When you’ve spent any part of your life being overweight, the number reflected in that tiny window on the scale isn’t terribly important. What starts off as your worst enemy eventually becomes as much a bystander in your weight gain as your helpless body.

The first five pounds of weight gain is something to be nervous about. You reach fifteen, you start to panic. Arrive at the dreaded 2-0, and you find yourself in a tailspin of tight waistbands and snug sleeves. Eventually, after being overweight for a while, the number all becomes relative. The distinction between 50lbs. and 70lbs. is blurred. At a certain point, you just feel big. The number stops holding any real significance.

One of the few and far between positive aspects of your stomach, thighs, or butt growing to epic proportions is that lying about your weight becomes easy. When I weighed 250lbs., when the rare numbers conversation would come around, I’d easily underestimate my tonnage and claim to weigh anywhere from 200 to 180lbs. No one argued, because when you’re overweight, there’s no need to split hairs over the number on the scale. It’s a great opportunity to lie not only to other people but to yourself.

Image source:Hub Bub
Image source: Hub Bub

The concept of an ideal weight is a distant memory when you’re heavy, at least in my experience. When I was overweight, my dream number for a long time was 180—a number I was only managed to maintain for a very short period of my life before successfully hovering around 130 for the past six months. When I was at 250lbs., I didn’t much care how big I was, because I was so far from where I needed to be. If I gained some weight here and lost some weight there, I took it all with a grain of salt (that I probably licked from my fingers shortly afterwards). I had gotten so far from a number I could be proud of, I just figured, why care at all?

Much unlike the time I spent being overweight, being at a healthy weight has completely changed my relationship with the universal bathroom floor foe. Now that I’m normal-sized, any minor weight gain or loss feels immediately visible to me. When I weighed significantly more, the changes in my body were subtle. I didn’t immediately see the added padding on my thighs from a week spent chowing down on fast food and eating to cure boredom—it all just got absorbed into the existing layer I’d grown accustomed to seeing in the mirror. Really, what’s 10lbs. when you’ve been carrying around an extra hundred for a while?

These days, if that number on the scale creeps upward ever so slightly, I feel like I can see it on my body immediately. I’ll analyze my stomach in the mirror, certain it’s sticking out three millimeters further. I’ll squint at my hips, convinced they appear near-imperceptibly wider. A measly addition of 1.2lbs. has me fidgeting with my jeans, certain that they’re tighter than they were just yesterday.

My tumultuous relationship with the scale has changed since I’ve lost weight, because the number I see now has a different meaning. When I was overweight, the scale was merely tracking the incremental collateral damage of a few pounds here and there—the real damage had already accumulated over the years right under my nose and onto my thighs. When you begin losing weight, you enter into a love/hate relationship with the scale. It becomes your cheerleader. It motivates you. It helps keeps you apprised of when you’re doing right and when you’re doing wrong. It also can discourage you. It has the power to make you feel like a slacker.

In my experience, the scale stays your best friend and worst enemy even once you’re at a healthy weight. For a person who’s post-weight loss, finally being able to maintain your weight from week to week is an accomplishment that becomes a milestone, the healthy cherry atop the sundae of a past filled with more gains and disappointment than losses and success. But after working so hard to get to where you are, when you see those numbers increase again for any reason, you experience fear where there was once apathy. When you’re overweight and you gain more weight, you figure you were already heavy to begin with, but when you’re at a healthy weight and you gain a little more? Suddenly you really have something to gain, and through that weight gain, you have something to lose—your pride in yourself for shedding the weight, your confidence, you name it.

Good plan.Image source: Dump a Day
Good plan.
Image source: Dump a Day

Any scale fluctuation makes me nervous I’ll be headed down the same road of being overweight again. So do I obsess a little over a percentage of a pound? Yes. Are these minor changes I think I’m noticing in my body when I gain two pounds even really there? Most of the time, probably not. Am I being too hard of myself? Definitely.

Rationally, I know one’s weight usually fluctuates from day to day. I know gaining half of a pound won’t render my wardrobe useless or make me appear “fat.” But I’ve never had this kind of relationship with the scale before. I never used to even use the scale. I never used to care. I was overweight, and that was that. Prior to nine-or-so months ago, I’d never been able to say I looked down at the scale and saw a number that made me happy. If you’ve never been overweight, you don’t truly understand what that means.

