About eight years ago, I gave up weighing myself. I was, at that time, very fat. I was in the grip of an eating disorder – addicted to eating in general and to certain foods in particular. I didn’t know this when I threw out the scales though. I just knew that I was sick of beating myself up for being fat. I had done that for years and it hadn’t made anything any better. It certainly hadn’t helped me lose weight; I just kept getting fatter. Worrying about my weight just seemed to make me more miserable, even when I was doing my best to be healthy. At that time, my best was limited, not least because I had serious mental health issues that were largely unaddressed, but I was nonetheless doing my best. I genuinely couldn’t do any more or any better. And here’s the thing: It was enough. Just enough, but still enough. I survived. I’m here to tell the tale. The small little actions, the tiny first steps were enough to get me moving in a happier direction. One of these steps was throwing out the scales. Since that small start, I have lost a lot of weight. In clothes sizes, I’ve gone from a 32 to a 16, so I … suppose I’m about half the size I was? (Seriously
though, I doubt clothes sizes are anywhere near that logical or consistent.)
The standard way to tell this story is to valourise the new, thinner me and to show a kind of contemptuous pity for the old, fatter me. But I don’t see it that way. After all, I took the first, scariest steps when I was still very fat. It was size 32 me that had the guts to walk into the university rec centre and start learning how to lift weights surrounded by sporty-looking undergraduates. It was size 32 me who had to open up to others about how I was eating even though a huge part of me really believed I could not cope with the pain of living without excess food to comfort me. I was then and I am now a brave, strong and hardworking person. That has not changed. I didn’t become brave, strong or hardworking because I got thinner; instead, I got healthier because I already was those things, and I got thinner as a side effect of getting healthier.
This is not to say that everyone who is brave, strong and hardworking will be slim or lose weight. I believe I was what you might call ‘artificially’ fat because of my compulsive overeating. That means I’m quite different from those people who seem to be naturally fat, people who just happen to be bigger but whose eating is not disordered, and who are not depressed, unhealthy or miserable. In any case, whatever the reason for their size, fat people are as brave, strong and hardworking as anyone else. Character has nothing to do with weight one way or the other. I’m not saying I lost weight because of some kind of moral superiority. My point is that, in recovering from my eating disorder, I had to draw on character traits I already had, not just develop new ones. To put it another way, I had to start from where I was. And I had to start with respect and love for myself. Self-loathing and beating myself up had got me nowhere. Obsessively tracking my weight had kept me in the insane cycle of trying to diet, failing, gaining weight and hating myself more and more.
We’re taught that ‘the scales don’t lie.’ Of course they don’t. They’re inanimate objects. But they only give us a very small piece of the truth. After years of trying and failing to get thin, I had come to treat the number on the scale as if it were a word spoken directly to me by God, a little mystical revelation right there on the bathroom floor, a precious insight into who I really was and whether or not I deserved to exist. I peered at the number like diviners poring over entrails or fortune tellers over tea leaves. But no matter how hard I looked, there really is only so much information I could get from a weighing scales. Scales just tell you (roughly) how much mass is in a thing. (Strictly speaking, pounds, stones and kilos aren’t measurements of weight. They’re measurements of mass, which is not the same thing at all.) Think about that old riddle: Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? The answer (sorry, Limmy) is neither; a pound is a pound. It’s counterintuitive, because we know lead is much, much denser than feathers. But the weight or mass of something doesn’t say anything about its composition, its structure or its density. This is true of simple physical things like feathers and lead; it is even more profoundly true of human beings.
So I don’t worry too much about the scales and what they might have to say about me. And I don’t do ‘before and after’. I try, as best I can, to love, respect and nurture the person I was, the person I am and the person I will continue to be, regardless of my size. And I respect the hell out of any fat person going into the gym for the first time, or any eating disorder sufferer of any size who is ready to face up to the reality of their food behaviours. That takes courage no scale can weigh.