For eighteen years, the flow of my day was dictated by a number that showed up on the scale at the start of every morning.
Those three digits set the tone for if I would be happy, stressed, upset, angry, or self-conscious. They would determine what I would allow myself to eat and how many hours I would spend on an elliptical every night after work. For eighteen years my self-worth was tied to a fluctuating number on a scale.
That one thing directly correlated to my happiness, but even on a “successful” day, it was never good enough. Which meant I wasn’t good enough. That number was always too many pounds away from a smaller number that would then bring me “happiness.”
Only happiness never came. And on the rare occasion that it did, when I was able to grasp a thin string of it between my fingers, it was fleeting. Floating onward and upward like a balloon that gets pulled away when the wind changes direction, it was that delicate. Leaving nothing behind except the pressure to be better, to be smaller. It got to the point where my coworkers would ask me if I was okay. I remember my charge nurse taking me aside one night at the hospital and asking if I was sick; if she had a reason to worry.
Looking back on it, I remember that day equating to happiness.
Or the day at the mall trying on shorts with a friend, and the sales person telling me that the twos were too big, to hang tight, she’d bring me a size zero. And then having them fit.
The satisfaction of buying a pair of shorts that I didn’t like strictly because they were the smallest size I’d ever fit into; from a store I was always too big to shop at, but then not having the confidence to actually wear them because I felt that my thighs were too close together when I walked.
This was my world. Day in and day out. Not holding much weight to the achievements at work, or in my personal life, or in finishing my master’s degree. But in my actual physical weight. In having the restraint to eat less than 1000 calories for more than one day in a row, and seeing that number inch down morning after morning on the scale.
I was hungry all of the time. Because duh, I wasn’t eating as much as I needed to be to remain healthy. These episodes of deprivation would always be followed by periods of binge eating. Literally shoving every single piece of food I could find into my mouth. I sometimes couldn’t chew fast enough. I always needed more.
And always, every single time without fail, I walked away from an episode absolutely loathing myself. Feeling every possible twinge of regret and disgust along with the physical discomfort of what I had just put my body through. I would go to bed with the weight of disappointment on top of my sheets, and wake up afraid of the truth that was waiting for me on the scale. And every single day the same cycle would begin all over again.
Until one day I said “enough,” and I meant it. The last time I weighed myself was the week of Thanksgiving 2018, a little over four months ago.
I woke up one morning and didn’t have the fight left in me. I wanted to enjoy my day with my family. I wanted to enjoy a workout instead of feeling like I had to push harder to punish my body for an extra handful of cashews I’d had the day before. I wanted to feel proud of the fact that I ran a 5k that morning with my family and felt faster and stronger than I had the last time I had run. I realized that in all the things worth caring about in my life – my weight was not one of them. So I decided to not care anymore.
Not caring about my weight does not mean that I have stopped caring about my health, it actually means I care a little more. It does not mean that I eat nothing but fast food and I don’t exercise. It doesn’t mean that I continue to binge eat night after night followed by a tight restriction of calories.
Instead, not caring means that I value myself too much to care about something that actually holds very little value in my life.
For a lot of people, weight is something they have to pay attention to. If they’re trying to lose weight for health reasons, then it’s important to monitor it. If they have a condition with their heart that causes them to retain fluids, weight is a huge indicator of what’s going on with their condition and when to take action.
But for me, my weight was a prison sentence. It held me to unnecessary and unrealistic expectations about happiness. For me, my weight doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. It’s not an indicator of my health, it’s not an indicator of my heart or the type of person I strive to be. It’s not an indicator of how far or fast I can run, or how heavy I can back squat. It’s not even a good indicator of the size of clothing that I wear.
It’s a number that fluctuates based on multiple factors; many of which are out of my control.
Because I personally live a physically healthy lifestyle. I go to CrossFit, and I run, and I eat clean 90% of the time. But none of those things ever mattered if the scale didn’t reflect back a number that I wanted to see.
I would like to say that I am completely 100% mentally healed from my struggles with food, but that would be a lie. There are still days where I make horrible eating decisions and then feel those all too familiar feelings of guilt. There are still days where I feel I need to run an extra mile to offset the calories consumed the day before. But I’m working on those things. For as many of those bad days as I have, I am finding I have more good days. Good in that I know there is balance to what I am doing; that I can enjoy french fries AND exercise, and that exercising is not a direct correlation to how many calories I consumed but rather a healthy practice that I’ve grown to love because it’s good for my body; not a punishment for “bad” decisions.
Maybe not a fair comparison of photos, but that just means *cough* Chad, it’s time for another beach vacation. The picture on the far left is me at 124 pounds; 10 months postpartum and the smallest weight I can remember being since middle school. The middle picture is me at 130 pounds, and the photo on the far right is me at 138 pounds. I felt “fat” when all three of these photos were taken; the one on the far right especially. Not even fully grasping the concept of all the muscle I had put on since starting CrossFit. I wear the exact same size in clothing at all three of these weights. It just goes to show that those numbers on the scale represent absolutely nothing.
Natasha Funderburk is a wife, #boymom, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutrition Consultant, and ACE-Behavior Change Specialist. When not watching her son play baseball, she can be found on various writing platforms, coaching her clients to live their best lives, drinking all the coffee, and conducting living-room dance parties.