The Absurd Weight Loss Numbers Game

by Carol Hess on July 6, 2011

I have never been a fan of numbers.  It started when my mathematically gifted father didn’t pass his gift on to me.  To add insult to injury, I am somewhat dyslexic with numbers – a condition that went undetected and wrecked havoc with my relationship with numbers. 

I got so discouraged when I saw “Careless mistakes!!!” scribbled in angry red at the top of my math homework.   (Did the teacher really need three exclamation points?  One would have sufficed.)  Wouldn’t you think someone might have wondered why a usually conscientious and careful student kept making “careless” mistakes in her math work? 

But I digress. 

Controlled by Numbers

Suffice it to say I have an uneasy relationship with numbers, at best.  And yet, like most women who struggle with their weight, I am controlled by them.  The number on the scale, the number on the clothing label, the number of pounds I’ve lost or gained, the number of days left before my next weigh-in with the doctor, the number of calories/grams/ounces in a piece of food. 

Then there are what I call the lab numbers – triglycerides, cholesterol, blood glucose, and a gajillion others you’ve never heard of until you’ve had cancer.  Those are the scary ones.  Sometimes they count out either life or death, and there isn’t a whole heck of a lot of wiggle room between the two.  Our human being numbers window for staying alive is a very narrow one.

Fat, Fat, Fat!

Not only are numbers damned scary, they are also damned absolute.  They are rigid and inflexible and definitely uncooperative when engaged in telling their version of the truth.  You can’t persuade them to be just a little bit lower or a little bit higher.  They don’t budge.  They just sit there in your medical chart and positively scream their message – this patient is fat, fat, fat.  This patient isn’t doing what the doctor told her to do.  This patient is – drumroll please – non-compliant! 

Non-compliant.  That’s a word I learned when I went through chemo for breast cancer.  If you forgot to take your pre-meds, then you were non-compliant.  A rather harsh, unforgiving word, don’t you think?  It sure doesn’t leave much room for being an imperfect human being and just plain forgetting because you’re a tad stressed out.

The Numbers Flip-Flop

But here’s the thing about numbers, at least with regard to the weight loss game.  They aren’t quite so rigid and unbending as you might think.  In fact, the same number can mean an entirely different thing depending on where you are in the game. 

Think about it.  If the number on the scale says 199, it means one of two things.  Either you are on your way up and about to enter the dreaded 200’s.  In which case, it’s time to dress in black and play funeral dirges.  Or you are on your way down and have just left the 200’s.   In which case, it’s time to break out the calorie-free, non-alcoholic champagne and celebrate.

Nonsensical Clothing Sizes

And then there are the numbers that don’t make any sense like clothing sizes.  Not only do they vary from continent to continent, but they also vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  We all know who makes our favorite blue jeans because we wear our smallest size in that brand. 

Of course it doesn’t make any sense to get all excited about a number on a label that is chosen just to make us buy that particular brand of jeans.  (“Let’s label our size 20 jeans, size 16.  Then all the chubs will buy our jeans.”)  But we numbers-obsessed women struggling with our weight are nothing if not nuts sometimes.

And then there’s the other end of the clothing size range, about which I confess I know very little.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked past a size 10 on the clothing rack, and I can count the number of times I did that on the fingers of one hand.  But I have heard a rumor that there is such a thing as a size 0. 

Really?  Zero?  As in nil, nothing, void, nada?  That kind of zero?  Can you please explain to me how someone can be a size zero?  Is she invisible?  Non-existent?  My friend Wendy claims the size zeros are the girls with no internal organs – as good an explanation as any, don’t you think? 

Men More Sensible Than Women?

By the way, does men’s clothing have a size zero?  Rarely will you hear me say men are more sensible than women, but I suspect in the area of clothing size they just might be.

