Thursday, 23 May 2013

Scales and Weigh Ins- A Hate/Hate Relationship

 I HATE BEING weighed. I despise it. I abhor it. If it were a physical thing I would spit, stamp and defecate on it.

I resent the lump of metal and rubber that's plonked in front of me every tuesday. I hate that my therapist is never organised and ends up faffing about looking up my details and dimensions only when I'm stood on those disgusting things. After all these months can't she just remember my height? I even  tell her it every week but she still has to find it in her file for some reason. Clearly anorexics must not be trusted to remember their height, I mean, after all we are constantly reminded that 'your cognition is compromised due to your poor physical state' blah blah blah.

As I wait for her to painstakingly type in my height and what not, I become acutely aware of my own enormous weight bearing down upon the scales beneath my feet. I seem to be growing heavier by the second. I feel like stones are being tied to me, pressing me down. By the time she's finally ready I'm almost positive that all this weight is going to plunge through the scales, maybe I'll even bring down the roof of the room below. She taps the final button decisively and says 'just a second'- that just a second lasts a lifetime.

Then one of two things happen. My eyes are flitting between her face and the paper over which her pen is poised, ready to scribble beneath the list of my previous weights and BMI's. Two outcomes, never three. I don't even entertain the prospect that I have maintained weight. Never. My body has a complete incapacity to just stay the same. I either go up or I go down. My weight is a metaphor for something although I've not decided what exactly. I try so hard to make myself believe every week that I have put on weight, a lot weight, that way I hope it will lessen the crushing horror if I have. It's a tactic yet to work. I still do it every week.

I'll walk you through the two scenarios. Lets start with if I have gained.

Well perversely my therapist will smile. As I see her do this I let out an internal wail. Then I sometimes watch her write it down. Sometimes I cant bear to look. By then I'm analysing exactly how she smiled. Is it a big gain smile that might have a small tinge of apprehension because a very small part of her does understand this isn't going to be good for me? Or is it a more measured smile that means I have halted the drip drip loss of a few weeks? I step off the scales, which somehow are still intact. I've not crushed them with my elephantine weight. Must be steel reinforced. My primary motive is to get my big coat back on and sink into the chair, into my shame, but I need to know the facts. What's the damage? 

I used to get fucked up by any gain, however small. Then I had what you might cause aversion therapy one week when somehow I gained 1 kg. I can't describe the feelings that tore me apart. What hurts most is the fact that I never eat more than my little plan allows. Sometimes I'll eat less, but never ever more. So when I had that gain (which felt like 3 stone) I was appalled. After the shock value, the panic does have a foundation. My biggest fear, as is most anorexics fear, is a loss of control. To gain weight without reason is a massive loss of control. The first thing that happens in my brain is a volley of 'why, why, whys?' My therapist just does not get it. I'm asking her frantically why the hell this has happened, but knowing as I do that she isn't going to have the answers. I suppose really I'm just vocalising what's in my brain, trying to get it all out like letting air out of an overfilled tyre. After that initial noisy phase I tend to lapse into silent rumination. My therapist chatters away and I retreat into my thoughts. By now I'm recalling the whole previous week, day by day, analysing what I ate. Every morsel. Firstly I see no clues, then the paranoia kicks in. There are failures everywhere. I suddenly see how sedentary I was. Why was I so lazy? This week I'll walk more again. That amaricano I had on tuesday and thursday; well now I think of it I did put in more milk than I should have done. This week it's black coffees only. And now I look back, I have drunk a lot of Pepsi Max, why didn't I keep track so I know if that pushed up my calories??.

Other people might sometimes know how distressed you get over being weighed, but what very few people understand is that the distress isn't isolated to the weigh-in alone. Nor does it even just last that day. If I have gained; the entire next week I am a control freak, constantly doubting myself, checking myself at every turn, counting and recounting, dreading the next weigh day in case it happens again. Sometimes I wonder how I'll ever get better whilst I still have to be weighed. If I am to break the cycle then is it doing me any good to be force-ably brought back to the beginning of the cycle every week by some scales and numbers? I'm not an idiot. I appreciate that to look after a recovering anorexic it seems pretty clear that you need to monitor their weight, but I do wish they could find a way to do it without causing so much anxiety to the sufferer.

So after that tirade, I need to give the other side of the coin; what happens with a loss. This will probably be shorter, don't worry!

I'll refine the whole scenario a bit. Imagine me stood there, quivering and crushing the scales. I watch her face and there's no smile. A little tip of the head, blank expression. I don't relax, instead I peer at her paper. I don't look at the weight column first, I look at the BMI. It's gone down. One day I'll explain the ludicrousness of the BMI scale; it jumps about alarmingly and sometimes seems devoid of logic. Anyway, so it's gone down. I wont dress it up to you; I'll be honest about my emotions. I feel relief. Since I've given up chasing the elusive 'maintenance' outcome, this is as close as I'll get. I relax because the week has gone to plan. I am in control. Ok it isn't great I have lost, and if it happened a few weeks in a row, yes I would get concerned. For all the relief that comes with a loss I must impress upon you that I don't chase weight loss. My stopper is the memory of the last hideous hospital experience. I never, ever want another. I am not strong enough for that. 