Too often, we assume scales only measure our fatness. Gain 10lbs.? We assume we’ve been hitting the chocolate syrup too hard. So easily do we forget that scales measure weight, which includes muscle and the big, dense dinner still sitting in your intestines from yesterday. Scales aren’t half as discerning as we treat them.

Recently, this square device of doom has informed me I’ve acquired a few extra pounds, but I can’t “find it.” That’s always our first impulse when we find out we’ve gained weight, isn’t it? First, we assume it’s “bad” weight and from there, the search begins. “Two pounds, what the– where is it?”

We microscopically analyze our bodies in bathroom mirrors, eager to find the parasitic pair of pounds that’s latched onto us. Stomachs are grabbed at, butts examined and re-examined, and arm spans are inspected for added flab. …As if such a minor alteration would be visible.

The pitiful gain I’ve experienced as of late might have had me running for the nearest elliptical at first, but I’m slowly accepting the reality of it. I haven’t stopped eating healthy or working out, but I need to learn, maybe the hard way, that between now and the next sixty years I hope to be alive, my weight is going to fluctuate for a million different reasons, despite all my best efforts. If I don’t feel it or see it, even if the scale insists on telling me it’s there, it’s not worth punishing myself over it with an all-celery diet. And in the event I do gain some real fat–what’s killing off the odd five or ten pounds when I’ve managed to lose 120? The numbers aren’t always against me.

I can’t say I’m free of the scale’s influence yet, but I’m on my way to seeing my body honestly and objectively, outside of the confines of these easily-influenced numbers. I’m scaling back on the scale.

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37 thoughts on “Scaling Back

  1. You know I was overweight too, so I do understand. And I just gained a few extra pounds too. I can’t find them! I decided that it doesn’t matter, and that my 12 year old weighing scale is just getting too old to show me the right number.
    Good for you for scaling back on the scale. It took me a good year to get to a point where I wouldn’t freak out at an increased number.

  2. Man, I’d throw that thing out the window! You need a whole lot of self loving and self accepting. It’s unfair that you have to pick up the slack after society’s distorted body image psychology did a number on you and so many other boys and girls who don’t conform to “normal”.

    It’s a sick system and the only thing that can beat it is love, love and more love. It sounds like you’re on the right track and I hope the day comes when you no longer care what that silly little number reads and you just love yourself no matter what 🙂 People, and women in particular, get heavier and lighter from week to week for all sorts of reasons, water, fat, muscle etc. It’s nothing to get hung up on 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

    Rohan.

    1. I agree with you in theory even if not in practice, yet. You’re absolutely right. It all takes time, but I’m getting there. The scale is a fickle friend if you let it define your happiness with your body–being healthy is always the most important thing.

  3. 120 pounds is quite an achievement! Well done!

    Since I’m currently trying to lose weight, I definitely understand. A couple of months ago I didn’t care about weight gain as I was a bit on the heavy side (30 pounds over my normal weight), and I kept on eating whatever I wanted. Now I’ve lost 15 pounds, and standing on the scale is an ordeal. “Will that cookie I ate yesterday affect my weight? Oh god maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that banana.” I think the scale and I are in for a long-term relationship, really, because I never want to go back to how I was before.

    1. Thank you! I have those same thoughts, still, too. Even though I know it’s a ridiculous thing to worry about it’s like, I didn’t lose all this weight to put it back on, but I also don’t want to become one of those people sweating every carb and calorie.It’s a delicate balance between being neurotic and being normal.

  4. What an honest post. Our physical appearance is something that is always going to affect our self esteem to some degree. That is just the way of it. Some day perhaps I will move beyond worrying about this, but I think we all do put a bundle of self esteem into how we look, and moreover how we feel about how we look. I simply wanted to say that I have enjoyed reading your blog, because of who you are. Your sharp insights into how things work, from umbrella etiquette to office cubical experiences. I think that you are a smart, intelligent and talented person. That would never be swayed by what a scale told you. I value who you are because that person is fantastic. I think that your thoughts and struggles in this area are not unique to you, and you could be a fantastic role model to others. 🙂 Thank you for being you Katie!

      1. Exactly, that is the limiting voice in our head that is always telling us we aren’t good enough, or some other negative message. If there is anyone I know who should feel pretty good about themselves and their talents, it is you!

      1. I have a high tech digital scale that tells you all kind of pointless data to obsess about, and I have an old school dial scale that you can adjust to make sure it’s really at 0 when you step on. I may or may not have dialed back the old school scale to make it start at -5 lbs…..

