- michelle m. davis
A Numbers Game
Five weeks ago while lying in a relaxed state on my yoga mat during the final moments of class, the instructor suggested that we “let go” of one thing that is controlling us. Instantaneously a vision of my scale came to mind.
Most people would have had a different response… perhaps it would be to relinquish anger against someone, to surrender the need to remake their child’s bed every morning or to let go of the urge to be the break their best score on the golf course. No - I chose to throw out my scale.
Weighing myself daily was my tried and true way to control my weight. First thing every morning I would step on the scale, totally naked, and anxiously wait for the needle to settle on a number. I’d often shift back between one foot and the other, watching as the range of numbers slowly reduced to a final reading. If a “good number” appeared, that meant I was on track and could eat the way I wanted for the day. However, a “bad number” – one that I found “unacceptable” - would immediately put me in a foul mood, forcing me to scrutinize everything I put into my mouth for the next twenty-four hours.
Sounds a bit messed up? Yep. And what made this obsession even more interesting is that I had a “special scale.” It was four pounds lighter than most. I knew it wasn’t accurate, but I liked the readings it gave me. It usually made me happy, much more so than those scales at the doctor’s office.
However, during the past several months I’ve begun to question how I could allow a number to set the tone for my day. After all, I’m an educated woman who comprehends the various reasons that weight fluctuates. Plus, I have enough mirrors in the house to let me know if I’m, um, letting things go. And, there’s always the “jeans test.” Still, I wanted that number, the one that gave me the reassurance that I was in control.
Numbers have always given me a sense of security. Maybe it’s because they are absolute and dependable, leaving little room for misinterpretation. After all, a five is a five is a five… it isn’t a four nor is it a six. My affection for numbers began when I was a little girl. Math was my favorite subject in school. Then I majored in finance when I went to college, choosing my electives in accounting or other business courses. My husband still teases me how dismayed he was when he first learned that I like watching “The Math Channel.” And to this day I can’t wait to do the Sudoku puzzle each morning. I guess I’ve always been drawn to figures and formulas. They are easy to explain and rarely surprise me.
But there was a number in my life that was controlling me, and that is an unhealthy way to go through life. So when I came home that morning from yoga class, I knew what needed to be done. Immediately I went upstairs to our bathroom and threw out that scale. (Actually, I put it in the basement for three weeks until I had the courage to put it into the trashcan.)
No longer having my safety blanket, I now needed to rely on my body and how I felt instead of doing the daily dance on a scale to tell me if I’d gained weight. It was tough. In fact for the first few weeks I struggled quite a bit. But the upside is that it forced me to really look at my relationship with food. For the first time in my life I had to ask myself if I was in control of what I ate or if food controlled me.
So I did a sort of experiment. I tried to become aware of what I was eating as well as when and why I ate. Curious to know if I was consuming out of habit, boredom, or hunger, for two weeks I became the observer, watching myself be lulled by food at every turn.
What I found is that I often wasn’t even aware of what I was eating. It was habit – while I was writing, after a workout, or before bed. Sometime when I gave the dogs a treat, I rewarded myself with one, too (just a different kind). Plus, I realized that I rarely stopped to truly taste my food. Instead, I just ate, totally unobservant of the delicious flavors and textures.
This made me wonder what would happen if I focused on conscious consumption. If I were to be clear about my food choices, note how I felt when I had an urge to eat as well as how my body reacted after having consumed a particular food, maybe I would become better aware of what my body requires to live a healthy and energetic life.
So now that I’m “scaleless” and aware that I have a somewhat odd relationship with food, I’m trying to ask my body what it needs, take my time while eating to taste the food and consider if I’m really hungry or just eating out of habit or boredom. It’s hard work, and I really am not enjoying it. However, I’m willing to stick with it in an attempt to trust my body instead of allowing my mind and emotions to run the show.
Slowly I’m beginning to learn from this process. Through careful observation I have a better grasp of what foods work best for breakfast. I’ve also discovered that I need to eat a more substantial lunch or I’ll nosh all afternoon. Plus now I am conscious of my snacking tendencies, especially while on my laptop, so I am better able to tell myself that I’m not hungry, I’m just in the habit of eating while working.
The number thing hasn’t quite gone away, but I’m slowly discovering how to trust my instincts and “feel” the situation instead of relying on figures for feedback. While my scale is most likely in a landfill somewhere, I really don’t miss it. In fact in some ways it’s quite liberating to let go of that “morning dance.” And I now know that even though “numbers don’t lie,” they also don’t tell the entire truth. Only we truly comprehend how we feel, the level of our energy, and the confidence that emerges when we walk by a mirror. Numbers can give me a sense of security but they cannot provide me with the same satisfaction that comes with relinquishing control and learning to trust myself. I’ve learned that I don’t need the scale to control my weight. Deep down inside I have all of the tools necessary – and then some.