Numbers: Do They Work For or Against Us?

Photo Courtesy of iStockPhoto

Photo Courtesy of iStockPhoto

Why does one of my coaching clients (and friends) say: “I don’t plan to ever weigh myself again.” The answer may surprise you!

Counting Calories

I heard on the radio this morning that obese teenagers are more likely to use calorie information at fast food restaurants than non-obese teenagers  This fact was presented as if it were a good thing, as if counting calories is something that will help obese teenagers to slim down and get healthy. I think that some of the teenagers in this study are obese BECAUSE they are using external signals such as calorie counts offered by fast food restaurants to tell them how much they can/should/will eat, instead of relying on their God-given signals of hunger and satisfaction. The non-obese teens don’t need the calorie counts. They might order the bacon double cheeseburger and eat one third of it, stopping when they are satisfied.  Are calorie counts (masquerading as “nutritional information”) part of the problem or part of the solution? I’m all for nutritionally dense food, but something tells me the teens aren’t checking protein, fiber, and calcium counts. They are focusing on the calorie information. And, I’ll wager, it’s not only not helping them, it’s actively hurting them. It’s getting in the way of their ability to listen to their internal signals.


Similar to the perhaps inadvertent problems directly caused by calorie information, are the problems caused by the bathroom (or gym or doctor’s office) scale.

When I was a child and didn’t know about calories and couldn’t have guessed my own weight with any kind of accuracy at all, my eating was fine. But when I started counting things (calories and body weight), my God-given natural appetite regulation system was disrupted and it wasn’t long before I had a bona fide eating disorder. I was trying to externally regulate something that is much better left to the natural, internal regulation system ordained by God. My weight and my appetite take care themselves and run smoothly if I honor and respect them and don’t get in there and try to improve on God’s handiwork.

I don’t plan to ever weigh myself again. Why? Because I am finally convinced that weighing myself is part of the problem, not part of the solution, just like counting calories are, for me, part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’ve heard many times over the years that in order to fully recover from an eating disorder (or disordered eating, or whatever you want to call it), a person should entirely stop weighing herself and trust that God knows what our bodies should weigh, and trust that our doctors will tell us if we gain or lose precipitously. But other people telling me rarely results in me doing whatever is advised. I don’t learn very well from other people’s experiences. Eventually I had my own personal experience of divine intervention that really got my attention.

One morning, I wanted to weigh myself at home. I had the wherewithal to pray and ask God if this was a good idea. I heard very clearly in my head “you weigh X#s.”  “Should I still weigh myself, though?” I wondered, “Probably not,” I thought.
“But I want to.” My brain did this dance for a couple of minutes and then the “I wanna” part of me won out and I weighed myself.  [I weighed] X#s. Not a big surprise. Why had I been so willful? Who knows. Oh well. I’m not perfect. Chalk it up to that. I went on with my day. I went to the gym mid-morning. There’s a scale at the gym. The “I wanna” part of me thought, “I should weigh myself to see if they gym scale and my home scale register the same number.” And then, I heard the voice of wisdom, only this time, with a bit more power clearly say in my head, “If you want to never binge again, you need to never weigh yourself again.” !!! “But, but,” the “I wanna” in me spluttered, and then, as a quick follow up, I heard a powerful, “It may seem like a high price to pay, but it is THE price. “

Wow. Ok. So…I won’t weigh myself. You’ve got my attention, God. It does seem like a high price. But really, is it? I don’t think Jesus got up every morning to check his weight. Nor did any of his apostles. There are still people on earth who probably go their entire lives without even seeing a scale. It’s not like I’m being asked to do something actively unhealthy. There is, as it turns out now that I’ve thought about it, nothing helpful in me knowing my weight. It never stopped me from binge eating. It never made me feel closer to God. It sometimes made me proud and it sometimes made me feel like I could afford to binge, but both of those outcomes are ones that I am much better off without. I am so grateful for this experience because I feel like God tried to show me this in a multitude of ways over years, but I wouldn’t listen. So finally, I had to hear his wise, loving, but scarily clear voice telling me exactly what to do. I can’t complain any more that I’m not sure whether or not I should weigh myself. I’m quite clear that I shouldn’t. And I don’t plan to. Not ever. Thank you, God.

