The trouble with numbers





125 pounds was the weight I thought was perfect for me.

Four was the size of pants I thought I should wear.

100 was how many calories I burned in one mile of running, approximately.

1200 was the number of calories I thought I should eat in a day.

Those numbers have been seared in my brain since I was in my early twenties. 

We have relationships in every part of the fitness process - we have a relationship with exercise, with food and many of us, especially women, also have a relationship with the numbers. One time in high school a friend of mine told me that in order to know what you should weigh, just multiply your height together.

So at 5’5, I thought I should be 125 pounds. Less was okay, and at the time I weighed 115 pounds. But when I went off to college and gained a little weight, I was ok as long as it was no more than 125 pounds. 127 meant I needed to eat more salads at lunch and drink less beer on the weekends. 

This was my unwritten rule for myself. 

That is the unwritten rule for so many of us. 

This rule exploded in my face in my early thirties when I took up strength training. I was feeling stronger and enjoying the workouts but I wasn’t prepared for the scale to go in another direction. Instead of going from 130 pounds to 125, I went to 135. Then to 140. 

Intellectually I knew what was going on - I knew that muscle weighed more than fat and blah, blah, blah, science. I knew that. 

But I still could not reconcile this new number. Because the old one, as bogus as it was in its foundation (shockingly, not everything I learned in high school locker rooms was true…) was absolutely burned into my brain. 

Seeing a number on the scale that was more than my ideal weight made me feel shameful. I felt bad about myself, no matter how many people told me otherwise. 

For many of us, there are so many memories and emotions tied in with a certain weight.

Maybe it was how much you weighed on your wedding day or when you graduated from college or had some other positive time in your life. The ideal number in our head triggers positive memories or experiences. And that’s what we want.

For many others, there is a goal weight in mind - those who have struggled with weight all of their lives might have a number in mind as an end to the journey. 

Once I hit this weight….fill in the blank.

Once I hit this weight I’ll be happy? Coach Josh wrote a great post on that recently. Once I hit this weight I can stop going to the gym seven times a week. Once I hit this weight….

And it’s not enough to intellectually understand that it’s ok if your weight goes up when your muscle mass goes up and your body fat goes down. Because sometimes you can tell yourself over and over again that it’s ok, but you never really buy what you’re trying to sell yourself. 

Developing a relationship with your body that doesn’t have numbers is ideal, but most of us struggle to do that. Numbers, after all, are part of what gives us feedback on our fitness and nutrition choices and can sometimes help us stay on track. 

But if we can pay attention to our feelings around this type of thinking, we can begin to find ways to change this type of thinking. 

Even if it’s only a little bit at a time.