Sunday, March 27, 2011

What's in a Number?

Back in college, I used to think there was a clear-cut distinction between the people who chose to major in the arts, and those who chose to major in the sciences.  It wasn't a deep or complicated thought process, just a simple interpretation of what I saw.  

Good Will Hunting
Math and science people like to work with numbers and equations: they like things to be clear and precise, black and white. Numbers provide stability, security.  No matter what else may be chaotic in their lives, they can always count on the fact that 5x5=25, or that a2+b2=c2. There is comfort in that certainty.

Old woman or young lady?
Artsy people, on the other hand, prefer the shades of gray (or whatever other colors they choose to work with).  They find different ways to interpret what they see, usually as a reflection of some aspect of themselves.  They are ruled more by their hearts than their heads, which can be both more rewarding and more painful.

What I've realized, though, is that the line isn't always so clear.  If there's ever an exception, I'm it.  I'm an artsy math person.  I was an English major (later an English teacher), but taught the math portion of SAT classes.  As a child, I entered both poetry and math contests.  I've done logic puzzles for fun, but always felt better after writing in a journal.  I guess I like the certainty of the numbers and the flexibility of the words.  What I've realized, though, is that the numbers are sometimes just as variable as the words we use to describe them, and they can evoke even stronger emotions.

Let's take a look, for example, at the number 150.  I remember back in 1993 (during my anorexic days), my family had gone out for dinner for Thanksgiving.  I'd only been out of the hospital for a couple of weeks, and still wasn't eating much.  My Thanksgiving feast consisted of a small house salad and a dinner roll (bread was always my weakness).  I felt so disgusted with myself for eating so much: I remember turning to my mom and saying "oh my god, I feel like 150 pounds!"  I had been in the mid 120s through most of high school, and dropped down to just about 100 at my sickest.  I was around 110 at the time, so 150 was the most horrific number I could imagine.  I also remember, just as vividly, my mom's response: "I wish I felt like 150 pounds!"  

Over the years, that number has always stuck around in the back of my mind.  During the late 90s, when I had gained nearly a hundred pounds and was flirting with the 200 mark, I thought back to mom's comment.  I, too, wished I could feel like 150 pounds again, but never thought it would happen.  One-fifty was a dream, when it had once been a nightmare.  When I was losing weight again in 2001, it became a milestone: it was an important mark to hit, but it was never going to be enough.  

I reached (and surpassed) my weight goal, and stayed there for several years before the pounds started creeping back up again.  I could deal with a few pounds, though, as long as I was nowhere near that awful 150 again.  But as my health declined, my weight went up again: not just to the 150 mark, but far beyond it ... again.  One hundred to two hundred, now 125 to 175 ... always with that 150 number taunting me in the middle.

Last year, I changed my eating habits yet again, but for different reason.  I started eating more natural foods, less processed, less "artificial".  I wasn't trying to lose weight this time; I just wanted to feel better.  And it worked: the better I ate, the better I felt (whodathunkit?).  I got my energy and strength back, and had fewer and less intense pains day by day.  I started to feel like myself again, ready to take on the world.  Without really trying, I started losing weight again, too.

Lately, I've been bouncing back and forth with a few pounds up and down.  People ask me how much more I want to lose: some say I look great as I am, others seem to imply that I've got more to go (they might not say it directly, but they make it quite clear in their other words).  They ask what number I want to get down to.  Clearly, for them, the number is what's most important (they must be math/science people).  I really can't give them an answer, though; I'm focused more on how I feel.  

Right now, I feel good.  I feel healthy, I have energy, and I'm not in pain all the time anymore.  I don't have a bikini body or anything, but I think I look pretty good (in the right clothes, anyway).  Sure, I'd like to be a bit more firm, but that's mainly a matter of exercise ... and I'm working on that ... somewhat.  But the reality is that for the first time in far too many years, I just feel good about where I'm at.  I'm far from perfect, but I'm just as far from awful.  I'm not too small, and I'm not too big.  I guess I'm working with the Goldilocks method: I'm just right. 

This morning, I looked at the number on the scale, curious to see what "just right" weighed.  I had to laugh when the number flashing back at me was ... exactly 150.

** If you like what you read, tell a friend!  Actually, tell me too - post a comment below!!  If you don't ... well ... I'm all for honesty, but please be gentle!