A lot of my hate of weigh-ins comes from my past. In the earlier periods of my eating disorder I weighed myself ritualistically, often more than twice a day. I would disappear up stairs, drag the scales out from under the bed, strip down to nothing and pray for a lower number than before. It was truly mind bending. I could look in the mirror before I hopped on the scales and sometimes I might think I looked ok; not good enough, but not too hideous. Then I'd go and do the deed and if the number had gone up I would rush back to the mirror. In the tiny space of time it had taken to walk to the scales, weigh myself and walk back the reflection had changed. It deformed itself so suddenly there were imperfections everywhere. Stubby, wide legs, untoned arms squashed against the body and a vast expanse of a shapeless stomach. A change in a digit on a piece of plastic could transform a not so terrible body into an unspeakably ugly barrel on squat legs.

It was just as dangerous when I found I'd lost weight. For the most part of the time not eating riddled me with a horrible fatigue, sapping my energy and feeling. The minute the numbers dropped I felt a spurt of energy. My mood would lift and I might even smile. Following those occasions I'd be motivated, I'd leave the dreariness behind for a bit, I'd be nice to other people, I'd joke. Unfortunately that high would soon burn out, I'd shrivel to the tired, blank, food obsessed being I was before, waiting to jump on the scales like a druggie waiting for their next hit. And like a druggie the high is never sustainable; you have to keep upping the ante. In anorexia there's no such thing as satisfaction. What is good enough yesterday is unacceptable the next. Like a singer who has a record busting success with one song or album- yes it gets everyone's attention and admiration, but now the world is watching you, waiting for your next trick- if you're going to be a true success the next release has to be just as good, if not better, than before. No anorexia is a disease of dissatisfaction.

In the end I could not face this trauma every day. By then I couldn't begin the day without a trip to the scales; I'd forgotten what it was like to have my emotions in the day ahead determined by other factors aside from my destructive morning ritual. I snapped. One day I just could not bring myself to drag the stupid things out. Without the scales I panicked, I felt out of control, I could barely dare to eat anything. I'd become so reliant on the scales to tell me how I should eat that day that I felt blind without their numbers. I can't remember how I coped, I just remember that those nasty feelings actually didn't last that long, a day or two at most. I felt like I'd escaped from an abusive relationship. I could wake up a free woman in the morning, I didn't have that platform of plastic to answer to before I made my decisions. I didn't have to ask their permission any more. They lost their power. Of course I wasn't free of problems by any means. I was still stuck in anorexia but I'd liberated myself of one element of it, and any victory, however small should be celebrated.

So imagine my absolute rage and rebellion when other people reintroduced the very thing I had spent so long trying to break free of. It was like they were shoving my right back to the abusive partner to be beaten up again. I didn't want to hear their logic. And they refused to hear mine. However, at this point I was in a position to refuse to be weighed, and I damn well did. I refused until I was very ill, by then it had become unavoidable. I harboured a half hope that I had made myself more resilient, that I wouldn't get caught up in the cycle again. But after a few occasions of weigh ins I'd visited Wilko's and left with a new set of the things I swore I'd never let near me again.

After a few more painful break ups I am domestically scale free again. One day a week I cant avoid them, and the other 6 days of the week they hover around in my mind. I struggle to see how I'll be free of anorexia whilst the professional's trying to engineer that freedom constantly corner me with weights and measures. It seems an confusing paradox. Let me know if you find the key to solving it, k?


  1. Katie I can relate to this so much
    Being weighed is the most thrilling and terrifying thing
    You would think that after years of being weighed by the professionals that it would get easier
    But if anything it gets harder

    For the first few years of my illness I was oblivious to my weight
    I didn't weigh myself and didn't want to
    It was only when doctors started weighing me that I began to take notice
    The number seemed important to them so it became important to me

    When I was in IP, life revolved around being weighed
    They said it wasn't about the weight but really it was
    I became so hung up on my weight that once I reached a certain number I couldn't go any further

    Having had a relapse recently I have started weighing myself every day
    That number dictates my mood for the day, my self worth and self esteem
    I hate that it does but it does
    I would rather not know the number and yet I have to know
    And it's never enough
    It's never good enough

    I hope you can continue to live scale free
    I hope I can too x

  2. Ah ruby it's such a vicious cycle isn't it! I too have had the same bench mark in IP settings. I found the lowest possible BMI i could go at and refused to go higher. Now that is stuck in my head and I'm convinced I'd feel seriously like doing something dangerous if i went even a little bit above. It scares me.
    I'm meant to be 'in recovery' yet a lot of the time I feel so out of control and can't believe how much bigger I am than before last time i went IP.
    I hope you find the strength to break from the scales, try and imagine the freedom of not having to answer to them and their stupid numbers every day

  3. "I have lost, and if it happened a few weeks in a row, yes I would get concerned. For all the relief that comes with a loss I must impress upon you that I don't chase weight loss............"

    I get this....It's also a head f*ck when a few little drips of loss are turned back in the 'right' upwards direction - it makes it 10x hard to swallow. I also get stressed if I can remember my exact weight each week. I don't write it down any more - then the whole talk about the 'trends' and things comes in - Sometimes I think it's healthy for my to KNOW it's not going up quickly. but other times I long for the last '10' number again - and the pride of it not being a sharp upward trend too. Like you - I don't chase weight loss but I've been too keen on 'it making life a little easier if it happens' - I've just moved to monthly weigh-in and this is a big step for my recovery and a move from 5 x daily when I was ill, to twice weekly in recovery, to once a week and now 4 weekly -gradually stepping off the scales...!!
    I guess weight and BMI are a marker for professionals and I know lots of people who work on 'blind' weigh in's the further in to recovery they get - and I will move to this one day - xx