Letter: A scale is a useful fitness tool

The weight scale was removed from Carleton’s gym this past week. This was a bad solution for the very real problem of body image disorders. As a fitness professional in the industry for many years, I want to help take apart and examine the issues for you.

Body image issues and the associated disorders are a real source of mental and physical health problems for millions of Canadians, and many of our fellow Carleton students. It is an issue that requires immense sensitivity and care, and health and fitness professionals, including the ones at Carleton Athletics, need to be able to address it properly.

Body dysmorphic disorders can come with a range of behavioural issues, including: over-eating or under-eating, obsessive working out to the point of doing physical damage, and substance abuse.

You might think of bulimia or anorexia when you think of body image problems, but these issues are also found in body builders, and many fitness fanatics suffer from other forms of body dysmorphia as well. The feeling of not being good enough can drive people to do all kinds of unhealthy things. Approaching this problem from a mental health perspective is how we can really help ourselves and our fellow students. Removing scales definitely won’t address the underlying issues that lead to the insecurities and lack of self confidence that people feel about their bodies.

The first step is not removing the ways people can measure themselves. Instead, we should help our friends and colleagues recognize that we are all on a personal journey towards better mental and physical health. To do that we need to help each other be honest about our limits and capabilities. We aren’t all going to be Olympic athletes or run marathons, but we can all participate in healthier living through physical fitness, healthy eating and good mental health practices.

Weight measurement is my least favorite tool for identifying success in health and fitness. It does not tell you why changes in your weight occur—but it is a tool in the health and fitness toolbox, and we need more of these tools, not less. The extreme focus on weight is definitely unhealthy, but teaching students about the markers of health is a real solution.

If you want to measure success in fitness, fat and muscle measurement can help to identify if you are in healthy ranges and give you clues about ways to improve your health. People use these and many other tools, including just paying attention to your body in terms of sleep, fatigue, pain, hunger, and energy levels to stay healthy. You probably don’t have to weigh yourself to see how you are doing, but regularly stepping on a scale can identify dramatic changes in your weight, which can warn you about related health problems.

There is a disconnect between the real mental health problem and the band-aid solution provided by the university. If the university wants to address this problem, addressing it in a way that gives students the tools to improve their mental health and understand their physical health is the answer. Mental health is never helped by avoiding hard truths, or removing ways to see yourself. Even scales, tape measures, and mirrors are good tools, but best served with a good dose of helpful friends, colleagues and health professionals.

Learning to be comfortable with yourself, while also being introspective about your physical and mental health can be hard. Listening to your friends and the wisdom of the good people around you can help.