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The Moment I Realized the Number on the Scale Was Meaningless to Me

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In her book, “Life Without Ed,” Jenni Schaefer shares a personification of her eating disorder, whom she aptly names, “Ed.” She compares Ed’s tendencies to those of an abusive ex or someone of the sort. I found it so eye-opening and relatable that I shared it with two school counselors and a psychiatrist. I even bought a copy for my parents. Schafer’s book changed my perspective on my eating disorder and helped me greatly in making progress towards recovery — for a time.

Eventually, I ditched the book. I pride myself on my organization, but I’ll admit it got lost among a deep sea of textbooks and research articles. I became increasingly engaged with graduating and transitioning to Indiana, and slowly, unconsciously, turned back to my Ed. I allowed him the power to guide my thoughts and my self-hatred once again.

However, there’s one part of my recovery to which I was always loyal. I stayed far from a weighing scale once I became committed to getting better. Sometimes I tried to find excuses to get out of counseling sessions, and often avoided the food diary I was supposed to keep — but I never weighed myself. I had multiple opportunities, too. There are scales at the gym, in the student health center and I even had one at home for a while until I gave it to a friend when it began to exacerbate my unhealthy habits.

Any time I needed to report how much I weighed, I became increasingly prouder to say I had no idea. I went two years without having a clue as to what that number might be. That ended a couple of weeks ago during, what I am happy to report was, one of the most fun trips I took in 2017.

A group of friends and I decided to try zip lining in a cavern. It was incredible. There were various sections and lines, one of which led directly into “Hell” (the ground was decorated with fake burning coal and paper fires) and it was almost always too dark to see the next platform. Our tour guides were hilarious and one of our fellow zippers made some of the funniest anti-University of Kentucky basketball jokes I’ve ever heard. I guess it helped that we were in Louisville.

It’s not weird to think that I almost missed out on all of this. I’ve been in plenty of situations when my self-hate and constant comparisons have taken me out of a situation mentally and left me feeling empty and detached. I have cried during my own birthday dinners, turned down hiking and rafting invitations I really wanted to accept and felt void of emotion in a group of my closest friends. I know my anxiety is not my fault, but I am starting to see the ways in which I react to it are my responsibility and are under my control, to an extent.

Rewind one hour and we had just arrived at the zip lining facility. We signed waivers, showed our IDs and spent five dollars trying to figure out a locker that was only supposed to cost us 50 cents.

Then, we were weighed.

Upon the employee’s request, I stepped on a scale for the first time in years, but was relieved to find I couldn’t see the number. She wrote it down on a paper hidden from my view, and then moved on to the next member of our group. The problem came when she realized that she was missing a signature. She called my friend over and as she presented the paper to be signed, I saw a row of numbers scrawled across the top. I couldn’t help myself — I searched for mine.

I found it. And I was disappointed.

It was not the number I wanted to see. I waited for the feelings of failure to come.

I was shocked I didn’t feel those things.

I went to the bathroom to collect my thoughts and found myself able to see the number in my head and then simply — let it go. No, I didn’t forget it. I know it now and am still a bit resentful at the fact that I gained so much of the weight back. But in the past, this would have derailed my entire day. The 6 a.m. wake up time. The two hour drive to Louisville. It would all have been for nothing.

This experience helped me realize I hadn’t been approaching the number on the scale in the best way for my recovery. I wasn’t free of the hold the scale had on me, I was simply avoiding it. I’d quickly avert my gaze anytime I saw a weighing machine and, even now, they make me uncomfortable. Maybe they will for some time longer. But what has been most freeing is finally coming face to face with the number and seeing it for what it truly is: meaningless.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Unsplash photo via Achmad Nur Imansyah.

Originally published: June 1, 2017
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