On this week’s episode, we explore the topic of numbers in diet culture in the world around us. This episode discusses the types of numbers that are often used to measure our worth (whether you realize it or not), why this is problematic, and then we will finish with some helpful tips
Today, our world is inundated with emphasis on numbers. There’s the focus on number of followers on Instagram and Twitter and the number of “likes” on each of your posts. I remember seeing a news story a few years back from when I was in graduate school interviewing teens with Instagram accounts and the impact on them. I distinctly remember one girl saying that if she didn’t get at least 100 “likes” on a photo that she would immediately delete it because “that’s just embarrassing.” To be honest, until that point, I hadn’t really thought so much about the number of “likes” I was getting on the pictures I posted with my friends out on a Friday night. But after that? Yeah. I remember thinking “ohh wait, am I supposed to feel embarrassed that I got 12 likes?!” Even from time to time now on my own Instagram feed for my business, if a post isn’t gaining as much traction as other posts—I question myself.
So there’s this whole world of worth being found in the numbers on our social media feeds. But what about other aspects of our lives? From an early age, we learn about the number on the scale. Do you guys remember being weighed in gym class? I remember in middle school gym class, we would have to line up outside the nurse’s office, take off our shoes, and step on the scale. While I’m sure they tried to make it private, there was still always a door wide open with a whole line of girls waiting their turn outside. And if I could clearly hear the weight of the classmate ahead of me, then I’m assuming the girls behind me could hear the number when it was my turn as well. We’d get a handout with the number of pounds we weighed, along with our BMI. And I don’t know if the experience was different for other girls in my class—I do have privilege in
that I’ve always been in a straight sized body—but even so, I remember getting positive reinforcement that my weight was “acceptable”. And that was just another number on the list of ways I measured my worth. Depending on your experience in school, you might also currently be or have in the past, measuring your worth based on your ability to achieve high grades.
So BMI and weight became another number to add to the list. And the thing is is that our worth being found in our size is CONSTANTLY being reinforced by the world we live in.
It’s problematic for a number of reasons:
- It’s probably impacting the way you are living your life. Have you ever found yourself in a trap of weighing yourself? I know I’ve been there. There was a point in my life when I weighed myself every single day as soon as I jumped out of bed. And you know what? There was never a day where it was “good enough.” It would dictate the rest of my day. If it was lower, “cool, but I bet it could be lower”—said my inner critic. Or if it was higher “umm yeah, there’s no way I would allow myself to eat as much that day.” Have you ever been in that same shame cycle? You NEVER win!
- Not only is it impacting the way you live your life, but it’s also making your self-esteem plummet. With weather warming up where I live, it’s the time of year where I can start pulling out some of my warmer weather clothes. But let’s say my shorts are more snug this year than they were last year. While our bodies are not machines that are meant to be the same size, this can easily cause a person to feel terrible about themselves. God forbid we size up and feel more comfortable! No, what typically happens is that we hang out to that smaller pant size as our “goal” pants that we have to get back into. And if your body is no longer meant to be that size, how are you supposed to then feel about yourself.
So how can we start shifting our perspective?
- Now if you’re skeptical of the Health at Every Size® paradigm, you might be thinking “But what about the “obesity epidemic, Amanda? I can’t afford to not worry about my weight.” I get it. That’s what was preached during my entire undergraduate and graduate school education. But let’s first take a look at BMI. Have you ever thought about what BMI actually is? BMI was actually first created in the 1800’s by a mathematician and statistician who needed a tool for statistically drawing conclusions about populations in society. It was NEVER intended to be what we seeing it used as today—a tool for the medical field to place you in a category like “underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese.” Yet that’s what we see it used for. Plus, there are many studies that show about how weight stigma—which is often perpetuated by the medical world—is an independent health risk factor (controlled for health). So we have this world that shames people in diverse bodies, yet is further contributing to health problems and making people less likely to seek care. (And trust me, weight stigma deserves its own other episode from a guest who is even more knowledgeable than myself!)
- Weight is influenced by a number of factors. Part of the reason that weighing yourself is problematic is because it is normal for weight to fluctuate. Weight is influenced by hydration status, phase of the menstrual cycle, medications, hormones, and (probably most importantly) In fact, there have been studies in the past which indicate that genetics play a significant role in determining body weight and adiposity as shown in twins who have been raised in different environments from birth (1, 2). In addition, our bodies have a set-point range in which our bodies like to operate. This means that our bodies have a “happy weight” that they like to stay at through a feedback control mechanism (3).
- Weight does not tell the whole story. Just as weight is influenced by many factors, it also doesn’t tell you the whole story about your body composition. The number on the scale does not tell you your muscle mass. It does not tell you your bone size. It does not tell you your waist circumference. It does not tell you your blood pressure. It does not tell you your lab values. It does not tell you your strength. Need I go on? We place a lot of value on a number that tells us a whole lot of nothing.
- Weight does not make you more or less valuable. One of things I hate most about society is how we are promised some kind of miraculously perfect life…if only we lose weight. We see this all the time. People promoting a weight loss program paint a grim picture of what your life currently looks like. They always show people loafing around with dissatisfaction for life. Then, Voila! Somehow all of your problems have vanished. You are promised more energy, sex appeal, and enjoyment in life from doing xyz plan. However, I can tell you that any problem you are currently experiencing in life likely has very little to do with a number that flashes across the scale when you wake up in the morning. That number does not tell you anything about who you are as a person. It doesn’t tell you what your passions are in life or the good you are bringing to the world.
You deserve a place in this world no matter what size you are. No matter how many followers you have on Instagram. No matter your pant size. No matter how many friends you have. You deserve to be treated fairly, kindly, and with empathy just for being alive.
Demi Lovato summed up nicely her battle with the scale and her eating disorder by stating this in an interview on supermodel, Ashley Graham’s podcast: “I’m not willing to destroy my mental health to look a certain way anymore.” Please know you are worth more than your appearance and any number and you don’t have to destroy your mental health either.