I began this journey with two strong ideas in mind. First, I wanted to lose weight…I really had no idea that reprogramming my thinking would be part of the deal. Second, I thought when I hit my goal weight and was “skinny” that I would feel really good about myself and my body…because what could I possibly complain about when I could fit into normal jeans??? Soooo not the case!
I did feel really great and really confident about myself for awhile once I hit my goal weight. But here’s the weird thing that no one tells you or talks about when you lose a lot of weight: you still carry many of the same mental patterns/habits as when you were heavy. During my journey I learned I needed to make changes in my mental habits, too, and I was working on those. For example, I was learning to reframe my self-talk (stop calling myself fat). I was learning how to set goals. I was learning how to have confidence in my ability to nourish myself in a way that worked for my body and exercise regularly. However, in my case I had loads of faulty thinking patterns…patterns that I’ve only realized come into play regarding my confidence and body image. And the interesting part is that learning those lessons couldn’t have happened until after I hit my goal weight and circumstances in my life shifted.
So here is some insight into the inner-workings of my mind (Scary, I know! What’s even scarier is that I don’t think I am all that unique! Read on!):
When I was heavy and so consumed with my weight and how I looked, I just wanted to be skinny. Almost every year of my life I can think of I have struggled with my weight and therefore “being skinny” was the ultimate goal. “Being skinny” seemed as if it would fix everything. If I was skinny, then I could <insert nearly anything here>. That was what I thought. Truly, it was! As I started to lose weight and I got compliments from people, my self-esteem started to improve. It felt good to be noticed for shrinking. It was an affirmation of sorts that people appreciated you more when you were skinny. (Stay with me…I know my thinking was flawed…there is a point…don’t bail on me!) Those compliments were a big motivator for me; they were conclusive evidence I wasn’t fat anymore. Fast forward a few more months…I had been at my goal weight for awhile and was trying to find my footing with a new career. Somewhere in that span of months I began to view myself as fat again. I didn’t like how my body looked, I didn’t feel fit enough, I wondered if I should even be in a fitness related career.
Now that I am rounding the next corner on this journey and am getting some perspective on why things went all haywire for me, I’ve got some interesting revelations!
1. Once you lose weight and that is who you are for awhile, then people don’t know you as any different. Most of the people you encounter will only know the “skinny” you. They aren’t going to shower you with compliments at the weight you’ve lost because they don’t know that about you. On the flip-side, the usual people in your life, the ones you see day-to-day, are used to how you are now. To my point: Suddenly I wasn’t getting validation anymore that I was what I thought I was i.e. they aren’t telling me I look good, so I must not! As I write this, I realize I sound as if I need a big ego stroke from everyone around me. Ask the people that know me best and they will tell you that is not the case. Most of the time I prefer to live life in the background. I do not like being the center of attention. Why then did I need those compliments to make me feel worthy? The answer is this and it is hard to admit: I seek validation. If I am doing well at my job, I want a confirmation that I did well. If I am being a good parent, I want a confirmation I am getting it right. If I look good, I want to know I belong with the fit crowd. So here I am, forty years old and just now discovering that I…me…I am the one who needs to believe that what I am doing and what I am is worthy and good. No amount of someone saying those words to me is actually going to change my self-perception. I have to believe in myself. THAT is what I’m working on these days. Onto revelation numero dos…
2. I assumed also that when I got skinny I would like my body, like myself, and all of sudden “belong.” Uhh…nope! I lost weight and just began a new way of comparing my body to others. While heavy, I compared my fat body to the skinny people. Once I lost the weight, I just continued comparing my body to other women and then after I decided to pursue training it got even worse. All of a sudden I felt overwhelming pressure to look and perform a certain way. I would think to myself “Geez, you want to call yourself a trainer you had better be able to do pullups, workout every day, teach multiple classes per week, journal all your food, be lean and defined, don’t crave sugar, and don’t have flabby spots!!” Yes, I really thought all that bunk! Then I’d go to fitness professional “stuff” and instead of being elated that I had changed my life to such a degree that I was in the profession, all I could feel was “I don’t belong here! I don’t look like these people! Look at how skinny and defined they are! And my way of thinking/my approach does not fit with theirs.” Compare, compare, compare!!! What the hell??? Why was I still doing this?? So here’s my other big revelation: no matter where you are in your journey, someone else will likely appear to be thinner/stronger/better/smarter/richer/blahblahblah. So I’ve decided it is high time to learn to love the skin I am in and stop all this comparison B.S. I don’t want to have worked so hard to change my health and my life to get sucked into the comparison game again and never be satisfied. I’m sick and tired of feeling like I don’t measure up. I’m sick and tired of having my body and how it looks be at the forefront of my mind. So I am working very hard to develop a healthy body image AND self image!
Yes, losing weight and changing your physical appearance is a big deal. No longer enduring hurtful comments because of being overweight is a big deal. Being able to shop for clothes and have it actually end up being fun rather than a tearful experience is a big deal. But I can also tell you without hesitation, losing weight is far, far beyond just changing your physical self!
I know there are lots of you out there who are in the midst of this change to better health. What have you discovered during your journey? Did you find the weight was just a small piece of what you needed to change?