      2. HA! That’s what I need! Also, what kind of pointless data does it tell you? Does it tell you percentage of body fat by any chance? I can rationalize gaining muscle weight…

      3. It does. It’s one where you enter your age, height, build, and it tells weight, body fat, etc. It might tell me my fortune, but I usually jump off and grab the dial one to change the number in my head.

      4. HA! I may have to invest in one of these fortune-telling scales… I’m just curious about how much body fat I have, because even though I’ve gained weight my clothes still fit, and I’ve been doing more strength training lately, so I’m wondering if I’m just on my way to being a lady body builder or something.

      5. Probably. Getting all ripped and toned will do that! Seriously though, if your clothes still fit the same and the number has gone up some, it probably is a muscle gain. Olympics 2016? Body building?

      6. I just don’t want my veins to show. You know what I’m talking about on those super ripped women. I’m not taking any steroids–I mean supplements–so I should be good.

  5. I lost a lot of weight a few years back too, and no one ever talks about how hard it is on you mentally after you do it. In a lot of ways it’s worse- obsessing about if you’ve gained any back, feeling disappointed in yourself after every little slip up. I gave up getting on the scale a long time ago and just focus on how my clothes feel- for better or worse!

    1. I think it’s worse, too! But I’m with ya on the part about judging by how my clothes fit. As long as I’m comfortable with that and with how my body looks, it’s ridiculous to get bent out of shape over a number.

  6. Hi! I just found your blog and reading along…nice to mee you! I know what you mean—I didn’t have a lot to lose, but lost about 20 lbs and just this month hit that 3 year mark maintaining. It’s such a crazy balance and I understand exactly what you mean by the obsession thing developing now where it hadn’t even been on the radar before. So what I did? Took away the measurements, then the obsessions went away. I did a test “year of no scale” and that has now been about a year and a half. When I started obsessing over photos from month to month and tape measures? took those away too. And I’m blissfully happy not knowing that number…it’s really freeing. And I wear very fitted clothing so if I’m eating a little much, I will know it quickly 🙂 think about it–works really well! Congrats on your journey too, look forward to following….

    1. Hi there and nice to meet you, too!

      That is such a great thing you did! I admit I’m still stepping on the scale, but every time I see a minor change I don’t go into a tailspin. A certain amount of fluctuation is healthy, and the most important thing should always be how you feel. It’s more important to focus on that and how you feel in your clothes rather than limiting yourself to a certain number of pounds or certain waist measurement. What’s the fun in all that?! Like I need more math in my life, anyway. 😛

  7. “Eventually, after being overweight for a while, the number all becomes relative. The distinction between 50lbs. and 70lbs. is blurred. At a certain point, you just feel big. The number stops holding any real significance.”

    I don’t I’ve read or heard truer words about being overweight. It is exactly how I think and feel.

    1. It is SO hard, because when you get to a certain size, you start feeling like, “even if really tried, where would I even begin to lose all of this?” I went back and forth with that for years… I never could have imagined I would lose the weight I have if I hadn’t done it. You let it get to a point where you let it start feeling like it’s a permanent part of you, when it doesn’t have to be.

  8. See, once I read that you’d actually LOST a lot of weight to get to the size you are now, I *knew* that I’d enjoy reading your posts on the subject. I was right. (I usually am.)

    I’ve got one of those dial scales, too. It sets about 3-4 lbs behind the zero, and although I make myself mentally add those pounds to the number I’m seeing, I still allow myself a few seconds to thrill in the smaller number before I do the math, lol.

    Somehow, and I have no idea how, I have lost a wavering 10-15 lbs recently (bringing me down to the 180 I wrote about in my post, for a while I’d been hovering near 193-ish). I really wish I knew what I’d done, so I could do more of it, but as far as I can tell, I haven’t done anything different. Maybe I’ve been eating less, portion-wise… because lord knows, I still eat whatever I damn well please- fatty, fried, or sugary.

    Right after my divorce, I got down to around 145, and stayed there for a good long while, but once I stopped my liquid bar-fly diet, and began eating real food again, I gained it all back. Funny thing was, looking back, I think, “Wow. I was so skinny!” But at the time, I still saw myself as being just as fat as I’d been when I was tapping 200 on the shoulder.

    I just came up with an idea for a totally awesome blog post. I shall not ruin the surprise, even though I really want to. 😀

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