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.
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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