Downplaying the Scale

By Jill Sherer

Last month, at the start of this project, I weighed 183 pounds. There. It's out in the open. 183. 183. 123. (Oops, typo.) Yep, I'm obsessed with "the number." Always have been. I'm convinced it's the true measure of my worth as a human being. Unfortunately, I, like a lot of women, have been taught to look outside myself for my self-worth, says Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., the psychologist I'm working with who specializes in body image.

So, I've spent most of my life fleeing from the scale like Harrison Ford fled from Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive. Lying about my weight on my driver's license (135). Ignoring reminders for my annual Pap smear (BAD!) because I didn't want to get weighed at the doctor's office.

Until recently. Since this column requires me to be weighed each month, I've had to get over my phobia -- fast. I'm also required to get my body fat tested monthly and take a fitness test every three months. To keep me honest, my editors designated Michael Logan, C.P.F.T., M.E.S., an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer at the Galter LifeCenter in Chicago, as "keeper" of my numbers.

When the day came to get weighed, I walked the mile very slowly from my condo to meet Michael at the LifeCenter. (1 ... 8 ... 3.) A medley of minstrel hymns and the "Peter Gunn" theme played in my head. Sure enough, Michael was there, waiting to measure my body fat and (gulp) weigh me before putting me through my first hour of strength training.

As we approached the scale, I promptly took off my shoes, socks, fanny pack, rings, hair clip and necklace. I'd have stripped down to my skivvies if there hadn't been 10 cardiac-rehab patients watching. Then, I climbed on as Michael moved the metal thingamajig to the right, the silver bar and my nerves hanging in the balance. 150. 160. 170. 180. 183.

And just like that, it was over. I was still breathing. None of the rehab patients had a coronary (even though I was dangerously close). And Michael gave me the first of what I suspect will be many lessons in my yearlong journey. "Jill, once you know what you weigh, you still don't know anything," he said, emphasizing more important (and less intimidating) gauges of fitness, like my body-fat percentage, cardiovascular fitness measure (max VO2; how efficiently I use oxygen when exercising) and how I feel. Without these, the number on the scale is meaningless.

Since then, I've come to trust that my weight is not the sole measure of my worth as a person (despite what late-night cable and the instructions for my Thighmaster tell me). The people in my life still find me as deserving of love and acceptance as my lighter counterparts.

Now that I've lost a few pounds, these things haven't changed. What has is my ability to validate the changes in my body, despite that number. I'm already stronger than I was last month. And, I'm getting adept at picking my own criteria, like exercising more and eating well, for what it takes to be strong. I now use the scale as one source of data instead of the whole story -- and as a footstool for getting closer to the light over my bathroom mirror so I can really see who I am: a woman, who recently weighed 183 pounds. And, for now, that's OK.

What helped me most

1. The food plan from my nutritionist at the Galter LifeCenter, Merle Shapera, M.S., R.D. It's based on combining 1-2 ounces of protein and complex carbohydrates five times a day to sustain my energy.

2. Dipping my fork in salad dressing, shaking it off, then spearing some lettuce, instead of pouring dressing on.

3. Varying my workouts, per my trainer Michael Logan's advice, so I don't neglect any muscle groups or get bored!

Workout schedule

*Walking, elliptical trainer and/or step aerobics: 40-60 minutes/2 times a week

*Weight training: 60 minutes/3 times a week

*Kickboxing: 60 minutes/3 times a week