Facing the scale, fighting the past.

An earlier version of this post appears at the author’s personal blog.

There is a scale in my bathroom. It is not my scale, but it is in my space. Every time I take a shower, I drop my clothes next to it and look at it and feel it look at me. Like it’s challenging me.

I have an interesting history with scales. Although I can remember being dissatisfied with my body from a young age, I can’t ever really remember being dissatisfied with my weight, specifically. I can’t remember a time where I weighed “too much” or even a time where I was aware of what I weighed at all. I was aware that I was fatter than the other girls, but there was no number attached to it. It was an idea, a notion. But it was strong enough, even without a specific number, to affect the way I felt about my body and myself and to keep me locked in disordered eating patterns for years.

Even at the height of my disordered eating habits, I wasn’t weighing myself. It wasn’t because I wasn’t concerned with how fat I was—trust me, I was—but because in everything I had ever read about eating disorders, a preoccupation with scales was one of the biggest symptoms, and I refused to be sick. I refused to be disordered. I stepped on the scale at the doctor’s office and that was it. I told my friends how I didn’t weigh myself, how I didn’t care about some stupid number. I acted like this made my eating behaviors OK, like there was nothing wrong with me or the way I treated myself as long as I wasn’t focused on a number, like nobody would notice how much trouble I was in as long as I wasn’t outwardly obsessed with my body. And for the most part, it worked.

It’s important to note that I have never had an officially diagnosed eating disorder. For a year in high school, I secretly kept a food journal and restricted myself to 900 calories a day. I watched myself turn from a size 18-sometimes-16 to a size 14-sometimes-12 and acted like I had no idea where the weight was going, like it was some natural occurrence that I had no part in.

I was so good at hiding my behavior behind my anti-scale rhetoric. In fact, I was downright body positive, encouraging my friends to throw out their own scales and embrace their figures and ignore the sizes stitched into their jeans even as I obsessively tracked the number of calories going into my body every day. Those behaviors continued into college, where I eventually ended up limiting myself to one meal a day. I was hungry so often that I lost my ability to recognize what hunger felt like. But I fit no diagnostic criteria; I did not weigh myself; I even wrote term papers about fatphobia in feminism: as far as I was concerned, I was nowhere near sick.

Through a lot of struggle and reflection, I eventually recognized that I had a problem and took steps to overcome it. Now I eat well. I count nothing. I focus on how foods make my body feel rather than how they make me look. It’s been a struggle, but I’m the happiest with my body that I have ever been; 99% of the time I think I look fantastic.

So yesterday, I got on that bathroom scale. I got tired of it challenging me, so I stepped onto it, confident that I was finally ready to see what it had to tell me. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

The number that came up was the highest I’d seen on a scale since I was 17. As soon as that realization hit me, I felt sick. As though by reflex, I started considering the possibility of skipping breakfast, thinking about how easy it would be to replace lunch with coffee, imagining myself explaining to my roommates that I was eating a tiny dinner because money was tight.

It took me ten minutes of mental calorie-counting to realize what I was doing. Suddenly, I was angry. I was ashamed at myself for immediately falling into those thoughts, thoughts I hadn’t had in nearly two years. I was furious that something that I thought I had beaten had come back so effortlessly, had reappeared and taken control as though it had never gone away at all.

And that’s the point of this, I suppose: these things don’t just go away. Not after six months or a year or two years. Maybe not at all — I don’t know.

I’m mostly good at fighting off my food demons, good at ignoring or counteracting anti-fat messages, good at loving my body and loving myself. But there are still moments that catch me by surprise, where the voice of my past sneaks in and whispers to me: “Well, you did it once and you turned out alright, didn’t you? What’s the harm in doing it again? You weren’t even sick, really.” Those moments are hard. They are scarce, but they are scary.

I thought facing the scale would be a victory. I thought it would be a sign of my full recovery. I thought I was ready, that I was better. Now I realize that perhaps I’m not, that perhaps facing a scale on a regular basis is not something that I can handle. More importantly, I think, is that it is not something I need to handle. I don’t need to “beat” that scale. I have nothing to prove, except that I am here, and that I am happy, and that I am healthy. And if staying healthy means never stepping on a bathroom scale again, then so be it.


8 thoughts on “Facing the scale, fighting the past.

  1. Beautiful post, Melissa – and an inspiration for anyone who hears the voices of fear whispering (or shouting) that starvation is the road to freedom. I was a secret calorie counter, too. More than a decade has past since my darkest days, but there are moments when the shadow of my old self sings her siren song of black coffee for breakfast – a walk and two cigarettes at lunch time. Thank god for the love and support of smart men and strong women who kindly lash me to the mast until I can walk away. It takes time and practice. But we do not walk alone. Thanks for putting into words a challenge so many of us face.

  2. I agree with Kristen, a very well written and inspiring post. I think the most important message in the post is that things like this don’t go away completely. My struggle is not with food or weight but with people-pleasing…the same kinds of intrusive thoughts will creep up on me every now and then. I hope everyone who has struggles that reads this will come away knowing that you are not broken because you haven’t “beaten your scale” (or whatever metaphor fits), it just takes time, after so many years of training yourself how to think a certain way.

  3. Great post! I think many people feel the same, and I know I definitely feel the same way. It’s hard to be so conscious of all the issues surrounding weight and body image, but yet still fall back into the same patterns.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to attention.


  4. Thank you so much for this post. I am a teenage girl who advocates body image like you do, and only my closest friends know how dissatisfied with my weight I am. Sometimes I want to diet like you talked about SO BADLY, but I know that I should not hurt myself that way. This reminded me of that and made me feel so much better about myself… Thank you.

  5. Wow, I could have written this post, right down to the daily calorie limit. Eerie.

    Even though I was similarly not as obsessed with the number on the scale as I was with other things, I hate having a scale in my house. I used to live with roommates who had a scale but now I just live with my boyfriend and I refuse to let us have a scale. Never thinking about how much I weigh is bliss!

    If you are healthy, a scale just breeds weight-obsession and insecurity, encouraging you to freak out at every upward fluctuation and to always wonder if you should try to go down. And if your weight is truly unhealthy, well, you probably know it, and you don’t need a machine making you feel like crap about it in your own home – the rest of the world already does that.

    Scales suck! We should all just do our best to have healthy diets and to exercise, and screw the numbers.

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