Sunday, 2 August 2015

What's up with the scales?

Twice this week, I have evaded the scales. I was booked in to see the doctor at the clinic so I could be weighed and I didn't go. Then I bailed on my psychotherapy appointment, because I knew we'd have to talk about it. I did see my regular doctor - he asked me to step on the scales, and I refused. Like an errant teenager, I'm being flaky and problematic. It's so unlike me. I'm constitutionally nerdy and like rules. I dot my i's and cross my t's because that's what you're supposed to do, and I don't want to cause any trouble. So why the dogged resistance to being weighed? What does weight mean to me, and why am I avoiding it? I'm going to see if I can come up with some answers and give the little rebel in me something to think about.

The doctors need to keep a check on my weight for good reason. My weight loss had put my health in danger, and my disordered eating behaviours mean weight still needs to be monitored. They are responsible for my care. But they can't catch me. I've told them if they try and make me, I'll just run, and then jump up and down on the scales so they can't read it (yes, that's correct, I AM 42 YEARS OLD).

It's not that I don't know my weight - I do. Though I have given up daily weigh-in's, the scales still rule my world. I step on just often enough to keep it 'under control', but only when all the planets are aligned correctly. It has to be done before I have had any food or water, at least a couple days clear of a binge day, in my birthday suit and not a day directly after strenuous exercise. Once I have that sorted, I'm good to go. When I make an appointment with the doctors in advance, there is no way I can anticipate what my circumstances will be. What if I've just eaten a boat load of food by accident? What if I've timed my washing cycle poorly and have only heavy socks to wear that day? What if it rains and the drops fall on my hair and make it wet and weighty? Well, I can tell you would happen folks: the number on the scale would be *GASP* horrifically inaccurate. So far, the people at the clinic have been understanding, but I suspect they'll need me to go through with it soon.

Water. Just because.

Lack of control isn't the only thing I'm anxious about. I'm also resisting because I don't want other people to see my weight. I fear their judgement. There's no logic to my worries - doctors only require my weight as a means to help keep me safe and judgement is not part of the equation. They know better than anyone that you can't tell if someone is better of not by their weight. Still, my mind is abuzz with questions: If I weigh more, will they think I'm a fraud or a failure? Will they think I'm fat? If I'm the same weight, will they get annoyed that I'm taking so long and kick me out the door? In my mind, their judgement would be this: You've failed at anorexia, now you're failing at getting better. This is boring. You're not even sick, dumbo, so would you just hurry up and get out?. Even if I was just 200 grams heavier, I would think this, so the idea is completely repellent. Weight gain comes with a world of expectation: chin up, cheer up, get a job, get on with life. And that is terrifying because my head is a mess and I only just manage with what I have in front of me right now.

I can tell my thoughts are a bit off - I see the illness in the mental. I have attached a bunch of values to weight that don't belong, and it's keeping me stuck. Fat isn't inherently bad or good, its just a physiological substance. Age, culture and life circumstances all influence the value we attach to it. Likewise, weight is just a number. It means different things for different people and at different times of their lives.

It's no secret the values our culture has around weight. Big means bad - it's all dreary and sad and lumpy. If we can't control our weight and look a certain way, we are not acceptable, worthy of love, likely to be successful, and have less value. Slimness, on the other hand, is bright and breezy - it means laughter and fun with friends, and it's so very nice. Control over physical appearance and weight is depicted as virtuous and implies success. It's not my experience - for me, thin has been profoundly lonely and painful. I have never felt less successful. The body is temporary, and forever changing. It isn't who you are and doesn't say anything about your worth as a human, yet our culture tells us it does. The message is broadcasted relentlessly from every available outpost, and it's almost impossible not to be affected by it.

To shelter from all this false advertising, you need a really robust belief system that keeps physical appearance in perspective. Mostly, these beliefs are home grown, instilled in you from birth by your parents. Unfortunately, the things I learned about weight and size when I was growing up didn't counter balance the wider cultural message. The world of body image is a malignant soup and we're all swimming in it, so I don't blame anyone, but I do wish I'd learnt differently. What I came to understand, was that small and thin was better (not with regard to health, but for its own sake), and self deprecation was part of being a woman. Although not remotely overweight, I was the biggest build of my sisters, and super sensitive. Those messages seeped into my bones. I grew up harbouring a secret knowledge - that I was fundamentally and irrevocably wrong.

My rational, adult brain rejected these skewed body image values wholeheartedly, and that kept me healthy most of the time. But when the proverbial shit hit the fan and my rationality wasn't in charge anymore, I fell back on deeply embedded beliefs to help me operate. That belief system is flawed and now I have to go in and dislodge the bad bits and I don't know how.

I have one last fear to talk about, but unlike the others, this one is based in reality and might actually help me go through with being weighed. I felt it a little while ago, when my physical and mental health were plummeting. I got scared I wouldn't be able to care for my children, and that they might eventually be left without a mother. It motivated me to seek treatment and ultimately stay alive. This fear is the bottom line, and trumps all of the others put together. Sometimes I forget about it, and I let the bundle of anxieties that are based on untruths govern my behaviour. I need to remember.

If I am going to get to the other side of this eating disorder, I'll have to face it all eventually - the fear of loss of control, of failure, judgement and weight gain, even though it will feel absolutely terrible. Letting them weigh me would be a very small step in that direction, and it would give those problematic beliefs a quick jab in the eye.

This is what I know, now let's see if I can act on it.


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