So I think I’ve made a fairly good case for the absurdity of numbers in the weight loss game.  Then why, why, why are we so damned obsessed with them?  Why do we let numbers tell us how much we’re worth as people?  It’s like adding 2 and 2 and coming up with oranges.  The one has nothing to do with the other.

What do you say we swear off numbers for the duration?  I never have liked them.  They don’t make much sense to me.

by Carol Hess


Categories The Mind Game, Weight Loss

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Sandi Amorim July 6, 2011 at 10:49 am

Oh Carol, this post made me laugh! Just like I’ve recently been saying eff the scale, I’m also saying eff the numbers! Because you are so right – the numbers are confusing, random and just downright dominating. They don’t add anything to my life and for sure, they don’t motivate me to try anything new.

So I’m with you swearing off the numbers! Sing it sister :)


avatar Carol Hess July 6, 2011 at 11:00 am

Hallelujah! (That’s me singin’ it, Sister Sandi!) So glad you are throwing off the shackles of number tyranny. Doesn’t it feel GREAT? :-)


avatar Evelyn Kalinosky July 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm

As someone who battled an eating disorder from the age of 15 I know EXACTLY what you mean!! Once I got my life back under control and learned how to think of myself as more than just a number on a scale (or on a designer clothing label) I did myself a favor and stopped looking. I don’t weigh myself – unless the docs insist. I buy my clothes based on how they fit and not what the label reads.

But I’d be really smug and not quite honest if I said it never affects me anymore, because it does. That nasty little gremlin voice (as well as my mother’s who used to say things like “big butts run in our family, honey” when I asked her how the pants I was trying on looked on me, don’t got into that goodnight without a stinkin fight!

And by the way – one of my favorite pair of cargo pants was made for a man (which explains why the crotch was too long) and THE most comfortable pair of pants I’ve ever owned. Don’t asked me what the size was, because it didn’t matter. Men don’t seem to worry about such things and neither do the manufacturers who make their clothes. Sensible? Hell yes – and it’s one thing we women can definitely take a lesson from.


avatar Carol Hess July 6, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Maybe that gremlin voice still pops up now and then (send it to your big left toe!), but you are proof positive, Evelyn, that it is possible to change the rules of the numbers game. It gives me hope.

Our mothers meant well, but they were so clueless about some things. Sigh. Glad the times have changed so we don’t have to be as clueless. And that we can spread our not-as-clueless message to the world thanks to blogs and social media! Thanks, as always, for stopping by, Evelyn.


avatar Joanna Saunders July 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Carol, as an accountant I had never thought of numbers in this context. I actually love numbers – I get really excited when my books balance etc.

However as a I have (and still do) struggle with numbers involving my body – weight /sizes.
I agree that I have allowed them to control my life… I can so relate to what you said about 200 lbs. I am so angry about this and am working on changing how I relate to these numbers. Thank you for your blogs…they certainly assist me in gaining new perspectives in this area of my life.


avatar Carol Hess July 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm

I was a bookkeeper way back when, so I totally identify with your love of balanced books. You should have seen his face when I told one of my employers — who was a male chauvinist pig I didn’t like! — that I was dyslexic with numbers. Ah, that was a great day. But I digress.

I get angry about everything having to do with this whole weight nonsense, and I get especially angry and frustrated with myself about it. But I’ve discovered that the gentler and more loving I am with myself, the better it goes with the food. Being tough on myself tends to lead me directly to the refrigerator. So be gentle and patient with yourself! (Yeah, I know — oh so much easier said than done.)

I’m delighted my blog posts are helping you get a new handle on this stuff. That’s such music to my ears — you have no idea! I think those of us who struggle with our weight have a tendency to struggle alone or think we’re the only ones. We most definitely are not the only ones, and I think we help each other and ourselves when we get together to “talk” about it.


avatar Abs Workout For Men June 28, 2012 at 12:08 am

Actually enjoyed this article. Much obliged.


avatar Carol Hess June 28, 2012 at 10:04 am

My pleasure. Thank you.


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