SMASH THE SCALE? Popular ED recovery advice that does NOT work for autistic people

autism recovery
Popular ED recovery advice

MY BOOK Rainbow Girl IS HERE! In my book, I hold nothing back. Not only do I write about what it was like growing up undiagnosed autistic, how this led to the development of an eating disorder and what it took for me to fully recover, but I reveal some of my deepest darkest secrets that I’ve never really told anyone before.

I’m talking hiding food in my underwear, manipulating my weight, and secretly buying a food scale the day I was discharged from an eating disorder treatment facility. Yeah, Rainbow Girl covers it ALL! To grab your very own copy, and perhaps copies for friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else you think would like to read it, just click here and you can get the eBook or the paperback or both!

And with that outta the way I figured a very fitting episode topic post book launch would be the start of a new podcast series called popular eating disorder recovery advice that does NOT work for autistic people. Today, we’re going to be unpacking a piece of advice that is probably going to be the most controversial, but that’s also because it’s probably the most popular. And that is to smash the scale.

Now, it goes without saying that there’s a big disclaimer on everything I’ll be sharing today as well as in future episodes of this series, because inevitably there will be autistic people for which the neurotypical ED recovery advice DOES work. But from my personal experience as well as the countless stories clients have told me, the recovery advice frequently shared often does not work for autistic people, and actually makes the eating disorder worse! So with that said, let’s dive into today’s episode!

To smash or not to smash?

"SMASH THE SCALE!” How often have you seen or heard this advice online? I mean seriously, every single post I’ve ever seen on eating disorder recovery when it comes to advice and tips and “starting your recovery journey” contains content around how you need to get rid of the scale if you want to fully recover. Whether this is a personal body scale or the food scale, I’ve seen the advice apply to both. The general belief is that owning or using a scale is going to hinder you in your recovery. And I actually have a few funny (well, not funny, but to me looking back, a lot of the rebellious things I did during ED treatment are quite funny to me now) personal stories about the scale that goes to show how counterproductive it is to force an autistic person to get rid of their scales. Both of these are in Rainbow Girl, so you’re seriously just gonna wanna read the book, but I’ll give one example regarding my food scale.

A food scale story

When I was in treatment for my eating disorder back in 2017, my treatment team gave me an ultimatum for discharging me. My therapist said that I was ready to discharge residential treatment, but I first had to smash my food scale. Now, I really didn’t want to do this. (A) because I’m not a fan of using violence to remove the meaning of an object (after all, the scale is just an inanimate object) and (B) because I still wanted to use my food scale after treatment.

Whaaat? You wanted to use your food scale after treatment? Yeah! In fact, I still use my food scale today! Obviously I’m not obsessively weighing every single carrot stick or taking 10 minutes to meticulously ensure my oat flakes are exactly X grams, but as someone who has attached numbers to things my entire life, having a food scale (and knowing my own weight, but that’s a different matter) gives me an extra layer of safety and trust in a world that’s not built for my neurodivergent mind.

Anyways, back to the story. My therapist said, “Before leaving treatment, you’re going to have to smash your food scale.” Well, like I said, I really didn’t want to do this. But treatment taught me that being honest was not really appreciated, so I masked and I pretended and I gave my therapists the answers I knew they wanted to hear. So I said, “Sure, I’ll smash my food scale. I’m sure it’ll feel so good!” Obviously not, but of course I kept that second part in my head ;)

The day before I was discharged from my three-month stay in residential treatment, I smashed my food scale. It was a horrible and traumatizing experience as it was just another one of those times where I had to mask to make "fake progress" on my recovery journey, but I did it because I knew it was the key that would unlock me from my imprisonment in treatment. Well, I’m sure you can guess what happened next, and I’ll just have to read you the exact quote from my book right now: “The next day, I took an Uber to Target and bought a new food scale.”

