Today is International No Diet Day, a celebration of bodies of every wonderful size and shape. The day is a reminder to stop scrutinizing ourselves and just appreciate who we are. Of course, staying physically healthy is incredibly important, but so is staying mentally healthy. It’s so easy to get caught in a storm of numbers, and become obsessed with the “perfect” math equation for your body. But for some, that kind of thinking can be dangerous and damaging—so here’s how one reader handled it.
Here are my numbers, right up front: I am 5’6”, 168 pounds and usually wear a size six or a size eight.
When I went for my physical this year my doctor told me I need to do something to get my weight “under control.” My BMI is too high. Never mind that I feel amazing, eat healthier than I ever have, (seriously, I’m surprised that Cadbury’s did not cry and ask what happened to me this Easter, their profits for mini eggs must have dipped so much) and I exercise more than a fair amount. I’m even training to become a yoga teacher this fall. But my doctor took a look at the numbers without knowing any of that.
I have always struggled with body image. When I was young, we would go to this local restaurant and my father would try to save some money by taking us to family night where kids only pay what they weigh. It’s a good scheme to save cash in theory, but it was traumatizing in reality. You got on a giant scale, like the kind you would see at a carnival, and complete strangers weigh you for your food. I was always the only kid that weighed in at a buck and change. It didn’t help that my little brother, just a year younger than me, only had to pay 70 cents.
When it comes to exercise, I do the best I can, but I’m no saint. I can’t be at the gym every day at 6 a.m., and I don’t count every calorie. But after my doctor’s visit, those are the habits I tried to adopt. I even Zumba-ed while I brushed my teeth, just to get my step count up on my FitBit. I started to freak out, weighing myself every day and buying meal replacement shakes for breakfast. Sometimes I worked out twice a day. The scale did not budge.
After a few months of counting calories, putting my food into color coded containers, not drinking alcohol, and surviving on shakes, I realized that I was miserable. Why was I so married to a number? What did that tell me about my self worth? And what sort of example was I setting for my 5-year-old daughter? Every time I stepped on the scale I would say “Oh let’s see how we have grown” in hopes she wouldn’t become obsessed with her weight like I had become. But I realized it wasn’t enough. It was me in that restaurant as a kid, watching the numbers creep up all over again. I had become more concerned with the metrics than with how I felt and how I was thinking about my health.
So I threw the scale out. Just like that.
Sometimes I miss it, but I think about it as a bad ex-boyfriend: Tempting to be around, but ultimately toxic. I’m glad it’s gone. A number is just a number. I still keep track of what I eat, and I still exercise. But I’m not letting worries take over my life. I’m healthy and beautiful, and I have new muscles from practicing yoga. I don’t need to torture myself over measurements.
I decided I was going to have to walk the walk if I wanted my little girl to have a healthy attitude about weight. As I later explained to a friend who wanted to know the reasoning behind my decision, it would mean more for her to see me cooking healthy in the kitchen or walking in the park, than for her to see me drag that scale out every day and let it predict how I would feel about myself.
I know that I am living a healthier lifestyle both mentally and physically now. In my newfound time not obsessing about my weight, I have roller-skated with my daughter, learned how to properly cook tofu and dug my bike out of the cellar so I can start using it now that the warmer weather is here. I’m still taking my doctor’s advice and taking my health seriously. I just don’t need the scale to know how to do it.
Amie O’Hearn is a writer based out of the Boston area. She enjoys the ukulele, learning how to knit, re-watching as many episodes ofFriday Night Lights as she can and yoga. Most of all, she loves being a mom. You can follow her on Twitter at @AmieOHearn or read her blog at www.mon-amies.com