likely to keep the weight off and I think there is something to this. However, I have held steady for five years so I think I've got my body figured out. Yet I still weighed myself every day and I can honestly say that it was the worst part of my day. Rarely did the scale ever say what I wanted it to and I just ended up feeling like a big, fat failure.

Then there was the rather disgusting scatological practice of trying to estimate (Note the word estimate, I never once weighed it. I'm talking eyeballing, okay?) the weight of my poop, and subtracting it from my inferior number in order to justify my unacceptable weight.

I'm not anorexic or bulimic in case you were wondering, although I realize that I sound pretty nuts. I look healthy and eat well but I also exercise and I was obsessed with weighing myself and counting calories. I kept an electronic food log which tracked calories, nutrients and my weight all as a means to generate graphs and pie charts for me to fixate on. Yes, I weighed my food.

I think tools like these are great for people who are just getting conscious about food for the first time and need help making good choices. If you don't realize that a Starbucks grande mocha Frappuccino has more calories than a Big Mac, then maybe it's a good idea to do a little calorie counting.

But after five years it became unhealthy for me. I also noticed that I quickly exited out of that computer screen when my husband walked into my office because I knew that it was weird to log every bite. Big. Red. Flag.

I befriended Habib Wicks of PEERtrainer, and one day over lunch I lamented how hard it was to get an accurate read on one's body fat. Those scales clock me in pretty high and I'm not buying it, the calipers have the element of human error and the hydrostatic method is too hard to come by. Habib just looked at me blankly and asked, "Why do you need to know?"

Why did I need to know? Well, for one, I wanted to know if what I was doing worked. But how do you define working when you are talking about measuring self-esteem? I have a strong, healthy body that does what I ask of it.

I look good and feel good so why do I 1) feel like I have been doing something wrong and 2) always need to lose weight? Because five years ago when I was practically suicidal I was thinner?

I thought about this exchange long and hard and decided that it was time to break up with the scale. And while I was at it I was going to stop logging my food, too. I went public with it (you know, status update on Facebook) and lo and behold, I didn't get huge. So here is where the irony comes in. The other day I was at the gym and I was feeling really good about myself.

I looked in the mirror and thought that I should know what I weigh today because most likely it will be more than I hoped for, but I should feel good knowing that despite the number, I liked myself. In fact, I was determined to not let my self-worth change after a number flashed on a tiny screen.

I went into the locker room and started taking off my clothes when a woman said to me, "You have really transformed your body. I'm impressed." I was like, "Really?" I have taken up pole fitness which has made my body noticeably more powerful, but the goal was to learn tricks, not change my body.

Armed with that fortuitous compliment, I stepped on the scale, silently wishing that I would be heavier than before because it would validate my belief that it's not the number that counts. And wouldn't you know it, I weigh more than I have in five years. I'm 135 pounds of strong bones and solid muscles. In your face scale. You don't know anything about me.

Related PEERtrainer Link: A Healthy Diet That Doesn't Require Obsessive Adherence: The PEERtrainer Cheat System

PEERtrainer Editorial Note: We are not advocating one approach or another. For some people, weighing is a very effective tool. For others, like the author of this article, weighing is more complicated. We would loveto hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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