The other day, I had a meeting with a client who is a former college athlete in ‘active recovery’ from her eating disorder and RED-S. She was explaining how, at a recent routine doctor’s appointment, she was prompted to step on a scale en-route to the exam room. Standard, right? Well, without hesitation she turned around backwards so as to not see the number on the scale. She has worked so hard to accept her body and live in it, regardless of her weight, shape or size and she knew seeing the number would be triggering. She was really proud of herself for taking this proactive step in maintaining her recovery and it got me thinking…
As a patient navigating the medical system, it can be really hard to initiate our own intervention (i.e. stepping on the scale backwards), even when we know how important it is for our mental health. For someone with a complicated and nuanced relationship with food and body, the number on the scale can feel like it defines us. If the number is low then we are doing a "good job" and if the number is high it can feel like an existential crisis. For many, a weight is much more than a number - it's a measure of our self worth, or lack thereof.
As a therapist who has worked with many athletes and their complicated relationship with food, body, and performance I know how overly simplistic and unsustainable using weight as the primary measure of health truly is. I have seen too many relationships with sport crumble on this toxic pressure and it's tragic in so many ways.
If this resonates with you, here are some tangible recommendations regarding the scales:
- If you define your self worth by a numbers, it might be time to get rid of the scale. There are many awesome and non-weight-related aspects of our training that we can focus on to make improvements in our sport. Examples are speed, specific strength, mobility, mental fortitude, and team dynamics. The list goes on and on.
- If you are an athlete who finds seeing your weight triggering, try stepping backwards on the scale backwards for yourself! Please know that you do not have to explain yourself if you don't want too.
- As a heads up, your weight may be included on blood results, etc. If you receive medical records in via mail or email, it might be helpful to have a trusted friend or family member open them for you
- If you are an athlete who is experiencing a troubled relationship with food and your body, it might be a good idea to find a licensed therapist or recovery coach who is specialises in the area of food & body. However, conduct your research carefully as (unfortunately) diet culture permeates "experts" in the field as well. (More on this soon!)
Finally, if you are a health practitioner, please consider asking every patient if they would like to stand facing, or stand facing away from the scale. By normalising this choice it makes it easy for those suffering from disordered and unhealthy food/body relationships to choose a recovery practice over a disordered practice. This small step can save a LOT of suffering!