Updated: Jul 22, 2021
[Listen to an audio version of this blog HERE.]
My dietitian usually weighs me each time I see her, which is every two weeks. Now, because of COVID-19, our sessions are remote. When I started seeing her, she proposed overcoming the fear of the scale. My initial response was, "Yeah, no thank you." But, as my dietitian put it, by consistently weighing myself, breaking any myths I've held onto about weight, and realizing that no, I won't gain 5 pounds from eating a brownie, I essentially take back control of my brain and body. I didn't weigh myself for years and my weight remained relatively unchanged. That alone is enough to tell me I don't need to weigh myself. But avoiding scales indefinitely also seems like a behavior rooted in fear and that is not appealing, either.
I didn't have a functioning scale, so I decided to invest in one. After a few minutes of *half-assed* online research, I settled on this scale, because it's affordable and quite honestly, most body analysis scales are inaccurate anyway.
I weigh 152 pounds, which renders me on the cusp of "overweight" according to the BMI (Body Mass Index). My body fat percentage, however, consistently rests between 19-22%, according to my scale (which may or may not be accurate). What is important though, is the consistency of the numbers. Body fat percentage actually tells a better story about body composition than weight itself. For women, "essential fat" is considered 10-13 percent of total body mass. Athletes/fitness is between 14-24, and an "acceptable" amount of body fat is up to 31%. According to most body fat percentage scales, I'm healthily within whatever range is...whatever.
Another, perhaps easier, way to measure body composition and health is through waist measurements. The all-knowing Web MD states that, for men, waists should be 40 inches or less. For women, waists should measure 35 inches or less. (In case you've been living in a cage, your waist is measured right above your hip bone, or around your belly button. It should be the same spot, unless you're an alien.)
As someone with a (very public) history of disordered eating, you may be wondering why I chose to buy a scale, or weigh myself at all. I did so for the following reasons:
1. By confronting the thing that scares me (the scale, my self-image, my weight), I take away it's power. I have learned to approach weight with neutrality and that's a powerful feeling. My worth does not come from a number. But, it's also empowering to know how much muscle mass I carry. It makes me feel stronger and #strongisthenewskinny, or something.
2. Knowing weight is useful, especially for athletes. There is a touchy, grey area between being fixated on weight to an unhealthy degree and harnessing the appropriate tools to perform well. It is a slippery slope, and I understand this well. But body composition cannot, and should not, be left out of the conversation about athletic performance. There is ample research parsing out the dangers of athletes sustaining low body fat. Simultaneously, those with high body fat percentages increases the loads on weight-bearing bones and makes bone, joint, and tendon injuries more likely. As I've moved through Recovery, I've unlearned many unhealthy habits, but often felt like the Health At Every Size (HAES) community somehow misses the mark, too. It's okay to be healthy, or work toward living in a healthier body. Health is not neatly measured by size, but we can't act as if body composition means nothing.
3. Body composition is also a useful tool to measure health, along with other things like blood pressure, heart rate, insulin levels, blood glucose levels, cholesterol levels, etc. In the name of transparency, I've shared my latest health assessment results below.
Oral glucose tolerance test: 87 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
A reading of more than 200 mg/dL indicates diabetes. A reading between 140 and 199 mg/dL indicates prediabetes.
Triglycerides: 150 mg/dL
Less than 150(mg/dL) is considered normal. A reading between 150 to 199 mg/dL is semi-high, and a reading over 200 mg/dL is considered very high.
Total Cholesterol: 150 mg/dL
A measure of the total amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (BAD) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (GOOD). A level less than 200 mg/dL is desirable, 200-239 is borderline high, and anything over 240 is considered high.
Blood Pressure: 110/69
Blood pressure is recorded as two numbers: the first is systolic blood pressure, which indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats. The second number, diastolic blood pressure, indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats. Anything 120/80 or below is considered healthy. Read more on blood pressure from the American Heart Association.
Resting heart rate: 38 beats per minute
According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal resting heart rate for adults ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. Generally, a lower heart rate at rest implies more efficient heart function and better cardiovascular fitness, which is why a well-trained athlete might have a lower-than-normal resting heart rate.
Takeaway: health is not easily measured or defined, and weight is simply one factor of many that can be taken into consideration. I feel more empowered now than ever before, simply because the scale doesn't incite fear anymore. I consider this one of the last roadblocks in my recovery journey, and it has honestly brought me peace. If you, or anyone you know is struggling with an eating disorder or poor body image, know that you're not alone, and know that the scale is probably not your friend right now. There is endless space and time to overcome all of your fears, I promise. If you're simply trying to be healthier or lose weight, know that the scale is not your enemy either, and should not be revisited too often. Don't let it hold any power over you. It's a tool, and nothing more.
P.S. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the NEDA helpline at (800) 931-2237, find a treatment center or therapist near you HERE, or find an Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meeting near you HERE. Check out an awesome workout guide from Garage Gym Reviews here.