Good morning and welcome to this week’s edition of Thinking Out Loud, courtesy of Amanda at Running With Spoons! A doctor’s appointment that I had yesterday gave me some good things to think on, so this week’s post will be a bit more focused than usual, as well as a bit more lengthy. Get a mug of tea and some reading glasses if you need ’em, folks!
Yesterday, for the first time in several months, I had a check-up appointment with my doctor. As the appointment approached, I found myself becoming anxious. The closer the appointment got, the more apparent it became that I was anxious about one thing: my weight.
Since I started gaining weight in adolescence, I have dreaded going to the doctor. I knew that I would feel like a failure when I stepped on that daunting metal scale. The number was never as low as I thought it should be, and it was almost always higher than I hoped it would be. My anxiety around scales has followed me since those early days, when being weighed and feelings of shame began to correlate in my mind. Before beginning my diet (or descent into anorexia, if you will) I hardly weighed myself because I so dreaded the shame of knowing the number. But when I started actively trying to lose weight, the number on the scale became all-important. My college gym had an old-fashioned scale, and each time I got to move those silver weights a little bit further to the left, I felt proud. I was finally doing what I and everybody else had always wanted me to do. I was a success.
In those first months of my diet, I weighed myself about once a week. Gradually, though, things shifted. I weighed myself once a day. Then twice a day, before and after workouts. I toted my scale with me to camp last summer and used it each morning before my campers were awake, sliding it secretively under my bed when I was finished and hoping that the impressionable girls in my cabin hadn’t seen me. Although my weighing routines were significant and stressful to me, nothing paralleled the anxiety I felt when weighed by a medical professional. Even at my very sickest, I felt the need to apologize if I saw that I had gained weight when a doctor weighed me. The flood of shame made me feel the need to assure them that I could lose weight again, that I was wearing heavy clothes, that I ate a big breakfast, that I was retaining water, that I wouldn’t disappoint them by gaining “too much” weight. I desperately wanted to be a weight-loss success story, and I clung to that above all else.
In recovery, I have managed to significantly decrease the frequency at which I weigh myself and weighing myself is not nearly as anxiety-provoking as it once was. But for some reason, being weighed at the doctor’s office is still shame-inducing. I still feel like I am disappointing others when I step on that scale. I still feel the need to assure my doctor that I won’t be a failure again, that I can keep the weight off this time. It has taken me a long time to get here, but I see now that those thoughts are purely disordered. They arise from the belief that gaining weight is always a sign of my personal failure and weakness, a belief that is ingrained in my mind quite deeply.
Yesterday, I decided to take charge of my doctor’s appointment. I spent the week leading up to the appointment ruminating over how knowing my weight could ruin my day. What if it was higher? I would feel the need to apologize. What if it was lower? Honestly, part of me would feel a little bit successful. “See, doctors? I can still lose weight,” my brain would say. I knew that I didn’t want either of those scenarios to play out. While I would love to be in a place where I can see the number on the scale at a doctor’s office and not think about it, I’m not there yet. So, I decided not to look at my weight. It felt very foreign, but I simply said to the nurse, “I’m going to face the other way on the scale and I don’t want to know my weight today.” Hurdle one: complete. When the doctor came in, I said, “I’m weighing myself less frequently and I would rather not know my weight unless you see a number that is alarming or worrisome.” That was all it took. Those two little sentences transformed my appointment.
And do you know what my doctor did? She did not say that I was a failure for gaining weight or congratulate me on losing weight. She did not warn me against gaining too much weight. She smiled at me, gave me a hug, and said, “That’s great. You should feel really good about the work you’ve done.” For the first time in years, my appointment was not about my weight at all. It was wonderful. It was liberating and empowering. I didn’t have the dreaded shame cloud hanging over my head for the rest of the day. I did have to get two shots which resulted in sore arms, but I will take them over misplaced shame any day of the week.
For me, a big part of recovery has been trying to take charge of my own life. Deciding to move home to work on recovery last fall, setting boundaries with others, and choosing to move to Chicago have all been signs of me discovering myself and owning that person for who she is. The fact of the matter is, I am not a weight loss success story. And, frankly, I’m glad that I’m not. I have gained so much insight into myself in the last year that I would not trade for the approval of a society that sees weight loss at any cost as a success. Leaving the doctor’s office yesterday, I did not feel ashamed, but proud of how far I have come and excited for the person I am becoming. That person has more important things to worry about than her weight, because she has more important things to do than dwell on a number. She has goals to accomplish. She has a life to live.