Last week I let slip to a room full of people that I had not weighed myself in over six years. The news was met with a collective gasp echoing around the room.
I have said some pretty provocative things over the years, but I’ve never received such a universal reaction of disbelief and amazement as I did at the suggestion that we should all throw out our bathroom scales.
And once, I would have expressed the same reaction. Like many women, I used to weigh myself daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. My morning ritual was to do a wee (don’t need that water weight getting in the way of any progress) and then surrender myself to the mercy of my bathroom scales.
That number was my absolute truth; a marker of my worth and moral goodness, and the decider of the sort of day I would have. Would I go forth with confidence and pride, knowing that I was a few grams lighter than yesterday? Or would I have a “fat day”, a day where everything, no matter how joyous or unrelated to my body, would be shrouded in the shame of my physical imperfection.
On a “fat day” my perspective was so warped that even if I were to travel into space and find a cure for cancer, all I would be able to think about was how big my arse looked in my space suit.
But when I had my first daughter it dawned on me that if I was not careful, my little girl would grow up with a body image as distorted as mine. Already she was learning from me that women’s bodies are so wrong and hideous in their natural state that they need to be closely monitored every single day.
She was listening to me talk with my friends about the baby weight we hadn’t lost as if that was the most pressing issue in women’s lives. The way I was going, my daughter’s first introduction to maths would be counting Weight Watchers points.
That was the day I banished my bathroom scales and the last time I weighed myself.
So, what happened next?
Initially I freaked out. Of course. I had grown up believing that my body was an enemy that I must do constant battle with. If I didn’t police my body it would betray me and I would end up on one of those reality TV shows where they would need a crane to remove me from the house.
But in time, I learned that I could actually trust my body. My body wasn’t my enemy hell-bent of ruining my life; my body was giving me life.
My initial anxiety about losing control of my body by not weighing it was soon replaced by a greater sense of calm from not starting each and every day obsessing about my weight.
Psychologist and Director of BodyMatters Australasia Sarah McMahon agrees that regular weighing can add to people’s anxieties rather than alleviate them.
“Weighing reduces anxiety in the short term, however it ultimately serves to increase it in the long term,” says McMahon.
“For a chronic dieter, the scale reading weight loss/maintenance is typically met with a sigh of relief followed by amplified fear of weight gain. So the act of weighing serves as a short term positive reinforcer but that sense of relief is short lived.”
Not only is regular weighing bad for our mental health, it’s also terrible for our physical health.
Author of If Not Dieting, Then What?, Dr Rick Kausman, says only bad things happen when we focus on weight and weight loss.
“There is heaps of evidence to show that focusing on weight and weight loss is actually demotivating for people in the medium to long term, and it makes it harder for people to look after themselves in the best way they can,” says Dr Kausman, who is an Australian pioneer of healthy weight management and a board member of The Butterfly Foundation.
I am now the healthiest, strongest and fittest I have ever been. A funny thing happens when you like and respect something rather than loathe it: you want to take care of it.
It’s only natural to be kinder to the things we love rather than hate.
Using my weight as a measure of how well I was doing at life made me miserable. No matter how hard I tried, I never managed to control the number as much as I thought I should.
Now I have found a measure that I can control: my lifestyle.
Am I eating mostly healthy food? Check. Am I being physically active regularly? Check. Have I lost or gained weight? Wouldn’t have a clue.