I decided on my goal weight in the fourth grade, when I first joined Weight Watchers. I don’t remember what my “official” Weight Watchers goal was, but I remember the number I believed was the perfect weight. I think I picked it based on what some celebrity allegedly weighed. I wanted to be someone else, Just Like Her. That was my magic number.
I held on to that goal weight for years. Even when I wasn’t actively trying to lose weight, that number was still It. When I was actively trying to shrink my body, that number was the point where (I told myself) I would stop. I would be “thin enough.”
I had zero proof to back this up. I’d never seen that number on the scale, and I’d certainly never been that weight at my adult height. But that goal stayed with me for over half my life.
I came close exactly once. After several months on one of the most severe diets I ever designed, with self-imposed rules so strict I cried and refused to eat when my partner cut up a sausage “incorrectly,” I caught a gnarly stomach bug. After three days, couldn’t stand up without my vision going dark for a moment. On day four, I was within striking distance of my goal weight.
I froze, staring down at the digital readout between my toes. Closer than I’d ever been to my magic number, waiting for the sense of accomplishment to set in. Instead, I felt nothing.
It wasn’t real. I weighed this much because I was starved and dehydrated. My body didn’t want to be this weight. I hadn’t “achieved” anything. And when I turned toward the mirror, I still didn’t look “thin enough.”
My mind tried to reassure me with twisted logic: “It’ll be different when you’re actually at goal.”
But my higher self knew the truth. That small amount of numeric change wouldn’t make a difference. I wouldn’t suddenly feel powerful or beautiful. The voice in my head would just say, “You’ve come this far. Keep going.”
My “goal weight” was bullshit.
It wasn’t a seamless transition from holding this magic number in my mind to giving up on the idea of goal weights entirely. As I started eating again and the diet/binge cycle resumed, I still felt good on days when the scale readout was lower, and bad on days when it was higher. But I came back to my post-illness experience whenever thoughts of “life would be better if only the number on the scale were X” crept in.
No, I reminded myself. You’ve been there before, and nothing changed, remember?
It wasn’t enough to stop me from dieting entirely, but it stripped goal weights of their magic.