Finding Freedom from Numbers

By , by Whitney Fretham (FIT-WHIT)
by Whitney Fretham (FIT-WHIT)

When I first sat down to consider what I should write about for this blog, I opened blank document and set out a plan. As I was cramping the end of my second page, I stopped, reread my windy thoughts, sat back and thought, "Who wrote this?" I had gotten myself wrapped up into this "persona" of what I thought a health-blog-writer should write like and think like and say. My writing became just another way for me to try to conform into a preconceived notion of who I should be.

I think this happens to us all along our journeys to a healthy life. It's especially easy to get caught up in what we *think* we should do, who we should be, and how the "perfect" end result will equate that proves we are a success: If the numbers don't all add up, somehow we feel we're not really "there," or have failed in some way.

For me, a big part of determining worth in the game of weight-loss came from calculating numbers. Number of pounds lost. Number of inches lost. Number of body fat percentages gone. Number of pant-sizes shed. Number of calories consumed or burned each day, number of water glasses guzzled, number of fitness minutes tracked, and so forth. I felt that in order to fit what I thought a healthy life should be I had to reach all these specific numbers (45 pounds! 1,500 calories! 26 inch waist! size 4! 16% body fat!). I found myself obsessively counting, measuring, and assessing mathematics in every part of my life.

Now, I'm not saying that tracking numbers is a bad thing by any means. It's been what's helped me achieve so many of the goals I've set out for myself! But there is a point where the numbers can become controlling if you're not mindful... or at least that's how it has seemed to me. Toward the end of my weight-loss journey, and even the beginning of my maintenance phase, I found myself getting unreasonably upset from month to month (or even week to week) when my numbers no longer changed, or changed minimally. The "high" and exhilaration of seeing the pounds drop and inches shrink was no longer there; it was pure disappointment, and I faced my first lull in motivation and serious dip in self-esteem.

Of course, the ironic part of all this is that as I reached and began maintenance, I was (and am!) the fittest, healthiest, smallest, and most active I've ever been! So why were the numbers still controlling me so much?

Honestly, I haven't completely broken my need for numbers and the worth-factor that's still attached to them. And maybe that's okay. But I have learned a few helpful tips along the lines that are gradually weaning me from my obsession, and helping me find my true "size healthy" in life:

  1. Obsess less. As we've all heard before, moderation is key. Tracking numbers was an incredibly valuable (and for me, necessary) tool toward the beginning of my weight-loss journey: It’s what first opened my eyes to my REAL habits in life. Counting numbers daily helped me establish healthy patterns, learn portion control, and experience the thrill of success. However, obsessing over numbers could also annihilate my self-esteem for the day, and fill me with anxiety. Taking a few breaks from tracking and counting has helped me release some of the pressure and control they’ve had on me in the past, while learning more about my body and how it feels to live intuitively in this "new me." I still monitor my numbers, and am constantly AWARE of my behaviors, my body, and my thoughts. Healthy awareness of numbers is much different than obsession.
  2. Praise more. Attitude truly IS everything. Learning to be my own friend and cheerleader and accept the friendship and cheers from others has made all the difference in the world when it’s come to finding a healthy self-esteem and relinquishing the control of numbers in my life. I allow myself to celebrate when I've reached success, and to be gentle with myself when I slip-up. When it comes to acknowledging successes outside the measure of numbers, I've been working on seeing daily habits like a smaller portion of a favorite food or a few extra minutes on the elliptical as reason to be proud. Treating myself as I would any fellow Spark friend has made it easier to be gentle and supportive through this journey into intuitive health.
  3. Listen to your body. The body knows more than we realize. It knows when it’s hungry, knows when it’s full. It knows when it’s had a good workout, or when it’s been inactive for too long. Training my MIND to listen to my BODY has been a huge hurdle (and still is) to finding a happy balance in my life, and slowly letting go of the numbers. Rather than counting up every single calorie consumed in meal, and then deciding if I "still have room" for some dessert or not, I am working on simply listening to my body to determine when I've had enough. It's still a daily challenge, and I still do track some food (and some days--all my food), but I'm getting better. I've also been working on listening to my body with exercise, being mindful of how I'm feeling when I'm running or doing push-ups, and noting when things are hard or getting easier. Instead of obsessing over the number of workouts gotten in, or minutes exercised or calories burned, I'm focusing on how my body feels. When I'm too tired or sore and my body knows it, I'm learning to listen. When I'm physically belly-hungry, I eat. When I'm mentally mouth-hungry... well, I'm *learning* not to eat. ;) Tuning into the natural intuition of my body is helping me everyday to break away from valuing my health and worth upon numbers.

Each of us faces different challenges in our personal journeys to health. The important thing to remember through our struggles is that we are NOT alone, and we CAN reach our goals with the right mindset.

Have you faced a similar struggle with number-obsession and self-worth? If so, how are you overcoming it?

Whitney has lost over 40 pounds with SparkPeople over the last year, and continues to practice and learn healthy habits in her daily maintenance. Though she has never been an athlete or runner before SparkPeople, Whitney has found a new joy and passion in fitness and healthy living, and hopes to share her passion with many in the future by becoming a wellness coach. She spends much of her time staying active, planning and prepping healthy foods for her lifestyle, being creative, and writing blogs on her SparkPage.