I stepped on the scale and, on impulse, looked down to see the number. I was in for an early pregnancy test, and curious about my baseline. Where were we starting? What did I weigh? I wouldn’t have known otherwise, because I threw the scale away almost a decade ago.
Ten years ago, I stepped on a scale almost every day. It started in high school, when I made a few small dietary changes to try and lose a little bit of weight. It quickly became an obsessive habit — if the number was even slightly higher or lower than the day before, my mood followed suit. That number decided my daily food choices and my demeanor. Forget hunger, satiety, or what I wanted to eat at the age of 17 — I was beholden to my weight, and the value I assigned it. It had to go down. It must continue to go down, I thought. Those were “good” days.
A week or so into my freshman year of college, I unpacked and dusted off the scale.
I stepped on confidently. I watched the numbers roll like a slot machine. I stared at them as they settled, and felt that quick rush of elation. I was so proud of myself. I’m not even trying! I thought. I just walk so much! And eat so much healthier! I assumed.
Later that year, I put the scale away for good.
The number started to scare me a little bit. It kept dropping. I wasn’t sure that was a good thing. I wasn’t sure what happened to my period. I wasn’t sure why I felt so cold all the time. I wasn’t sure why my “healthy” eating habits weren’t keeping me full or satisfied. I was a little tired of counting down the minutes until the dining hall opened for dinner. I was tired, most of the time.
It would be another couple of years before I felt recovered and restored from my eating disorder. But even in the thick of it, I knew I had to stop looking at my weight. I had to stop obsessing over at least ONE thing. I had to at least try to enjoy college, and not look back at food log journals and calorie tallies in notebooks. So the scale was the first thing to get the boot. ADIOS.
For a full decade, I’ve rarely known my weight.
It hasn’t affected my daily life. It hasn’t decided what I wear. It hasn’t decided what I eat. It’s a number that largely goes unknown, save for a few healthcare providers.
No weight—high or low—is a single measure of health.
Weight conjures up so many emotions. Even seemingly harmless examples in random articles about sports nutrition—e.g. “a XYZ-lb woman needs XY amount of calories while training”—can evoke shame, or at the very least, comparison. Our diet-obsessed society damns weight gain, glorifies weight loss, and rarely puts either into context.
In conversations with my nutrition clients, I almost always hear about their weight, and it’s always attached to a descriptor—good or bad, lowest or highest, best or worst, etc. It takes a lot of work for us to detach those categorizations, and to care less about weight but more about things like emotional health, pleasure in food, or enjoyment in exercise. It’s work I’m glad I get to do, but not the work I thought I’d be doing as that college freshman declaring a Nutrition major, obsessed with weight.
Expected weight gain: “25–30 pounds.”
In pregnancy, you WILL gain weight. I knew that. It’s expected. It’s monitored closely. It’s a healthy part of the process. If you have a “normal” pregnancy, the expected weight gain is anywhere from 25–30+ pounds. At one point — where I am now, in the third trimester — the gain is about one pound per week. In diet culture, that’s how much weight many people are told (or try) to lose per week.
In my college class, Nutrition Throughout the Lifecycle, we studied where that “extra” pregnancy weight is attributed. “Only 6–8 pounds is the baby!” people say. As if that would be a more reasonable amount to gain. Just the baby. Nothing to take care of, or nurture, that small growing human.
My 20-year-old eating disorder mind wanted to memorize the “baby weight” list, to comfort my future self. Now, I want to comfort my college-aged self and say, “It’s OK. We’re OK. That list doesn’t matter. We trust the process.”
At the beginning of my first appointment, I wanted to see the scale.
I saw the baseline. I knew where we were starting. I thought nothing more than, “This is where my body is happy. This is where my body feels safe, and nourished, enough to support growing another human.” A TINY HUMAN is inside of me. MY body is growing a life. That still blows my mind every day.
But for many appointments after that (there are SO MANY APPOINTMENTS), I looked away.
I’m not entirely sure why. Some level of self-protection, sure. Some lingering doubt that I could be okay seeing the number constantly go up, reaching a new-to-me high. Some assumption that in not knowing, I could maintain this level of peace with weight that I’ve had for years. I looked away, trusted that when the nurse said, “Looks good!” that it did indeed, look “good.” And between appointments, I gave it no extra thought.
Now, well into my third trimester, I stepped on the scale again.
I wanted to look, so I did. I saw the new-to-me number. I stepped off the scale, continued the small talk about our holiday breaks with the nurse, and sat on the exam table. She checks my blood pressure, says she took a few days off and stayed in the area. I say we drove for eight hours, so I’m feeling a little stiff. She tells me to go leave a urine sample, that I have some time before the doctor will be ready, and then leaves me alone.
I do as I’m told, writing my name, date, and the time of day on what is at least the tenth plastic cup I’ve peed in over the past eight months. I don’t think about the weight. I don’t think about where I am now versus where I’ve been. I go back and sit on the exam table. The doctor walks in, greets me with a smile and “How are you feeling?” Fine, I say. Always fine. I’ve been lucky. We’re 33 weeks now, I say. No major issues, I report. She measures my fundal height, then squirts the cold gooey substance on my bare belly. She puts the doppler heart monitor right in the sticky, clear goo, and there it is. “Baby’s happy!” she says, when we hear that sound.
I keep it going. I keep it strong. I give it the iron, and energy, and calcium, and folate, and fluids, and (hopefully) everything else it needs every day. I have extra blood to make sure that heartbeat, and the body it beats through, stays healthy and gets what it needs. I have extra fluid floating around (I don’t know how else to imagine extra fluid), and fluid surrounding this tiny babe. I’m storing extra fat. I’m making “milk” that will (hopefully) sustain this small human when the time comes. I’m carrying a human, IN ME, all day every day. Together, this baby and I are a solid force. How could this number mean anything but life?
I’m glad I know this “baby weight.”
It doesn’t define my pregnancy, which is lucky for me. It’s on track, as is the babe. And its mine to own and accept. I’m not going to “drop it” or try to “bounce back”. I’m going to let my body grow this human until we’re done, and then decide what it’s ready for next.
I’m a co-founder of the Lane 9 Project, and registered dietitian in the DC area. If you’re struggling with your weight, disordered eating, and running (or sport), please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Lane9Project@gmail.com