Numbers are magic. They’re the DNA of the known universe, the fundamental alphabet of creation, and without them, it would be hard to figure out who owes what at dinner. I still remember my first telephone number from childhood. I remember how as kids we always wondered what came after millions or billions or trillions. When I first heard the word “gazillion,” I was in awe. So it doesn’t surprise me that even today, numbers continue to occupy their seat of power. But when it comes to food, nutrition and weight, it’s high time that we reassess our love of numbers. Here’s what I mean:

So many of us are trying to find the right weight, but what exactly is that? You might have been told that you shouldn’t have too much fat in your diet, but how many grams are we talking about? Maybe you’re trying to limit your number of calories to lose weight, but exactly how many calories is a dieter supposed to eat? The big white elephant in the room of nutritional science is that nutrition is not an exact science. It doesn’t follow the numbers. Each one of us is different. Nutrient needs vary stupendously, but we somehow want nutrition to be mathematically perfect and precise.

Of course, numbers help us get things right.

At various points in life, you really need to know your own zip code or your social security number. These particular numbers carry with them an inherent certainty. When someone asks for your social security number, there’s only one correct answer. At some point though, numbers become a little fuzzy.

We’re told that we need to achieve the right cholesterol levels, but the research is actually vague about what those numbers truly are. You’ve also likely heard that excess weight is a sure predictor of ill health and unwanted metabolic consequences, but even here, the research and the numbers are surprisingly vague and noncommittal.

I think the biggest challenge occurs though, when we grant certain numbers a position of almighty power. This is easiest to see in our worship of the scale. If we get on the scale and notice that we’ve lost weight, then we decree our day shall be good and our existence is justified. But if we’ve gained a pound or more, then surely we have sinned, or done something terribly wrong, and are worthy of no less than some epic biblical punishment.

As a practitioner and teacher in the field, I’m both saddened and outraged about the immense suffering that’s created when humans allow some lowly machine that we step on to determine how we should feel about ourselves. Far too many lives are ruled by the meaning that we give to the number that the scale tells us each day.

Essentially, when it comes to the scale, if you have the wrong number, the assumption is that you are wrong.

You’re somehow bad, dysfunctional, and less valuable as a human being. Ouch.

Perhaps the mother of all numbers when it comes to nutrition and weight loss is one’s target weight. The majority of dieters have a magic number they want to reach. It’s arguably the most important number ever in their life, and it holds a mystical power. We would do anything to reach our target weight, and often times, we already have. That number represents freedom, enlightenment, bliss, and our instant ticket to fame, glamour, and the good life. Everyone will notice us and want us. But we never truly seem to get there, and even when we do, it doesn’t seem that the majority of us stay at our target weight very long. It’s time for a new target. The bull’s-eye is love and nourishment.

Take a look at your relationship with numbers in regards to your body and health. Where are you relying on numbers to determine your worth? In what ways do you disempower yourself around the number of pounds you believe you should weigh? Does the scale rule your life? Chances are, if you worship numbers in one area of life, you’re doing the same thing in other places as well. Do you use the amount of money that you possess to determine your value as a human being? Do you do this to others?  It’s time to put numbers in their proper place. Of course, we’ll always value the gift that they give us. But let’s put a higher premium on the data and insight gained from body wisdom, intuition, the hearts knowing, and the journey of the soul.

Warm regards,
Marc David
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014


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  • Pam Jones

    Loved this article. I hate numbers and hate when clients want to use numbers. It’s whatever makes you feel whole and good about yourself that matters most, not the numbers.

  • Jyoti

    I agree with Ms. Jones, it’s about building a relationship with oneself.

  • KarnaN

    Hi everyone,

    Karna here, Director of Student Relations at the Institute.
    Thank you for your comments! Marc asked me to get back to you.
    Yes, I agree – feeling whole and building a relationship with oneself are much more authentic and deeply sustainable practices.

    Warm regards,

    Karna Nau
    Director of Student Relations
    Institute for the Psychology of Eating

  • Jody

    I saw a hypnotherapist a few months back. I had been through therapy after a pretty abusive childhood where I was told on a daily basis that I was fat, ugly, good for nothing, etc. I knew logically that I wasn’t fat or ugly, but subconsciously, those messages still haunted me. The therapist asked me what success would look like and I said ‘a 28 inch waist’. I basically pulled that number from the sky, not taking into account that even at 12 years old, I had a 30 inch waist! After the session (and subsequently listening to the recorded version 2-3 times / week for a couple of months) I realized that numbers are indeed ridiculous. I haven’t picked up a tape measure, but am guessing my waist size is 4-5 inches more than my ideal 28 and I am totally fine with that. I haven’t stepped on my bathroom scale for several months and was surprised to see that my weight was in what I would’ve deemed an acceptable place when I had to step on the scale at the doctor’s office. The whole numbers game is now fully in my past and I’m so happy that I was able to finally come to a place of peace with myself.

    • KarnaN

      Hi Jody,

      Thank you for being so open with all of us.
      Your story is a perfect example of what this article is illustrating.

      Warm regards,

      Karna Nau

  • Marc David

    Hi everyone,

    Thank you for your comments!
    We are appreciative that you have been going beyond the numbers a bit more to focus on the deeper and truer aspects of life. Thank you for your passion and commitment in this work.


    Marc David

  • Joelle Friedman

    Thank you Marc for yet another great article. I really appreciate the passion you convey through your teachings. It just flows…

    Numbers, I personally love them and find them very soothing but I am not talking here about a specific number on the scale, that will reflect to me who I am. I am talking about the energy in numbers, they open me up to the Universe!

    I find our human experience fascinating as we all go through periods of contraction and expansion , giving our powers away and then hopefully 🙂 taking it back. It is all part of the game of life…

    In working with clients, I find that we always start the conversation with diets and numbers ( I am a coach after all) and that usually lasts for 20 minutes before the tears come, a door opens to an opportunity to looking into something a bit deeper.

    As you have stated may times it is all an opportunity. Control through numbers is an opportunity, fear through numbers is yet another opportunity…

    I think life is amazing; It gives us every day a chance to wake up and remember who we are even through numbers.
    Big hug
    Joelle Friedman

    • Hello Joelle,
      Thank you for sharing your experiences around your clients – I think as long as that door gets opened where we enter into the opportunity to speak about the underlying issues – we’re on the right path. Agreed. Life is Amazing.


About The Author
Marc David

Marc David is the Founder of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, a leading visionary, teacher and consultant in Nutritional Psychology, and the author of the classic and best-selling works Nourishing Wisdom and The Slow Down Diet. His work has been featured on CNN, NBC and numerous media outlets. His books have been translated into over 10 languages, and his approach appeals to a wide audience of eaters who are looking for fresh, inspiring and innovative messages about food, body and soul. He lectures internationally, and has held senior consulting positions at Canyon Ranch Resorts, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Johnson & Johnson Corporation, and the Disney Company. Marc is also the co-founder of the Institute for Conscious Sexuality and Relationship.