Day in and day out, I work with individuals to help them see that their weight is just a number. It’s not always reflective of their health status. It doesn’t determine their worth, value or identity. I help patients advocate for themselves with their healthcare providers when it comes to being weighed at the doctor’s office. I help them to navigate how to speak up and ask to be weighed blindly if needed. (This is when an individual is weighed backwards on a scale so as not to see the number. For some individuals in recovery from an eating disorder, seeing the number on the scale at the doctor’s office can trigger inappropriate behaviors such a restricting, purging or over exercising.)
Within the past year, I’ve decided to take the scale out of our guest bathroom. Initially I did this in order to keep the scale at my office for blind weights when needed. More recently, I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t want people entering into our home and seeing a scale on the bathroom floor as yet another reminder from diet culture that a number is the most important indicator of health. I also don’t want our children growing up with the idea that we value body weight more than character. You may be thinking that I’m extreme, but if so, I’m guessing you have never worked at a treatment center and sat with patients in the depths of depression over issues such as this. Patients who cannot stop purging or cutting because all of who they are and all of what they know is wrapped into this one number.
Do I think a bathroom scale is bad? Absolutely not! However, I want our home to be a safe place for people and I know that certain people have entered my home and if they would had seen a scale in the guest bathroom, it would have triggered an array of emotions as well as behaviors and would not feel like a safe place for them. I guess it’s similar to not wanting to serve wine to a recovering alcoholic at a dinner party. It wouldn’t be supportive or kind and it definitely wouldn’t help them to feel safe.
So this whole talking about weight, advocating for health, practicing self-care thing is what I do. I’ve made a career out of it. It’s interesting to see what happens when, sometimes as clinicians, we ourselves are triggered by being weighed. How do we cope and deal with that? To assume this never happens would be like assuming that a preacher never sins or a therapist never goes to therapy. (A lot of you are probably surprised that therapists go to therapy…umm hello, they have emotions they need to process too!)
Earlier this week a home nurse stopped by our house to do a health assessment with me for my life insurance. Oh the joys of getting older, learning the process of adulting and having to decide who gets what little assets you have when you die!
The nurse came to draw blood, take my blood pressure, record my height and weight and get a urine sample. I wasn’t worried about this. The only thing I was slightly anticipating was having my blood pressure checked, only because on my son’s due date it had been high leading to an unexpected induction followed by me compulsively checking my blood pressure at home for weeks post labor. Eventually my OBGYN had to tell me, “Stop checking your blood pressure! It’s not high! Your anxiety about having high blood pressure is what is high and that’s why you need to stop checking it!” So as you could imagine, my heart beats a little faster and my breath gets a little shorter at the sight of a blood pressure cuff!
All that to say, I wasn’t even thinking about the scale that sat on the hardwood floor beneath the dining table we were sitting at. That is until she had me step up onto it.
It is interesting to me that when I stepped up on the scale the number set with me a little bit. It caused me to pause and have some old, uninvited thoughts that I had not experienced in awhile.
We went on with the blood draw and the urine sample and then the nurse had me sign some papers before she left. Later, I sat with myself and started trying to figure out what it was I felt when I stepped on the scale. I had to get curious with myself and ask, “Why did that experience strike me with concern that my weight was a little higher than expected?” I know that this number doesn’t affect my worth or identity. I know that a small weight fluctuation doesn’t really affect my health status. I know that I am still nourishing and moving my body appropriately. I know that number is not going to affect how I care for myself. I am still getting adequate sleep. I know I am practicing healthy behaviors. It’s not going to change someone’s acceptance of me. No one even knows the number except me!
I guess it had just been awhile since I had that kind of response from stepping up on a scale. It gave me an increased sense of compassion for the patients that I work with. It can be easy to feel far removed from individuals who are dealing with these issues in their everyday lives. This experience gave me the chance to model simply being human. We are all victims of diet culture so being able to relate to patients while appropriately modeling for them how to navigate these experiences in a healthy way can be very impactful in the work that I do.
Thankfully this experience didn’t affect my quality of life or even my afternoon for that matter. But it did cause me to stop and pause and process through some of my own emotions while also considering how this helps me as a person and as a professional.
Luckily, it should be a while before another home nurse comes to visit me and take my vitals. In the meantime, I’ll continue to care for myself as I usually do with a little added appreciation for the work that I do and the people that I am able to reach by simply being human. And that’s something worth weighing in on!