I don’t think I’ve ever known a person who liked to weigh himself. The scale is a bit like a strange mirror: it never seems to return the image we have of ourselves. If it indicates too much weight, it leads us to be disappointed; if it indicates too little, it worries us. It is also common for people who are objectively in perfect shape to find that something in their body is not right.
Both because I am not an expert on the matter (I am not a psychologist) and because the discussion would get too long, I will not go into the details of why many of us are so dependent on the numerical value provided by a measuring instrument. After all, it is a number, that is, something neutral, per se.
The more interesting thing instead is about how a distorted relationship with the scale can affect your athletic activity and, more generally, your mental health.
It’s just a number
We often insist on how silly it is to derive our serenity from a number and, at the same time, how little that number can tell us about our true state of health.
Have you ever heard of BMI (body mass index)? You can get it simply by a formula and it tells you-not much. It can give you an idea of where your body is in the normal, underweight or overweight range.
However, it is also a number that can mislead: people with similar BMI but different heights are different physical types, yet to the BMI system they are identical people.
SBMI was introduced to address the fallacy of this system; it considers other variables such as gender and age, giving you a more accurate idea of your physical state, based not only on your body weight.
Even with this system, however, you get a number: it is new, it is different from the one express by the scale, but it is still a number.
No more numbers!
What that number doesn’t tell you
In this age of data, we should have realized how much everything, phenomenon, event or fact is representable with data. The more deeply and intelligently the data are analyzed, the truer the image they are able to render. Think about how much data goes into giving a vague idea of what a human body looks like: height, weight, measurements of various circumferences, age, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. And these are data that describe perhaps 1 percent of a body. Yet we keep sticking to just that: weight.
So let us see what the weight does not tell us:
- It does not tell you exactly what your physical state is: two people can have the same BMI and weight and yet have trained bodies or not at all. Same number, different physical state.
- Tie your emotional (rather than physical) state to a number: the closer it is to what you consider your ideal weight, the greater the satisfaction (or complacency).
Things are a little different and a little – much – more complex. Your mental well-being is related to your physical well-being, and this is not described by a number. One can feel good-even very good-after doing a full and demanding workout, and this state of mind has nothing to do with body weight.
You may be in shape but be forced into a diet that deprives you of the necessary caloric intake, resulting in poor athletic performance. Eating means replenishing energy and psychological gratification and is not directly related to body weight. As before: things are a bit more complicated.
There is one way in which weight is useful, however: in its variations. If over a short period of time (a few weeks or a few months) body weight undergoes major positive or negative changes without these being associated with particular nutritional regimens then they may be indicative of ongoing disease or states of particular stress or prostration.
Slimming down by eating little = having less energy
Eating too little, especially when exercising consistently, can have more or less serious consequences. The most immediate and measurable of these is the paucity of energy available to perform athletic exertion: the less one eats, the less one replenishes the energy expended during training, and the more one is exposed to injury (recovery from injury itself requires a lot of energy, and being without it thus lengthens the recovery itself). Is it worth it? You may say that you have slimmed down, perhaps just when you have more time to do it and please yourself by being forced to stop because of injury or because you have no strength to train.
Finally, think of what a chain of events such an eventuality as an injury generates: disheartenment because of the injury itself and because you can no longer train (in addition, often, to the pain itself), demotivation derived from the degradation of your physical state, on and on until, in the most severe cases, depression.
No, it was not worth it.
Awareness is a concept we return to often. It is an attitude based on knowledge and perception of one’s psychophysical state. Going back to talking about weight, there are “technically” overweight people who have a serene relationship with their bodies and perfectly normal people who do not see themselves as “right.” How is this possible? Excluding cases of dysmorphism (judging oneself physically abnormal while being perfectly normal) or other mental conditions, many people feel wrong because they also tie their mental peace of mind to body weight. Having a wrong perception of it because, as we have seen so far, it is just a number that does not really say much.
I found a nice definition of mindfulness: “It is a condition in which the cognition of something becomes inner, deep, perfectly harmonized with the rest of the person, in a coherent one. It is the kind of knowledge that shapes ethics, conduct of life, and discipline, making them authentic“.
Being aware does not mean just knowing something, but it means internalizing this knowledge and taking it to a much deeper mental level, so that we can allow it to change our perception of the world by shaping the future differently.
In other words? Changing your relationship with the scale and realizing how little that number means, framing nutrition in the context of proper energy intake according to the kind of life and training you do means changing your view of things. Be more aware of them since you know them. Until we are bewitched by a number that, in the end, says nothing about us.