Catherine Wilson Gillespie, Ph.D.
Mary Collier Baker Distinguished Professor
Drake University School of Education
Des Moines, Iowa

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11 Responses to Numbers: Do They Work For or Against Us?

  1. Sue DeVecka June 1, 2013 at 7:29 am #

    While soaking in the tub last night, I read a fascinating article in Fitness magazine that overweight and mildly obese people who are active and fit are less likely to have heart attacks than those who are inactive. Now, we are not talking about obsessive exercise here, but normal exercise. One of the ladies in the article had tried to lose weight, but just kept coming back to the same weight and her friends tried to tell her she was fat and needed to lose weight. She was very fit and all of her metabolic numbers were good which meant she was healthy. She quit trying to fit into everyone elses idea of what she should weigh and accepted her body, fat and all. She ate healthy for the most part, too but just could no lose weight.

    An interesting not by the doctor was that the scale and even the BMI of a person is not what counts, but the amount of visceral fat, measured by waist size, is the dangerous fat. So perhaps the scale is not a good indicator of healthy or fit, but the waist size that counts the most. He suggested that taking the ratio of hips to waist along with weight so all be figured in. Since I happen to be at high risk of diabetes (my mother and her mother and all of her siblings were diabetic as well as my father who just developed it at age 88 and all of his siblings had it) I do take my waist measurement every month and so far have been below the danger zone- well actually it was when I started doing Leslie Sansone videos that I really keyed in on that.

    • Heidi Bylsma June 3, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      I have never been typical. Back in my obsessive days, I would be hydrostatically weighed and came out at 14.5% bodyfat. Even then, I didn’t fall within the “healthy BMI range.” I carry a lot of muscle and I am built for endurance so my weight is always higher than it looks, I guess! When I almost went to work for Weight Watchers years ago, we were set to sign the paperwork when the woman doing the hiring noticed that I had a weight higher than their recommended weights based on BMI. They wanted me to lose more weight because WW has a policy that leaders have to be within the recommended ranges. My doc had written a note that said, “No more weight loss–she is at a healthy weight!” I had lost 10 pounds past that recommended weight, but it wasn’t low enough to fall on the chart (I strength trained). WW nevertheless wanted me to weigh less. They have a company policy that says leaders need to fall within the BMI charts. I calculated it out. Assuming I could have lost only body fat and no lean (not likely when I was 14.5% body fat already), I would have been close to 11%. This is a bodyfat percentage often associated with hospitalized anorexic women. I might have been hospitalized had I gotten that thin, but I could have led a WW meeting! :-/ Last time I wondered about this it was when I was doing a lot of core strengthening exercises about 2 years ago. As I began to build muscle in my core, my waistline began to get *larger*. LOL! It wasn’t fat, it was muscle! I imagine I am just an anomaly. 😉

