Thursday, June 14, 2012

Weighing the Consequences

At the YMCA where I do my aqua-jogging, there is a scale in the women's locker room.

I was in there the other day when a little girl hopped on it, her mother standing over her. Then the mother said, "Wow, 46 pounds! Good job!"

Seeing something like this led to something of an internal struggle for me, because in retrospect one of the best parts of my childhood was that I had no idea what I weighed. I would run around outside playing, go to dance class or soccer practice or horseback riding lessons, eat whenever I wanted and not care about the consequences. At that age, I didn't even know there were consequences.

I wasn't even aware of my weight until middle school. And then only because of the yearly school checkups and routine doctor visits. Somewhere along the line, though, in high school I picked up a habit of weighing myself every night after dessert. If I was below my "maximum," I could go eat more. Then I would "eat and repeat." I realize now how perverted it was, but I honestly thought at the time that a bagel would add .5 pounds, or a bowl of cereal 1 pound…and exercise got rid of those gains. (I realize now that it's the food weight, which goes away in the morning when I...uhh, take a dump.)

My goal was never to lose weight. Ever. I was always very strict about maintaining the weight I was at, never going above a maximum. The problem was that the weight I was at sometimes accidentally went down.

When life circumstances change, our diet changes too. I actually did gain a bit of (needed) weight the summer after my first year of college because I ate loads of ice cream every day (ughh). When I went back to college in the fall my weekdays were devoid of ice cream. I didn't modify my activities much, with the result that I lost a lot of weight. I got into, "well last week I was only xx pounds, so I can't go above that this week." I weighed myself every day trying to keep below a max that was slowly creeping downward.

I still weigh myself every day, and I'm really not sure why I feel that need. I have an odd relationship with my scale. For instance, I know it's off by about 2 pounds (on the heavy side), but that's the number I use anyway. I simply do not know how to process numbers on other scales because…well, they're not mine. So if my scale is wrong, why do I even care about what it says?

I now take the information it gives me and…do nothing with it. My mood used to vary with the numbers (which means I must have been pretty unstable, because during a week I could fluctuate as much as four pounds and always end up back where I started). If it's low, I need to rethink how I'm eating. If it's higher, oh well. Now I register the number, reflect, and go to bed. But I still need to see it, and I really wish that I didn't have this weird compulsion.

So I think that given a situation similar to the one (way) above, I would steer my child away from the scale. Or better yet, not even acknowledge its existence. I realize I'm biased, but let's think about it another way. When you're a kid you want to grow. So seeing the numbers go up is encouraging because it means you're getting taller and stronger. I went through a phase where I purposely ate everything in sight because I wanted to be "big." But at some point the picture warps and self-consciousness sets in and you start to think, how much is too much? And then you want the number to stay the same. And then…shouldn't it go down just a little bit?

But the problem is, if that transformation takes place too early, you're trying to maintain a weight that isn't realistic for a grown person (especially women). What if you get into the maintenance mindset while you're still growing? Sometimes I wonder if I would be taller had I never "maintained." I have always had long legs and every indication that I should be fairly tall. Yet despite the fact that her hips are several inches below mine, my sister is almost two inches taller than me. I didn't give my body the best chance to grow up.

So…what do you think? Scale or no scale? How about letting kids "mess around" on the scale when it's all fun?
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