Far too often I’ve heard the phrase ‘oh I just need to lose a few kilos’. I’ve certainly thought it enough times myself, especially after stepping on the scales. A shockingly large percentage of people are concerned about their body size, thinking they need to slim down or tone some body part. We measure our weight against some abstract goal, typically a few kilograms lower than the current number, and are inevitably unsatisfied with our current size.
This develops into a silly regular cycle I’ve been through far too often: deciding to eat more healthily, watching the kilograms drop, getting hungry, seeing them go back up. I would weigh myself once a week at the gym just to keep an eye on the number, and each time find myself feeling frustrated or pleased based off a few grams difference. I am healthy and not overweight, and yet still found myself unhappy if number X was higher than magical number Y.
In 2018 I decided enough was enough. Why do the numbers on the scale matter? The difference between 65.8kg and 66.7kg does not mean that I am a worse person, that I have no self-control, or that I’m not training hard enough. I am not defined by the numbers on a scale: in fact, they themselves are often not true. The same person standing on two different scales can produce two different results, so why does the number matter?
By this stage in my athletic and personal life, I am fully aware of when I have eaten too much and am getting pudgy. I know how my clothes feel when I’m getting leaner and have to tie my running bottoms a little tighter. There is no need for a number on a scale to tell me whether I need to gain or lose weight, I am perfectly capable of determining that for myself.
And so this year I promised myself not to stand on a scale for the entire year. Even when I had to be weighed at the doctors, I would not look at the numbers and ask not to be told. For the last 12 months, I have had no idea exactly how much I weighed, and it has only taken a weight (pun intended) off my shoulders.
Not knowing my quantity of matter has made me more in-tune with my body, more conscious of the connection between food, exercise and my physical shape. I can no longer pig out on pizza, step on the scale and see a magically unchanged number, and therefore delude myself that it’s OK to continue pigging out on pizza for the next week. Conversely, I don’t stress over one pizza which results in a higher number, because my only feedback is my body, which still feels fine the next day.
Sure, this doesn’t actually stop me from eating pizza for a week straight, I am just aware of the effect it will have on my shape. Especially over this Christmas period and being home in Australia I can feel myself getting puffy, but it has been for the benefit of meals and time spent with family and friends, and it is a tradeoff I am happy to make right now.I believe that as an athlete, it is important to eat well and maintain a physiology which is capable of enduring these long-distance races. Being lean yet strong typically results in faster results, as there is less mass which needs to be carried throughout the race. And yet I find it is totally fine to have periods of the year where you relax and gain a bit of extra fluff around your middle. The cycle should and will continue, but it need not be tracked via kilograms on the scale.
At a doctor’s appointment earlier this year I had my BMI checked (without me being told the number) and was told that I was “in normal range”, but to “avoid gaining any weight” because it would push me into the overweight category (or at least, that’s how I translated it from the French). I was shocked that she could take me – a healthy, normal-sized athlete who just said she runs multiple marathons per year – and give me that warning, but that’s what her calculations of my weight vs height told her. This is one of the issues with an over-reliance on imprecise numbers: not seeing what is in front of you. I’m not saying that weight is irrelevant and obesity is not an issue, but that we should not place so great a value on a single number.
I carried the resolution of ‘no weight, no worries’ as my mantra for this year, and I can honestly say that I will never go back to tracking my weight ever again. So long as I continue to exercise and eat relatively well, it is not necessary for my life. I am not defined by the number on the scale, and so I will no longer know what that number is. I have become – weightless!