In 1982, at the ripe young age of 11, I was introduced to “the scale”. My mom had battled with her own weight, and continued to for the rest of her life, but had become a Weight Watchers leader when I was a kid.
So I think she was overly sensitive to seeing my portly prepubescent being and concerned that I was going to go down the same road she had, and hoped to nip it in the bud early. So she signed me up for TOPS–Taking Off Pounds Sensibly, which met in a downtown basement. It was me and 8 middle aged women, and was member run with little or no expense. Everyone put change into a kitty when you got there, and whoever lost the most that day, got to take the money as their reward. The focus was on writing down everything you ate and counting calories and assuring each other that write it down or not–“someone” is always watching. Each week, before we left, we recited the TOPS pledge:
I am an intelligent person.
I will control my emotions,
not let my emotions control me.
Every time I am tempted to use food to satisfy my frustrated desires,
build up my injured ego or dull my senses,
I will remember—
I Will Take Off Pounds Sensibly.
I’m trying to imagine making my current 11 year old say this weekly without worrying that I was going to ruin him for life. I don’t think that’s possible.
The ladies were lovely, if not weird seeming to my 11 year old self. It wasn’t “scary” except for the basement part. They had little conventions that I went to, which actually were pretty fun.
But all in all, it ruined me.
I remember going to E.T. with my cousins and I couldn’t order popcorn since that wasn’t on my plan and all I can remember of the movie, to this day, is hearing everyone chomping on popcorn, it was deafening to me.
I went to so many birthday parties where I had to pass on the cake and ice cream and left so sad.
I went from not noticing food, to calculating it’s weight and shaming myself for eating too much of it.
My mom sliced bread lengthwise to make sandwiches. We put Sprinkle Sweet in everything instead of sugar. I ate my weight in cottage cheese and canned pineapple.
So what did I do? I started to eat when no one was looking. A lot. And then I’d eat nothing for the days prior to weigh in. I learned early the tricks of wearing the lightest outfit possible, avoiding water for 24 hours, not eating the day of, etc.
The scale was my enemy and my best friend.
I have dreaded it like the plague some weeks, and others I needed it so badly to validate all of my efforts and sacrifices.
I learned far too early that food was bad and so was I when I ate it.
I was praised when I was losing and ignored when I was gaining.
I worked with Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, fad diets, nutritionists and bariatric physicians through the years–I have either been losing or gaining. Maintaining has never been my jam.
And the one constant was/is the scale.
I’ve gone through phases, where I hide it. Others when I use it every morning–because no one should weigh themselves in the evening! But it’s always there.
I’ve tried to focus on the “non scale” victories, but those never validate or punish me like the scale.
It really is like a very bad relationship that you know you need to extract yourself from, but you just can’t. You always go back.
I’m the first one who would tell you to pitch that thing out the window. You don’t need validation from anyone but yourself, but it’s really hard to change that thinking. And the scale is so easy to just step on to gauge how “good” you are or are not.
But I do have a prepubescent 11 year old, and I totally understand the fears that my own mother had. But I have been committed to taking a different approach since the day I became a mom. And the success of that approach comes from me leading by example.
And even before eating whole foods and being a “fit family”, comes my need to break the cycle and relationship with the scale.
At least until the next time I do to the doctor. Why are they so obsessed with my weight and the first day of my last period?!?! I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning! I digress…
So remember that scale? It’s just an appliance. I’m taking away its power. And giving it back to me.
And in the end, am giving it to my children.