I elaborate on how the food scale was a helpful tool for me in Rainbow Girl, but the reason I share this bit now is because it perfectly illustrates that forced ED treatment has the opposite effect. Especially for autistic people who want to feel in control, attempting to take away that control is only going to cause them to seek it somewhere else...and because they know they’re “not allowed,” they will do it in secret. I think this adaptive behavior is part of the reason autistic people are labeled as “manipulative” and “non-compliant” in treatment. The truth is though, we’re not actually either of those things! We’re simply responding to a situation that we were cornered into in a natural human way. If you scream at a child and force them to do their homework without any compassion or asking them what they need help with, they’re much less likely to do their homework. In fact, you’re just creating more resistance, as you’re setting them up to be a student who feels traumatized by school and will likely seek out loopholes as their educational career progresses!

Should you own a food scale in ED recovery?

With all that being said, you’re probably wondering what the moral of the scale story is. Should you own a scale as an autistic person in recovery from an eating disorder? My honest answer is that it depends on you. Like I said earlier, some of the “typical” ED recovery advice may apply to autistic people, but the purpose of this episode and this story is to illustrate that it’s OKAY if that advice doesn’t work for you…and perhaps, the opposite advice may work even better! I’m not saying you “should” own a food scale or a personal scale; what I’m saying is that you have permission to own either of those things if they help you to live a life of freedom.

I often get asked how I eat intuitively as an autistic person and if I still use a food scale. I’ll definitely be doing a whole nother episode on that topic and maybe I’ll call it something like “What I Eat in a Day as an Autistic Person!” for some click-baityness haha, but as I mentioned earlier in this episode, yes I still own a food scale and a personal scale. There will inevitably be people listening to this thinking, “Well then you’re not fully recovered from an eating disorder!” but my question to you then is, “How are you defining being recovered?” Are you defining it by freedom and living on your own terms, or are you basing it off conclusions you have drawn from all the popular recovery advice on the internet?

To me, being recovered is living a life of freedom, one in which you are not held back by self-imposed limitations. Hence, living label free! For some people, having and/or using a scale can make them feel limited, but this only applies if the intention behind using the scale is to limit or restrict, whether this be your direct intake or to ensure your weight stays below a certain number. For others, however, including me, being able to attach a number to food actually helps me to eat MORE of it, which helped me massively during my ED recovery. In my case, and in the case of many autistic individuals, using your autistic trait of number attachment can work to your advantage, meaning the intention behind the behavior is rooted in love rather than fear or restriction. Of course, only YOU know your intention, but one of my favorite quotes to gain clarity around your intention is your mind thinks, but your heart knows.

So often, we THINK we need to do recovery a certain way just because a bazillion “ED recovery accounts” on the internet say that this is the “best” way to recover. But what’s BEST for one person is the WORST for another! This is why, especially if you’re autistic, you need to tailor your approach to your unique needs. If having a scale helps you to live a life of calm and peace, then having a scale can be a part of your recovered life. But if having a scale triggers you to eat less or want to lose weight, then getting rid of the scale and not knowing the numbers may be part of your recovered life. It’s really as simple as that!

And that’s a wrap for part 1 of this series on popular ED recovery advice that does not work for autistic people. As always, I hope that this episode not only inspired you, but also empowered you on your unique journey to freedom. Because ultimately, that’s what your journey is: UNIQUE! Becoming a recovered individual is all about dismantling your core beliefs from what you’ve been conditioned to believe, and discovering who you are and what aligns with your life. There’s never a right or wrong way to do anything, meaning there’s also no right or wrong way to recover. All that matters is that the approach works for YOU! If you want to dive even deeper and get an individualized plan for your unique journey, I invite you to book a consultation call for 1-1 coaching here. And if you haven’t already, grab a copy of my brand new book Rainbow Girl here! I’m already excited for the next episode in this popular recovery advice series, so make sure you’re subscribed wherever you listen to podcasts (or join the Liv Label Free family here if you prefer reading blogs) and I’ll chat with you again soon. Bye bye for now!

Want to learn how to navigate ED recovery as an autistic person?

Listen to my FREE TRAINING teaching you how to use your autistic traits to your advantage in ED recovery 💪