No scale. That was the first thing I noticed as I scanned Gretchen’s office for the first time. It was not the sizeable polished antique desk set up against the rustic red wall that caught my attention or the mixed bouquet of fresh flowers that sat upon it. Nor was it not the plush green chair across from the enclosed antique bookcase with the glass front exposing shelves full of books of a personal and professional nature. All of that came to my attention later. For the moment I was looking for the scale. Grethen was a dietician, and I assumed somewhere in the room would be a large white standing scale like in a gym or a doctor’s office. But finding none, I breathed a sigh of relief. Thank goodness , I thought to myself, hoping that maybe eating disorder treatment in 2016 was a modern ”numbers don’t matter” type of thing. Allowing me to keep my daily weighing ritual within my own bathroom walls, accountable only to myself.
The fantasy was nice while it lasted.
Not only did Gretchen have a scale, but it was also a solidly-made machine that she had nicknamed the Little German Dictator. Tucked discreetly under one side of her desk, the little dictator was a bad ass. It was a sturdy polished white and stainless steel machine with a round face and rubber pads to step upon. It was not digital but instead had actual numbers with the slash marks. Old school. If my flimsy digital scale at home was a Honda Civic, Gretchen’s scale was a Porsche. It sat upon a sturdy board that allowed her to slide it out from its hiding place beneath her desk without disrupting the calibration.
“I’m going to ask you to step on backward,” Gretchen said as I took a deep breath and got ready to get on for my first weight check.
WTF? I thought to myself and shot her a “are we really going to do this,” kind of look.
“Gretchen, I know what I weigh, and it doesn’t bother me,” I said casually, waving my hand in the air, to signal it was no big deal, trying to downplay the fact it was a huge deal.
“Sweetie,” Gretchen said, in a voice that was patient yet authoritative, “I know this is difficult, but you are so thin and it is important to make sure you are gaining weight.”
I stood there, standing by the scale in my stocking feet, trying to slow my racing heart and contemplated Gretchen’s words, not entirely convinced.
Sensing my hesitation she continued to explain that people with eating disorders are obsessed with numbers such as weight, clothing size, and portion size. That often, their lives have drilled down to a series of numbers that they have allowed to dictate their lives. By Gretchen monitoring my weight gain it would take the numbers game out of it for me.
DAMN DAMN DAMN, my own words screaming in my head. Gretchen was describing me perfectly. She was right. Of course I knew with the first uptick on the scale, I’d be running out the door (and down the street across town and... and... and.)
But the thought of stepping on that scale backward scared the hell out of me. Not because I didn’t want Gretchen to see the number but because I wanted to see it. I NEEDED to see it.
Over the years, I had come to rely on that number. It was more than about the weight, it was about safety. Seeing a consistent number on my scale every day was how I assured myself that I was okay. Regardless of what was going on in the rest of my life, it was the one thing that I felt I could control. If it crept up, it was a sign I was out of control in some aspect, and by tightening up on my diet and exercise routine, I knew I could bring it back down to a number that made me feel secure. By controlling my weight, I felt I was in control of everything else in my life.
The number on the scale was my compass, my steering wheel, and my safety net. Without it, I was sure I would lose control of everything I needed to be okay.