Ali Booth, LCSW & Melissa H. Smith, PhD, CEDS
“If only I was thinner.” As therapists working in the area of eating concerns, we cannot tell you how often we’ve heard this magical thought. Why is it that all answers to life’s complexities can be answered with the number on the scale? If the number on the scale goes up, it’s automatically a bad day, but if the number goes down then it’s a great day.
Why do we give so much power to the scale? As women, most of us are striving for peace and happiness and yet we rely on things that guarantee we will never have peace of mind. Reliance on the scale or our clothing size as measures of worth are perfect ways to become obsessed and miserable—the opposite of happiness.
When we hear magical thinking that equates weight loss to bliss, we want to cry out “Stop it!” If your life is dictated by the scale, you will never find peace.
The problem with hyper-focus on the scale is that you lose focus on other aspects of your identity that really matter. When you are obsessed with losing weight, you have less time to cultivate other characteristics. You have less focus for school, for work, for family, for connection. This is how obsession starts to take root and before you know it, your thoughts are taken up by weight concerns.
What is the answer then? We wish there was just one answer, but that would be falling into the same trap that got you stuck in the first place: that weight loss equals happiness. There’s not one simple answer, but there are small ways you can begin to shift the focus back toward things that are really meaningful to you.
If you’ve noticed you have less time for friends because you “can’t” miss your workout, respect your desire to be a good friend and pick up the phone. Prioritize your friend over the workout. It doesn’t mean that you “never” exercise, it just means you are striving for balance and part of balance is making time to hang out with friends.
Make Time For Things That Really Matter
If you feel anxious about going to class because you’re convinced everyone will know you gained weight, remind yourself that you’d like to graduate someday, and school—while challenging—is a good thing and part of a worthy goal. Then throw on something comfortable and get to class.
Take The Long View
Most of us make decisions with our immediate desires in mind. If you are freaked out about weight, your decisions will support this obsession (which, incidentally, leads to more obsession). For most of us, it’s hard to take the long view, but that is exactly what you need to do in order to overcome the power of the scale.
Ask yourself “how will I feel about this decision in one year? In five years? In ten years?” Will you regret the decision? Will you feel proud of yourself and the choice you made? Don’t ask how you will feel in one minute or one hour or one day as often the best decisions are the hardest ones to ones to make in the moment.
Ask yourself “what am I basing this decision on?” If the answer is fear, you can just about guarantee yourself that you will regret the decision.
Say you have your high school reunion coming up. You would love to catch up with old (!) friends but you are so self-conscious about your weight that you consider not attending. How will you feel about this decision in a year? In five years? In ten years? Will you think “whew, it’s a good thing I didn’t attend. Dodged a bullet on that one.” Or will you be sad that you missed an opportunity to connect with people you spent a good portion of your life with? How will you feel when you hear all the great stories and updates from your friends that did attend?
If you choose not to attend because you’re self-conscious, most likely the decision is based in fear, shame, and embarrassment. These can be toxic feelings that repel happiness and connection. If you choose to attend the reunion, it may be challenging. After all just because you make a wise decision doesn’t mean your insecurities magically disappear (that would be so nice though).
So yes, attending the reunion may be challenging, but it may also be really fun as you catch up with others and challenge your obsessions. Because—you see—in that moment you’re not just choosing to attend the reunion, you are choosing to be in charge of your life. You’re choosing what matters most to you. You’re deciding that fear and shame don’t get to rule your decisions. And that is a major victory.
Don’t Delay Happiness
Too often when you are unhappy with your body, you put off doing things that bring you
joy. You tell yourself that hot yoga is only for women who look perfect in tights (where is this perfect woman?). You avoid things that
intrigue you because you’re waiting for that magic number on the scale.
But guess what? While you’re waiting for the magic number, life is happening all around you. People—big and small—are out there living full lives and having a riot. How sad that you should miss out on real living because you’re busy staring at the scale.
It’s easy to get caught up in messages that promise happiness, the air-brushed photos on Instagram, and our own feelings of inferiority. But remember, the number on the scale is no guarantee of happiness and can actually lead to quite a bit of misery. Instead, focus on meaningful connection, make time for things that really matter, take the long view when making decisions, and don’t delay happiness for some perfect day. Tomorrow is determined by our choices today. That can either be a very harsh reality or a beautiful reality. Choose that which matters most. Choose to live a full life. Choose based on your values, not your fears.