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.

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NASFKAB 10/1/2019
Good Report
MUSICNUT 8/8/2019
Thanks for the great article! :) Report
I struggle with not looking at numbers. Even Sparkpeople itself is number based. Groups that encourage weighing in every week. I'm trying hard to look at the numbers different though. Report
Thank you for the article
Great reminders. So important to keep this in mind. Report
Possibly Report
AWESOME Blog! Report
You are so right, we really need to listen to our bodies more! We can eat 1200 calories of Twinkies and lose weight, but feel absolutely terrible. We can run 3 miles a day but when it becomes too easy, we don't benefit much from it. Thanks for this great blog and congrats on your amazing maintenance! Report
I need to stop obsessing about the numbers! They're so depressing :D.. Thanks for posting this .. GREAT JOB WOMAN! Report
Awesome blog!!! Whit: You did it! Very nicely done. I have always enjoyed reading your blog and it's really cool that now Sparkpeople will showcase your blog. Report
Awesome job, Whitney, & Congrats on your first Lifestyle Blog! I am learning between mouth hungry & belly hungry, too.
So happy for your progress & enthusiasm. Report
the numbers game is annoying Report
Numbers are the key.
Numbers make the difference in learning what you are doing.
There is no problem with the numbers its all in perspective.
We all obsessed over learing ABC's the alphabet and it is the same thing. once you see the numbers as helpers the obsession or goal is the heathy part. Obsess on the energy, the glowing skin and hair and the vitality. At 67 years young numbers are insignificant. Health is the most significant Part of the obsession . Pat in Maine. Report
This entry is filled with W-I-S-D-O-M!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
! Report
Great post girl!!! sooooooo true! Love the listening to your body part. I agree that it is very easy to get caught up in the adding of points and hope that we will have enough points to eat MORE or eat a DESSERT when in all actuality we may not even be hungry! You continue to write extremely motivational posts and blogs....I thank you for that! Always look forward to seeing what you will write next. Hope all is good with you and your new house! Report
Fabulous blog!! Report
Great blog as always. Congratulations on being featured! Please keep those words of wisdom coming as you are an inspiration to me! Report
Great Blog, Excellent advice! Thank you for the kick to my obsession
Until I reach my goal weight I will have to live with the numbers. I have learned that it’s not the end of world if I go over my nutritional ranges once in a while. I just have to get back on track and appreciate my weight loss success so far.
Always enjoy your blogs!! Report
Many thahks to you because I have been trying to be a number pusher. Report
I am a big number watcher -- especially the scale. I am trying to weigh only once a week because I get disappointed when I don't see it move down. My disappointments usually end with a binge. Report
Many good points to ponder. Great job on insipring me, Whitney! Thank you. Report
Fantastic blog! It is very hard to break the mentality of "living by the numbers" as we have had numbers drilled into our head for years (whether by society or ourselves). Congratulations on beginning on finding your balance and what works for you!! Report
Very good. People need to read and follow. Report
Well said. It's also easier said, than done. Pays great dividends for the efforts in the end to not be obsessive over the numbers. Maintaining health naturally is the ultimate goal, with just an occasional peek at the numbers maybe. Thanks Whit. Report
good stuf Report
Great blog! Keep them coming! Report
Hurray for Whitney! I'm so glad you're featured on DailySpark - I always find your blogs inspiring and interesting. You're the only one I've ever subscribed to and look forward to reading!
Keep up the awesome blogs - maybe SparkPeople could offer you a regular spot! ;) Report
This resonated with me so much, I felt like I could have written it myself. The most depressed I ever got was when I had gained a few pounds back after being my skinniest. I was still skinny, but I was freaking out and tearing myself apart with the self-criticism. Now I'm a bit heavier, but still healthy, and working every day on being at peace with myself as I am, at any weight, so that I can be free of this obsession! Report
YAAAAAAAAAYYYYY Whitney!!! How incredibly wonderfully AWESOME to see you as a Guest Blogger!!! Great post! You are on your way, honey! Excellent!

