It was the Christmas pictures that did it. There was my beautiful sister, almost seven months pregnant with her first child, looking radiant standing next to me – fifty pounds (at least, I didn’t ask. I have to maintain some sanity,) heavier than her, looking like a distorted, bloated version of myself. What struck me the most wasn’t how heavy I was; it’s not like I hadn’t realized my pants were getting too tight and I got out of breath trying to put my boots on. I knew I’d put on a considerable amount of weight. But what struck me the most was how unhappy I looked. I didn’t look like me. The me I knew was happy, she wasn’t this puffy person desperately trying to smile.
Once I had untagged myself from all of those unflattering pictures, I made a decision. I didn’t want to be that person. I did not want to be the person that did not want her picture taken. I wanted my as-yet-unborn niece to have photos of her aunt that loved her, not just a vague recollection of a fat lady. Those pictures snapped something in me and made me question what else I was missing out on. I’m self-aware enough to realize if I was hiding out from the camera, I was hiding out from other things as well. What else was I letting pass me by?
So I made some big changes. I cut out the carbs and sugar, switched my six or seven Diet Cokes a day for gallons of water. I quit drinking beer. (I switched to vodka and diet Sprite. I’m not a saint.) I ate vegetables. Instead of my previous late night dinners of loaded baked potato soup, mashed potatoes, or spaghetti with a half a loaf of garlic bread, I made mashed cauliflower with chicken. I made smoothies with spinach every morning, despite my previous disdain for anyone that would do such a horrible thing to a delicious beverage. I found out I was wrong. They were delicious.
And I started running. I had quit smoking almost a year prior but still had the smoker mentality that went something along the lines of, “If I am running, you better start, because there someone behind me with a murderous weapon.” I had never run. Ever. I always got a C in gym class because I would never run the whole mile. But I found this Couch to 5K program that boasted it would enable me to run a 5K within nine weeks. I didn’t believe it for a second after the first day, when I damn near passed out after running for sixty seconds. I signed up for one anyway.
The biggest thing I did, however, was not get on a scale. I hadn’t had one in years, and I decided that instead of weight, I was going to concentrate on this 5K. I set what I thought was a realistic goal: One, I was going to finish the program. Two, I wanted to run the whole thing and finish under 45 minutes. They weren’t lofty goals. There are people that can walk a 5K in 45 minutes. But they were my goals, and they weren’t directly related to a number on the scale.
I felt great. Each day after I completed my run, I was exhilarated. Every other day I was out there; in the bitter cold, in the snow, in the rain – I would run. I couldn’t believe it – I was doing it!!! After a couple of weeks, my clothes were fitting better. I had more energy, I was smiling a real smile again – I was happy. I was me again. Most of all, I was so damn proud of myself. I was achieving my weight loss goals like I never had before.
About eight weeks into the program, I was over at my sister’s for lunch. I went to use her bathroom and spied the scale on the floor. I couldn’t help myself. I had to see. I mean, it had been eight weeks! After all of the changes I had made, at the weight I started, I was confident I had lost at least fifteen pounds. I had done the low-carb thing before – the wrong way, with no exercise, subsisting on bacon and peanut butter – and lost eight pounds the first week. So I was, for the first time I can remember, excited about getting on the scale. I kicked off my shoes and stepped on, eagerly looking down at the number.
That can’t be right.
THAT CAN’T BE RIGHT.
It is impossible that I have only lost three pounds. After all, I’d been eating vegetables. I got off and let it reset. Clearly it was malfunctioning. I got on again.
In eight weeks, after letting nary a potato or beer cross my lips, after drinking gallons and gallons of water a day, after drinking spinach for breakfast, after increasing my endurance to being able to run a mile and a half at a stretch, after turning down Portillo’s four times, after throwing away the crust on the work-lunch Lou Malnati’s pizza, after eating all of this cauliflower – THREE POUNDS.
In short, I was devastated. All of my hard work, all of my good feels, all of my pride and energy; it was like it had never happened. According to that scale, all of my work was for basically nothing. And the next thought that crossed my mind was, “Why even bother? I might as well go back to macaroni and cheese for dinner!”
How. Stupid. Is. That?
I knew I’d lost inches. My clothes fit better, I’d been getting compliments, the foot pain I’d struggled with for the past year was non-existent. I was able to keep up when we went for a walk. I was able to run a mile and a half, for Christ’s sake. I was no longer sweating while trying to zip up my boots, in fact, I could fit my whole hand in between my leg and the top of them, whereas weeks before I could barely get them over my pants. My yoga pants were dragging on the floor even when I wore shoes. I didn’t resemble John Goodman anymore. I felt great.
Yet I was letting a number on a scale determine whether I had been successful. Somehow, none of those great things I’d been feeling mattered anymore, because the scale said they didn’t. Anyone who has ever struggled with their weight knows that the scale rules all. The scale has the final say. The scale tells you whether you are doing well or badly. And in the end, the scale will break you.
I can say with complete confidence that if I’d been weighing myself every day throughout those eight weeks, I would have quit about three weeks in. No way would I have continued the running that has made me stronger, eating food that doesn’t require a nap after consuming it, drinking water instead of pop, because the scale would have told me I was failing.
So I’m very glad that I don’t own a scale. Because if I did, I wouldn’t be wearing jeans two sizes lower than I was in January. If I owned a scale, my smile would still look stretched and forced. I wouldn’t be excited about the summer, looking for clothes and planning activities that I know I’ll be able to enjoy. If I owned a scale, I sure as hell wouldn’t have run three straight miles yesterday. I wouldn’t be looking forward to running a 5K next week – in fact, I’d be dreading it, because it would be another failure. All because of a number that means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things.
Throw away the scale. Eat well, be healthy in whatever way works for you, and be happy. Get your smile back and be proud of what you can do.
This is three pounds.