My rapid 150-pound weight loss was the result of a very unhealthy lifestyle. I replaced an addiction to eating with an addiction to dieting, and sacrificed my health to achieve a “goal weight” decided for me by a major weight loss corporation. I grew sick with symptoms of malnutrition, my body hit starvation mode, my entire life revolved around calculating calories, and I was controlled by a fear of food and weight gain. “This is the least I’ve ever weighed and the least happy I’ve ever been,” I remember crying to my mom.
Determined to leave behind a life of “eating disorder tendencies” (according to a nutritionist), I found myself stuck in a binge/restrict cycle of overeating and undereating instead. Balance and moderation were elusive. Every time I attempted to lose any weight gained after I reached my lowest, the diet or detox or meal plan I used only worked until it was over, and I always ended up heavier than I started. I had to break the yo-yo, so I forced myself to give up control and learn how to actually listen to my body.
I stopped weighing myself. I stopped counting calories. I stopped portioning and measuring my food. I stopped calculating and tracking my intake. I stopped making decisions rooted in fear. Eventually, I achieved my goal: maintain my weight without controlling my body. Freedom was liberating. I had my life back.
I still experience fluctuations as part of my lifestyle dedicated to holistic health (rather than weight management), but now they are minor, barely noticeable to someone who was once more than 300 pounds. I am at peace with that. I feel grateful my life no longer revolves around my body; fortunately my world now incorporates much more than just dieting tips and exercise routines.
Today, I am in a very different, much happier, and more loving place mentally than I was immediately following my weight loss. Because I have since moved beyond it, some of my old habits and ways of thinking now trigger an addiction, a disorder, that no longer runs my life. I don’t still feel that I need to look “better,” or that I’m not good enough as I am, or that I have to change or be different. I don’t, anymore, consider my appearance a problem to be solved, a fixable entity for which I need to find a solution. I don’t think my body is a reason I should hate myself. I used to live by these self-critical principles in the war against myself, and I don’t like going back there. I do what I can to stay away.
Whenever you tell me that I look thinner, though, you take me back there. It’s not your fault; because we live in a fat-phobic society, we’ve been conditioned to assume that if somebody has lost weight, it is necessarily, inherently, a good thing. When somebody says, “I lost X number of pounds,” our instinctual reaction is (typically) some sort of congratulations or positive reinforcement. Yay! You did it!
But what about the young girl who achieved weight loss through starvation? Or the woman who became ill and lost weight in the hospital? What about the boy who cured his alcohol addiction by creating a dieting addiction? Or the man who uses the reward of restriction to numb pain from his childhood traumas? What if encouraging your friend’s weight loss was equivalent to encouraging him or her to continue vomiting after every meal? What if your well-intentioned praise was blindly directed at them?
By mentioning to me that I look leaner, you are implying that I have done something good, something that deserves congratulations, something I should continue. You don’t know how I got here, but you tell me to keep going. You don’t know why I’m doing what I’m doing, but you do seem to know without a doubt that it must be a good thing. (What if my goal were intentional self-destruction?) By commenting on my decreased weight, you are telling me that taking up less space is something I should continue striving for – because you assume it was intentional. It wasn’t a desired goal of mine, but you make me feel as though it should be. I know you don’t mean to, but by commenting on my size and suggesting that less is more, you are reminding me of all the years I spent believing my body was a measure of my worth and an indication of my value. Your statements make me consider getting on the scale, measuring my stomach and thighs and arms, portioning my meals, limiting my carbs, burning more calories, and “keeping up the great work”(!!!!)
If I don’t notice and consciously cease this pattern of thinking immediately, the diet mindset of scarcity, inadequacy, fear, and anxiety causes me to gain it all back – fast. Being so influenced by your comments is definitely something for me to work on, but I think it’s important to clarify, for anyone who has never struggled with food, weight, and body image/dysmorphia this way, that what you intend to be a compliment is actually quite the psychological burden for me to bear. It takes my mind out of a place of self-love and back into one of self-hate, because it speaks to the part of me that will forever feel on some level that I require fixing, solving, and perfecting, the way you just implied. The aftermath of your words leaves me fighting the piece of me that will always be flattered and excited by your comment, because if I allow myself to feel rewarded by what you said, I will continue to seek that reward. I might lose myself in the pursuit of achieving your definition of beauty – again. You’ve brought the focus, attention, value, and significance back to my immortal desire to “improve” my body, when decidedly not focusing on my size is what brings me health and happiness.
When you turn around and walk away, I have to actively remind myself that who I am is more than what I look like, and that I am no better or worse than I was before. I appreciate your sentiment, and then I do my best to pretend you never said it. I know that it is not intentional and I am in no way suggesting that you do it on purpose, but by telling me I am thinner, you are triggering me. You bring to life the little girl inside of me who grew up being told to change, to be different, to do better, to BE better by becoming smaller. I’ve done a lot of work to love her as she is, so I’d appreciate some help in keeping it that way.