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Alana Asch: What Scales Can't Measure

TW: disordered eating, substance abuse

A few weeks ago I found myself standing with a barbell in front of me. To be honest, I didn’t think I could actually lift the weight on that barbell for the amount of reps I was supposed to according to my training plan - yeah, I know, that’s not the right mentality to go into a lift.

As I attempted to lift the weight, an image of teenage me popped into my head.

I was fragile and anorexic. I hid food in my pockets in order to restrict myself. I taped things to my body before I went for my weekly weigh-ins so it looked like I ate more than I did that week.

And then my mind raced ahead a few years and I remembered when I started lying about my recovery. Because I never dealt with my anxiety I ended up turning to drugs and alcohol instead. I was stuck in a cycle: feeling weak and confused as to why I couldn’t stop using when I knew it was destroying me.

In that moment, I realized that I was lifting for her, for us. And I lifted the weight I didn’t think I could lift.

A few weeks later, I competed in a powerlifting meet for the first time. Powerlifting is a weightlifting competition where you lift as much weight as you can in 3 strength exercises: squat, bench press, and deadlift.

Unfortunately, I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. I got called for technicalities on all 3 of my squat attempts. Afterward, the idea of restricting or using never crossed my mind.

I am writing this because if you told me 10 years ago, that I was not only going to compete in a powerlifting meet, but also do it without being obsessed about what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, and having it take over my life, I would have never believed you.

I was able to fuel without worrying about if I ate too much. I was able to get enough sleep. I was able to manage my stress.

I did not do these things perfectly because I’m human.

If my body felt like it needed an extra rest day, I took an extra rest day. Thinking back to me from 10 years ago, I know I would not have been okay with an extra rest day. In fact, I am writing this because I know there are plenty of girls out there who are just like me.

Getting to a place where I can trust and listen to my body took a while. It took little, consistent, and healthy actions, that compounded over time.

Just like strength training, recovery takes time. It takes consistency and patience. You won’t totally recover overnight, but you can totally recover.

And just like strength training, in recovery, the goal is to keep getting stronger. If I am not moving forward in my recovery, then I am moving toward a relapse.

When I failed those lifts during the competition, I let myself feel disappointed. I went to a bathroom stall and shed a few tears. Then, I took some deep breaths and composed myself.

When I went back out there, I crushed all of my attempts on the bench press, set a new personal record on the deadlift, and began thinking about getting stronger and doing better next time.

I had not weighed myself in years prior to the powerlifting competition as part of my recovery. I had to weigh myself in order to compete because competitors are grouped by weight ranges.

Prior to stepping on the scale for the competition, I was at a point where I knew that number was going to be just a number. I knew that it was going to mean nothing to me. I knew, prior to stepping on that scale, that no matter what the scale said, it could not measure my value as a human being.

Nor could it measure how much fun and love I am filled with when I play with my niece and nephew. There is no way for a scale to count or prove that I am the best dog mom in the world—but I am. The scale can’t measure the quality of friendships that I have in my life today, nor the love and support I have for and from my family.

Nor could a scale measure what it felt like to have my first authentic, sober, uncontrollable belly laugh a year and a half into sobriety. I can remember not believing I could ever be sober and happy again. The scale can’t quantify the passion and fuel that has been lit in me to pursue a dream job that I did not think I could have attained 10 years ago.

All that the scale can measure is my physical relationship to gravity.

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