Home » Me » Subtraction: My Uncomfortable Relationship with Numbers in Weight Loss

Subtraction: My Uncomfortable Relationship with Numbers in Weight Loss

Note: Body-image issues beneath the cut. Consequently, trigger warning.

The other day I was weighed for a medical test. “Wow,” said the nurse. “I never would have guessed that to be your weight! You hold it really well!”

…insert spiral of shame, here, until I forced myself to write this entry in my blog.

I have a system when I weigh myself. I block the numbers on the scale with my hand and slowly move my fingers to the right. This way I can determine how horrible I feel about them piece by piece.  It’s like slowly boiling the water on the stove. What are my numbers? How bad will it get today?

Like so many other couch-slugs in January, I’ve raised a white flag, removed my arm from the Doritos bag, and joined a gym. The potential happy ending of transformation is too much for even my cynical heart to resist; I’ve always been in love with the idea of lowering my numbers: inches shrinking, my feet on the scale lightening, of the line on the graph going down, down, down.  Whenever I get it into my head that it’s time to lose weight, it’s like I jump onto a see-saw that had one-too-many shots of tequila: up, down, up, up, down. So go my numbers, so go my corresponding mood swings. My weight fluctuates.  I have a 30 pound range that I’ve always been within, 15 of which are in the “normal” BMI range for my height, 15 pounds of which are in the “overweight” portion.  There’s such a vast disparity between those two words: normalOverweight. As if one state of being means that you can toss your freak flag into the trash, but the other – oh dear. Overweight.  You’d better be a work in progress, my dear.  More often than not, my weight’s been in those upper-echelon of numbers.  I’ve seldom been normal.

Abnormal, to the dark reaches of my brain, is just another word for what I’ve always considered myself: fat.  I don’t remember a time before I was really aware of bodies, of how they could be traitorous and unsatisfactory and wrong, but as soon as I grew to be cognizant of my own body, I considered it faulty.  I’m not sure where I got that idea; no one hounded me about my weight and I received just as many compliments on my looks as the average little girl. I very clearly remember posing for a picture in my new tap recital outfit and sucking in my stomach as I smiled, hoping against hope that I would look as skinny as my friend standing beside me, who was thin and long as a dragonfly.  That photo is one of the few that survived the house fire; I saw it a few weeks ago. I was five, and just another little girl. There was nothing repulsive about the stomach I had attempted to diminish.

I’ve never had a full-blown eating disorder, but I’ve flirted with one for a year in a long-distance relationship. Having a bad body-image growing up in high school (and let’s be real, who had a good body image in high school?) was one thing, but after college I went through a variety of dieting fads. One summer I stopped eating, and my weight plummeted from my upper range to the lower range of the typical 30 pounds. It wasn’t hard to do – there were no instructions to follow, no numbers to read on the back of cardboard boxes, and no diet diaries to keep.  I just consciously didn’t eat enough. Easy-peasy!  I still have some of the jeans in the back of my closet from those skeletal “skinny” days.  I can’t get into them now, of course, which is fine because I know with my head that I wasn’t healthy, then. I need to throw them out, or donate them, but I can’t. They’re my trophies. They’re my proof.  And it doesn’t matter, really, how little I weighed – I was still the same person inside, no matter my encasing. My neuroses had less space to contain them, so they concentrated. I’d reached my ideal number (“normal”), and I was still wanting to disappear just a little bit more.

I’m smarter now, or at least less complacent about my health. I eat fruit and vegetables. I skip dessert instead of meals if I’m watching my food intake. I still love those numbers, though. What’s my weight?  What’s my BMI?  What does my favorite celebrity weigh?  How many servings of tomatoes can I eat?  These days I use a diet that’s actually recommended by doctors. It’s intended to prevent diabetes, so it’s low in sugar and carbs and involves a great deal of number counting (45 carbs per meal + two 15-carb snacks a day…) and it satisfies a need to quantify my dissatisfaction with my body.  With numbers on my side, I can lose weight. It’s doctor-recommended.  Look, the numbers are going down, down, down.

When I made the decision to restart my blog, I vowed to be as honest and fearless as possible. Why write halfway? I know for a fact my own struggles and ambivalence toward health is mirrored in the viewpoints of many of my friends. This is absolutely NOT some passive-aggressive attempt to get compliments or assurances; to be honest, they’d piss me off. The world’s perception of how I look is not the point, here. It’s my perception, my own comfort, that I need to reconcile.

I wish I had a clever idiom to wrap up this entry, but well – I’m back up to my upper range of that aforementioned 30 pounds. I’m a work in progress again, you see. I think we all are.


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