A number that cannot define

Walking into the little blue room. Taking off my coat/shoes/scarf. The digital scales being switched on. Heart pounding – has it gone up or down?

This was at one point a twice weekly, then weekly routine in my life. The black number that flashed up above the grey background each week, in a way, determined how my ED treated me… for a short while. If it was lower than the previous week, ‘it’ said, ‘Good work Naomi. But could have been lower. Get it down more for next week’. If it was higher than the previous week, ‘it’ said, ‘Look at you, you’ve put on so much! You’re a disgrace. Look at yourself in that mirror – you can see that extra weight on you can’t you? Sort yourself out Naomi.’

But my Anorexia journey didn’t start in the ED clinic…it started 5 – 6 months before I even knew an Eating Disorder clinic existed in Northern Ireland. Hence, my relationship with the scales did start before July 2012.

We used to be a household that just had bathroom scales sitting on the floor of our bathroom. Not because anyone was dieting or anything – they were just there. Therefore, when I started to have ‘thoughts’ about my weight/shape/size in February 2012, it seemed like the right idea to step on those bathroom scales, just to see. It wouldn’t do any harm would it?

Within a few months, I’d become obsessed. I would step on the scales practically every time I entered that bathroom. Now, I’ll admit, these scales were not in full working order, so the number read couldn’t ever be considered very reliable…but it was something to gauge what sort of weight I was – and by the looks of things, the number was going down. ‘Well done Naomi’ I would think. At this point of my journey, a) I didn’t think there was a problem at all, never mind an Eating Disorder – I always thought, ‘People with Eating Disorders don’t eat anything…I still eat each day, so there’s no chance I would have one,’ and b) I knew my weight was decreasing, but I thought that was good. I was becoming ‘healthier’ I thought. I never considered the fact that in a few months I would be pretty much forced to but the weight back on. Reality check – a) I had an ED, Anorexia Nervosa, I just didn’t know that yet…but it was, at that point, consuming me, and b) I was becoming increasingly unhealthy with every x kg I lost, and my life was about to change, whether ‘it’ liked it or not.

I remember clearly the first time I stepped on the scales at the ED clinic. I remember having my hair in a ponytail and was wearing a petrol blue oversized jumper with a blue-grey chunky scarf, an armful of beaded bracelets and dark skinny jeans which were a bit loose. The ED nurse told me to take my scarf and bracelets off because they would weigh something. She seemed suspicious, as if I was trying to make it look as if I weighed more than I did…but I was confused. To me, I didn’t think I had a problem, and just thought, ‘I weigh what I weigh, that’s fine isn’t it?’ You see, my ED hadn’t been confronted at this stage, and was almost ‘happy’ with me, because I was following ‘its’ instructions without fail. That was about to change, and neither me nor ‘it’ had a choice.

This ‘standing on the scale’ routine continued every time I walked into the ED clinic building. I was on a re-feeding meal plan at that stage, so the aim was for my weight to go up. For now, I’ll skip past the part where I eventually freaked out about the fact I was in the ‘healthy range’ a month later, and go to the part where my weight was not needing to go up or down – just maintained.

At this point, ‘it’ still had a massive grip on me, and used the number on these scales to mess with my head. Every week I was weighed, for months upon months. It was necessary at the time, to ensure I was maintaining – but as usual, ‘it’ was sneaky. The scales at the clinic were specific – every reading was XX.X kg, so you could see a fluctuation of 100 g. So, when I was meant to be maintaining, if I went up or down just 0.1 of a Kilogram, ‘it’ would count that as being ‘heavier or lighter’. Now, I had countless conversations with my dietician about how everyone fluctuates naturally and we’re not robots so cannot maintain an exact weight week by week, day by day even…but ‘it’ sort of dismissed this at the time.

I became so focussed on the number on the scales. I woke up on the morning of a ‘weigh day’ nervous, almost like butterflies in my stomach. I never wanted my weight to be higher than previous, or else ‘it’ would use that against me. I would avoid eating/drinking too close to a weight check, and really, had become obsessed with the number on the scale. If the number went up by just e.g. 500 g, ‘it’ would sometimes take control of the appointment and try to have the dietician take something out of my meal plan…I know now that that was my ED and not Naomi wanting that – but I couldn’t have told you that at the time.

I remember then one day just asking my key worker if I could stop being weighed every week because ‘it’ was messing with my head. Let me emphasise…my weight was steady and in my healthy range at this point – the weight checks weren’t really that necessary and were doing more harm than good. When I stopped being weighed, I began to become less obsessed with whatever number I weighed and see myself as more of a person than a number. I fully believe weight checks were completely necessary at the early stages of my ED recovery – but by this point, my head was the thing that needed more help…and knowing my exact weight each week wasn’t in fact helping my head.

I never thought that I would get to a stage where I wasn’t being consistently weighed, because that had become such a focus of my life – I mean, during the entire year of 2013, I was weighed every 1 – 2 weeks without fail. But honestly, not being weighed once my weight was stable has shown me that there is much more to life than what you weigh.

Every person in this world is a person and not a number – the number on the scales really cannot define us. It cannot show our personality, interests, it is just a number…as long as we are healthy, we shouldn’t be too preoccupied about that number because sometimes, especially in my experience of Anorexia Nervosa recovery, it can do more harm than good.

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