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Why I'm Seeing a Therapist for My Fear of Stepping On the Scale

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Some people fear heights. I have friends who have phobias of clowns. Others are petrified of mice. Me? I have an irrational, uncontrollable, raging fear of the scale. I panic at the thought of setting foot on one and dread seeing the numbers stare back at me. At the doctor, I either deny their request to weigh me altogether (and ignore their disapproving looks) or step on the scale backward, so I can't see the number.

They say that ignorance is bliss, so when I don't know what the scale says, I can assume that I likely weigh more than I should but there's still a glimmer that maybe it's not as bad as I think. It's my own version of "don't ask, don't tell."

I know—probably not the healthiest plan of action.

While the number on the scale isn't necessarily the only, or even best, way to determine whether I'm healthy (what's a healthy weight, anyway?), it's a lot harder to reach a weight-loss goal if you won't touch the damn scale. The thing is, I really would like to lose weight. And oh how I've tried, year after year. I've spent all kinds of time overhauling my life on fad diets and making countless visits to nutritionists and support groups. When the scale doesn't budge after all that work, it feels like I'm being punished—like the "scale gods" are out to get me and drive me mad with numbers that I can't believe are accurate.

And while the scale has its shortcomings (I'm gaining muscle, okay!), there aren't many similarly objective tools that can beat it. Let's be honest, I could always blame an ill-fitting shirt on shrinkage from the dryer.

Plus, my aversion to the scale suggests a deeper issue I need to address. Years of weigh-ins at Jenny Craig has me scarred for life. Years of doctors' appointments where braving the scale meant lectures on my climbing weight has left me feeling embarrassed and ashamed. And then there are my parents, who have extremely regimented diets and have not one but two scales on display in the dining room. They dutifully step on them every morning. I've never gotten a clear answer on why there are two and why they're in the dining room, but it's an obsession of theirs that manifested into an aversion with me. They never forced me onto the scale, but I always felt that overeating was worse than doing something really bad, like sneaking out, and the scale would blow my cover and get me in trouble. To be clear, I don't think my parents ever stood over me when I did get brave and step on the scale. But when you're inadvertently taught that scales are important, you feel like you failed at something major if the number on yours doesn't live up to the expectations.

When I step on a scale, I feel dread—like I'm about to get horrible news equivalent to losing a job or getting evicted. I've been so distraught by what I saw on the scale that I canceled plans and holed up alone—sometimes for days—as I dealt with the shame and even fear over a stupid number. I've lost count of the number of nurses at doctors' offices who've had to console me while I sobbed uncontrollably all over my paper gown.

I'm a rational person and I consider myself intelligent, so yes, I know that a scale shouldn't have this much power over me. It doesn't talk. It can't shame me. Hell, it can't even see me.

But the scale knows the truth, and it has a cold, emotionless way of telling it. The scale reveals if I've been honest with myself, or if I've let emotional eating get the best of me. It knows if I've been sneaking French fries off my daughter's plate or going back for a third, fourth, even fifth after-dinner snack. Without knowing how high the number has climbed, I don't need to deal with my issues. I can think about the highest number I'd be comfortable seeing on the scale, pretend I weigh that, and go about my day without the frustration and tears.

Now before everyone starts demanding that I get myself into therapy, don't worry, I'm already seeing a therapist. With her help, I recently had a breakthrough that I think will help me overcome this fear in 2017.

In the same breath that I complained to my therapist about my weight, I also told her about my phobia of the scale. She had a very simple answer that's slowly starting to reframe the power the scale has over me. "It's a temporary number," she said. "It's not a judgment, and it's not permanent. You have the power to change it. You're not stuck there."

Aha! The scale doesn't judge—I'm the one judging that number and allowing it to disappoint or elate me. The scale could flash 500 pounds (it doesn't), but it still wouldn't define me, or even stay that way forever if I didn't want it to. With knowledge comes the possibility of change. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great for people to accept and love their bodies at any shape or size. But the truth is that I do want that change.

It might sound cliché, but I'm finally realizing that I am not a number. Beginning to grasp that concept has started to make me feel less scared and less stressed out over the scale. The number isn't going to become tattooed onto my forehead for the world to see forever. Sure, it might upset me for a fleeting moment, but it will give me the strength and tools I need to make the changes I'm genuinely trying to make anyway.

I'll probably never go to weekly weigh-ins at Jenny Craig again or put scales in my dining room, but I'm starting to see the scale is just one tool in my weight-loss arsenal. It's not everything, but it's not the enemy either.

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