NUMBERS GAME

words CAROLYN SWARTZ
artwork DUSTIN GRELLA

To put it simply, we’re at odds. It has become an increasingly contentious relationship, with my (reasonable) expectations nothing like what I’m getting back. Yes, I’ve used language I’m not proud of—but only in response to insults I’ve been subjected to and the implication that the truth hurts.

This adversarial relationship is not with my spouse, a family member, co-worker, friend, or even another human being. It’s with an inanimate object that came into my life about two decades ago: my bathroom scale. And over the past year, it’s gotten a lot worse.

Looking back, I can pinpoint almost to the date when things started to go south. It was late in March 2020, just as lockdown was precipitating a series of unprecedented events. First came the Loading of the Freezer, a concept foreign to me in my former life in Manhattan, where people shop for only as much food as they can schlep back to their apartment.

After that came The Sour Dough Challenge—which I wasn’t about to ignore. Fussing over my starter grew into a daily obsession, shared in texts with friends fretting equally over the vitality of theirs. Each doubling of mass resulted in a new, misshapen loaf— fragrant and fresh from the oven: some domed with a brilliant crumb, others flat, pitted with holes, or just plain gummy. Still, each offered a fine pre-dinner vehicle for extra virgin olive oil, coarse salt, and soft, ripe cheese. Over time, dinner turned into a protracted, multi-course affair, especially (I’m embarrassed to admit) as we migrated ungracefully from dining table to coffee table, for simultaneous digestion of the latest spate of incomprehensible TV news.

Then my husband Wayne, who had always respected cooking as my domain, started to disappear into the kitchen to mix up brownie batter from a packaged mix or cut oversized squares from the batch he’d baked the night before. I don’t even like brownies from a mix. But on those dark evenings, not liking and not eating were two very different things. And don’t even ask about the fresh whipped cream.

And so it happened. The more I ate and the less I moved, the higher the number that glared back at me from the digital readout. It didn’t seem fair. As a kid, I’d always been painfully skinny. At the age of five, I was a source of family hilarity when I weighed less than the president’s turkey. Eight years later, I experienced trauma at my middle school weigh-in, when the gym teacher called out, “Five foot-five. Eighty-nine pounds.”  The mortification of it.  Just one more pound and it would have been a more respectable ninety.

But that was then. And this is some years later. And if today, you find yourself at odds with your own scale, I offer a few helpful tips:

 STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING AN UNRULY BATHROOM SCALE

  1. This one is important. Don’t attempt to argue, cajole, trick or otherwise tangle with a brand-new scale. Dig out the one you bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond ten years ago, before you began to order everything on Amazon. Why? New scales are accurate to a fault. I don’t know about you, but there’s no place in my life for anything that unforgiving.
  2. Never weigh yourself the moment you roll out of bed. In colonial times, people would close their shutters at night to protect against miasma, a fancy word for “night air,“ which was considered harmful to health. Okay, so the miasma theory has been totally debunked by science. But no question: something odd happens overnight (perhaps because we no longer use shutters?) First thing in the morning you’ll weigh more than you will even after you’ve downed that first cup.
  3. Let’s say you step on the scale and don’t like the number. Don’t panic. Try again. Still no good? Give it another shot. No? How about your glasses? That bracelet or clip in your hair? Remove it. Three tries may be the charm.
  4. If you’re still unhappy, here’s where strategy—or let’s say psychology—comes into play. (After all, who’s the smart one here?) Step off the scale and take a couple of quick steps toward the door, as if you’ve accepted the result and are about to walk out. Now quickly change course and step back onto the scale. Boom! The number is different, right? But higher, not lower? Hmmm. You might say (aloud) “Okay, if that’s the best you can give me—fine.” Then the moment the scale zeroes out (before it realizes your intent) get back on. But this time point  your toes in a different direction. Try two o’clock. If that doesn’t work, go for ten.

By this time your scale is probably thinking, “Okay, I give up. Anything to get her out of here.”  So keep trying until you get there. But be realistic. While a pound or two is about all you can hope for, rarely do I walk away in defeat.

One important caveat, however: quit while you’re ahead. If your barely animate nemesis has acquiesced even a little, just say thanks (no snide comments) and skulk away. Any further negotiation can only get you into trouble. Also, consider this. Recent medical research has determined that ideal BMI (body mass index) goes up the older you get. According to an article in WebMD.com, “Overweight Older People Live Longer.”

Maybe so, but they don’t look nearly as good in jeans.

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