  2. Jamie June 1, 2013 at 10:33 am #

    When I think back as a child….and my early adult years. I remember not counting calories and fat grams and measuring and weighing. I was a normal size. There is a lot of truth to this. When I just ate when I was hungry and stopped at comfortable. I lost the weight and keep it off. The problem came in when I started focusing on food calories and diet food and weighing. As a child I was forced to eat all my food on the plate, even when full! YUCK! 🙁 I got fat and then the shaming started by my parents and spankings…then I was put on a low fat and calorie diet. I was around 10-13 when this all started. It followed me in to my adult years. I was always consumed with my weight and eating! I did stay a size 8 from 17-21. Then got married and had 2 children and then got heavy and have struggled ever since with my weight. Now I am in my late 40’s and struggling with a whole lot more weight then I ever have in my entire life. I’m 95 pounds over and my waist is not in the safe zone of 31”. I have released 17 pound since I started on this journey in Feb,28,2013. It has been a slow release. Then found this “God is doing a new thing Study”. I’m learning so much and seeing where all the false god’s and teachings have come from this world and man. God never intended for us to live this way. I am convinced that this is the right way of living. It’s just applying it to my life and walking it out with God. This article really hit home with me. I am convinced to keep off the scale and focus on the LORD, pray and read God’s word and follow His way! 🙂
    How can I go wrong doing this God’s way. Even though others go on with there WW or SPK’S PPL. And are consistently losing their weight and I’m slow at releasing mine. The thought comes in my head and says are you sure this is going to work out for you?… LOOK! They are losing faster than you are! :/
    But that still small voice in me said keep going and don’t look back! Keep doing what you know and that is to eat when hungry and stop at satisfied-full.
    I injured my foot over a month ago, it is still healing. Planters fasciitis. And boy does it hurt! So walking or standing is painful. I remembering praying and saying to GOD back before I started this…” God is doing a new thing” Praying and asking God to show me His way and a way that is not so tedious. I don’t want to depend on all this weighing and measuring and exercising to get the weight off. I just want YOU GOD and SIMPLE not COMPLEX! And this was the answerer to my prayer….. God’s ways are not burdensome.
    He says;
    Matthew 11:29-30

    King James Version (KJV)

    29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

    30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

    • CMK June 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm #

      Jamie. A few comments. First of all, 17 pounds in 3 months sounds like a great weight release! Is that about 1.5#/week.?? Secondly, it has taken me 2 years to really commit, so I think your progress sounds wonderful! Lastly, my experience is that there is freedom, peace and a closer and deeper relationship with our Lord through this process. It doesn’t get better than that! When I think of all the energy that I spent on websites looking for “the” answer and time spent measuring food, weighing food and meal planning I can’t believe the waste of my time and energy.
      . Keep pressing on! Don’t look back!

      Ps for what it’s worth, my husband had plantar f. from running a few years ago. He wore the boot but eventually had a cortisone injection. That made all th difference. He went to an athletic/athlete’s podiatrist.
      PPS it’s so sad how so many children were abused re food. I’m so sorry about the shame and spankings.

      • Jamie June 1, 2013 at 11:32 pm #

        Hi CMK,
        Thank you for your words of encouragement. I will keep pressing on and not look back…I love this way of being free. Today was a tough day for me. Feeling sad and lonely and Frustrated! God help me pull out of it by mid day…I’m so happy we don’t have to feel shamed anymore. Jesus took all our sin and pain to the cross and said it is finish….I have to keep looking to Jesus when those thoughts come sneaking into my mind. ” By his wounds I am healed” Amen. 🙂

    • Heidi Bylsma June 3, 2013 at 12:05 pm #

      Jamie, you always add to my understanding and I love the scriptures you remind us of. Thank you!

  3. Susannah Barratt June 1, 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    Heidi, This was an AWESOME entry! I loved it and can hear the same conversation I’ve had in my head. I liked your outcome better. I will start listening for God’s voice…
    Thanks! Susannah

    • Heidi Bylsma June 3, 2013 at 12:06 pm #

      Hi, Susannah. Thanks for posting. I am so glad it was helpful. 🙂

  4. Tina June 4, 2013 at 3:01 am #

    That’s it! That is it with the stupid scale. I am done with it. I went from weighing myself 3-4 times a day to only once a month but you are right it is not doing any good for me even just once a month. I agree that it either throws me into total shame and discouragement or pride and self indulgence. I am done with it. Thanks for all of your post Heidi.
    I would love to meet you and all of the sisters on this journey someday. Does TW ever organize retreats/conferences?

    • Heidi Bylsma June 4, 2013 at 4:48 am #

      Yes, Tina! I am hoping to see something in 2014! We haven’t had one for a while, so it seems time! 🙂 subscribe either to my newsletter here or the Thin Within newsletter and we will be sure to announce it!

  5. Melissa Clark Gier June 6, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

    Wow. God knew how much I needed to read this post today! I’m having a REALLY hard time giving up the scale completely. But it makes so much more sense to let it go….why do I hold so tightly to the bondage of that old scale???

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