Just Numbers

Here we are. The beginning of 2018. This is an exciting time for a lot of people as they plan for their next adventure, set personal/professional goals for the new year, and celebrate with friends and family.

For those struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder/body image issues, this time can bring a lot of anxiety, stress and fear. The goals that people set in the new year often involve some sort of weight loss or body changing goal, something that those in recovery or still struggling can find very difficult.

Unlike a party where alcohol can be avoided or a gym where numbers can be dodged, if you’re careful enough, it seems like you’re just surrounded by weight loss and body changing resolutions. We see it everywhere. Even in my office, there’s a weight loss competition among my team. The company doesn’t sponsor it, but there are several team members who participate together, constantly talking about their diets, weighing each other every week in the break room, paying money if they gain weight, and ultimately winning money if they have lost the most weight by the end of the competition. One year I watched a woman guzzle water and eat only one meal a day in order to win. There’s no self-care involved, no meal plans for eating appropriately for your body, no commitments that one would make if truly changing their lifestyle for the better. And that’s where the problem comes in. There is no focus on health—just numbers. One of the first things you learn in recovery is that numbers are just that: numbers. Your health, your body, your wellness, your sanity, your WORTH—none of that is defined by numbers on tags, on scales, on nutrition labels or on your Fitbit.

And how do I know? It took a long time for me to acknowledge that. Sometimes I still struggle, but, yesterday after my workout, I took off my wraps (I was boxing) and I looked at my watch and it hit me just how much the numbers don’t matter. By the end of those rounds, I was spent. I was physically drained. That being said, my watch showed I only burned X amount of calories. At first I was upset, but then I realized that what everyone had been telling me all along was true: these were just numbers.

During my workouts I wear an Apple watch, but my hands are wrapped. I can’t see any of the numbers, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to wear it. This works for me because I am forced to listen to my body while I’m working, but I’m able to see the intensity level of my workout afterward. Due to my recovery meal plan, everything functions in exchanges per meal, so I don’t know the calories I’m consuming, making the number on the watch irrelevant in that area. Even so, I did feel disappointment when I saw that number on my watch the other day. And then it hit me. This is what everyone is talking about. This is why these are “just numbers.” My body was done. I knew my body was done because it was getting harder to throw punches with technique rather than just flailing my arms. I had hit my max for that day. And, in spite of the fact that I was physically spent, if I was going solely off numbers, I would have kept going.

I used to be one of “those people.” I used to track every single calorie I consumed. I can still look at certain foods and thoughtlessly list off how many calories are in them. I’d take that number, head to the gym and aim to double it. There were times I nearly passed out, but if I didn’t walk away with the number of calories I consumed in a day doubled in what I burned in my workout, I considered it (and myself) a failure. Because that’s what this whole diet culture tells us, isn’t it? That if we don’t follow a certain diet, if we aren’t committing to losing weight in the new year, if we aren’t trying to do something to change our body, then we’re not doing it right. And if you don’t make those goals? You failed. You gave up. You couldn’t do it. Forget the fact you set unrealistic expectations for yourself; if you fail to meet them, it is 100% your fault.

Here’s the reality: life wasn’t meant to be lived this way. Life wasn’t meant to be spent chasing a number on a scale or the perfect waist-to-hip ratio. Maybe the problem isn’t that we failed, but that we’re taught that if we don’t do these things, we somehow don’t measure up. That if we aren’t counting calories, cutting out foods, pushing ourselves to extremes at the gym, or measuring ourselves to others, our worth is somehow less. We’re brought up with this idea that we aren’t enough as we are, but that we have to be chasing these unrealistic goals that society sets as to what is “hot” at the moment.

And, I’ll say it again: those goals you’re looking to reach? Those are just numbers. The numbers don’t tell you if you’re healthy. The numbers don’t tell you whether or not someone is going to like you. The numbers do not determine what you are capable of. The numbers do not measure your value as a person.

Truth is, you get to write the story. You get to decide your priorities in your life. Are you chasing numbers or are you going to learn to listen to your body? Are you chasing a goal that you know will never be enough or are you going to work to embrace yourself as you are? Are you going to choose to surround yourself with people who are seeking dangerous goals themselves or are you going to surround yourself with those reaching for living in health and balance? Are you going to continue to let the world tell you how you “should” be feeling/looking or are you going to dare to be yourself and live your best life? Because ultimately that’s what you deserve: to live your best life. You are enough. You always have been. You always will be.

Welcome to 2018. Let’s do this.