=))))))) Report
fantastically true read -thx :) Report
Good blog, I try and not worry about the numbers but I used to be anorexic a long time ago so some days are better than others. I try and concentrate on how I feel, how clothes feel on me, etc. Thanks for your thoughts. Report
Just what I needed to read today! Thanks! Report
I really do appreciate your words of wisdom.I have been struggling with this myself.I was on vacation last week to the beach and stayed very active.I didn't gain nor did I lose.I was very happy to stay the same since I usually gain when away on vacation.
The funny thing is that I didn't weigh myself every day nor did I track my caloric intake.I did well without logging the numbers or stepping on the scale every day.If I can do it then I can surely do it now without letting every little movement of the scale in the wrong direction get to to me.My weight has been staying in the same range the last month or so.I want to get back to losing and not being so compulsive about the scale.

I will put the scale away for a week and see if that motivates me.

Thanks again for your blog. Report
I can relate. I at times obsess over the scale not moving or the fact that my waist measurement hasnt changed in a year. Oh wait it hasnt gone up nor down, why am I beating myself up that is an accomplishment.

Thanks to a conversation with my doctor I have learned to pay attention to the positive changes I see in my bodies appearance. I have found it is a mental game. Pay attention to the areas you really like - legs, butt, arms, abs, whatever and suddenly the area you dislike will start to change. I tried this - and it works. When I do an ab workout the next morning I see a difference, when I focus on the tone building in my arms from all the bicep and tricep work I find the love handles/muffing top are a bit smaller.

I never thought I'd see the muffin top go, sure the front belly roll went, took somework but its done, the sides, oh those sides. never thought I'd see that roll near gone but it is, it is getting closer and closer. The grab-able lovehandles along my back are melting too.

Yes, listen to your body. Try different workouts - such as I am doing a heavy weight/low cardio workout right now and I am seeing major changes. Some folks need hi cardio, others need hi weights or a combination/flip flop there of. Your body will tell you or show you either way your body knows. Report
Nice blog. I admit to obsessing over numbers. this was very helpful. Report
You continually write such motivational blogs and just keep motivating yourself and those around you! Thank you so much for sharing and inspiring! It's always great to read one of your blogs. Report
Wow you wrote what I have been thinking about for sometime now. But you also added ideas to change my way of handling it. Thank you...Great blog! Report
What a great blog! I'll admit, I skip many blogs because I've found that some tend to be long-winded and just go on and on and on... But I really enjoyed yours because it was honest, written very well, and quite motivating. I have been in maintenance for awhile now but still struggle with "the numbers" controlling almost every move I make - its nice to know I'm not alone. P.S. You look amazing!! Report
Great blog, thanks Report
Great blog! Report
Great blog! I'm so glad to read that someone else had (and still has) the reality of maintenance slap them in the face! I am still obsessing, but maybe now, It will be a bit less. Loved the "belly hungry" and "mouth hungry". That will help me with my cravings, too. I think I will print and keep this blog around when I feel anxious or mad about having to face my obsessions. I will praise more and listen to my body! Thank you for writing this! Report
Loved this blog! Echoes my own sentiments. Thank you, Whitney. Report
Thank you for this important reminder of the difference between obsession and mindfulness. Report
Whitney: Thank you so much for this blog, This is just where I came to in my journey to good health back in April and May, so I just quit counting on the scales, now I still get a little upset when the scales don't move down some, but I'm not letting that be my motivator.

CJ from OK. Report
Great blog Whitney! Report
woo hoo here´s to mind set whitney,as usual a great blog love.well done so proud of you love.keep on keeping on and letting your fitgirl shine through.woo hoo. Report
As a former accounting worker, you KNOW I ADORE #'s so when I needed to lose weight,, WOOHOOOO NUMBERS were and ARE my THING!!!! I DO OBSESS about them to a degree, but ONLY to a degree because once you have down the formula, there's only so much you can work them out. They just "make sense". Thanks for the blog, because eventually I'll reach my goal and I was WONDERING how to handle it. Now i have a clue ! THANKS ! Report
As a former accounting worker, you KNOW I ADORE #'s so when I needed to lose weight,, WOOHOOOO NUMBERS were and ARE my THING!!!! I DO OBSESS about them to a degree, but ONLY to a degree because once you have down the formula, there's only so much you can work them out. They just "make sense". Thanks for the blog, because eventually I'll reach my goal and I was WONDERING how to handle it. Now i have a clue ! THANKS ! Report