Being Fat, Losing Weight, and Feeling Really Confused About the Emotional Consequences

Fat XI
Here’s the thing about losing weight. We’re always sold that a thinner body will make us happier. If only I could look like…. But the strange thing is, before I started my weight loss “journey,” I’m pretty sure I was the happiest with myself that I remember being, maybe, ever. Now, 40lbs lighter, I find myself in unexplored emotional territory. Am I happy now?

6 months ago I was 253lbs, a size 16-18, and only moderately mean to myself. Sure, I always wanted to be thinner, but I had stopped actively telling myself that there was something wrong with me.  I made peace with the fact that Le Château just wasn’t a store I could shop in. It was okay. Turned out Land’s End was. I stopped thinking about my appearance so much. When I did that, it was just … easier. It was okay to be me. I didn’t need to punish myself. But then, after two fairly traumatic wardrobe malfunctions and the fear of being the “fat bridesmaid” in my cousin’s wedding pictures, I started actively trying to lose weight.

The Backstory

I’ve always been a dieter.  Going way back to when I was 12 years old, I was a dieter. I was not good at exercise and I was really uncoordinated. I was taller than the other girls – and often the other boys – growing up which always made me feel different. Awkward. So I guess I got caught up in feeling different, which usually meant that I ostracized myself further. I played up the role as the bigger girl. I looked older so I had to act older. And tough. I assumed the role as the sidekick, never the girl that people would pay attention to, but as the seemingly confident friend who acted like nothing scared me.

I was always really mean to myself. When I look back at pictures from high school, I wonder why I thought I was so bad. I was 70lbs lighter – which empirically must mean that I was better – but I never thought I was okay. I guess I was still 50lbs heavier and a foot taller than the other girls my age so I didn’t fit. I truly hated myself for a long time. But I put in a lot of emotional work after high school. It took a long time –  years – and though it wasn’t done, I got to a good place.

I still dabbled in dieting. A few years ago, I put myself on a salad and protein diet before a trip to Vegas in an effort to avoid feeling awful in a bathing suit. I wanted to enjoy myself on the trip and not get hung up on what I perceived to be what Vegas would look like.  I lost about 10lbs and decided that I was okay. I went. I bought pretty dresses. I existed in public in a bathing suit, no one publically shamed me and I didn’t burst into fat flames. It was good.

I survived not because of those 10lbs I lost, but because of all the years I spent teaching myself to like me just a little bit better. The 10lbs helped – my bathing suit actually fit better and the small loss gave me the confidence to go forth because I felt like I had accomplished something – but it wasn’t the real victory.

So, what changed?

I decided that I needed to lose weight because my clothes really weren’t fitting – I point you back to the aforementioned wardrobe malfunctions – and I didn’t feel very good about it. I lived my life in yoga pants so it crept up on me, but by summer I only had one dress that I felt comfortable wearing – a coral sun-dress that I hated – and that was getting old fast. I just wanted my clothes to fit again. But I wasn’t really sure how to make that happen.

I joined Weight Watchers in the summer. It’s been incredibly successful – assuming you’re judging success by pounds lost. I’ve lost 40lbs (well, I had before the week that was Christmas 2011) and I feel quite good about it. I feel proud of myself for doing what I’m supposed to do and getting the results I wanted. I feel generally better because I’m eating healthy food every day. Clothes that I haven’t worn in years fit again. Jeans. I’m wearing stretch-less jeans! I forgot how much I like jeans because it was so much more comfortable to just wear yoga pants all the time.  The dress I fought so hard to make fit for my brother’s wedding is loose on me. I spend mental energy thinking about myself instead of all the things I’m stressed about. It’s generally really great.

So, What’s the problem?

I feel a bit crappy about the whole thing.

It really hit me at Christmas when at least six family members greeted me by commenting on how much weight I’d lost and how good I looked. They were shocked. SHOCKED I tell you! It was like I’d cured cancer, or saved puppies, or done something else truly amazing.  It was as if I had become a better person.

I’ve probably acted this way with people who have lost weight before too. It’s ingrained. We all know that thin is healthier, more attractive, and all around better, right? And I don’t mean to begrudge my family so much – a) I know they all really meant well and were trying to compliment me and b) A big change is a logical jumping off point with a person you don’t see very often. But it made me feel self-conscious and a bit defensive. Am I more valuable now? What if I gain the weight back? What will they think of me then? Will they like me less? Will they think that I’m a failure? What did I look like before? I must have looked AWFUL for them to make THIS big of a deal about my loss. If they think it was so hard to lose weight, do they think I just wasn’t trying hard enough before? Why aren’t they scrutinizing anyone else’s body?!

What’s more, I’ve really come around to the fat acceptance movement as of late. I believe that people really do come in all different sizes and we’re not meant to be the same. I believe that fat and unhealthy are not necessarily the same thing – after all, I’ve never been unhealthy. I started losing weight out of vanity. That’s been my only motivation for my entire life. I just wanted to be thinner. So by getting all this praise, and by accepting it as something good, I felt like I was betraying my newfound principles. I was buying in to the same old crap that surrounds us. Fat=bad/lazy/gross and thin=great/healthy/smart/responsible. Thin=YouAreABetterPerson

By actively pursuing weight loss, wasn’t I saying being fat isn’t okay? Well, yes. I guess. But only for me! It’s a mess of contradictions, I get that. But it’s my body, so that’s sort of my prerogative.

I wanted to keep pointing out size-ism when I saw it. I wanted to keep speaking up when people conflated health with appearance. I wanted to continue being pissed off at movies and people making fat jokes. I just didn’t want to be quite as fat anymore. But I was pretty sure I’d still be sort of fat. I’m tall. And broad shouldered. I’ll never be small.

My original weight loss goal was moderate(ish). I wanted to get back down to the weight I was when I met Ryan. I don’t actually know what that weight was (I was training for a 10k run at the time so I was probably in the best shape I’ve ever been fitness-wise) but I wanted to wear the outfit I wore for our 4th date – my favourite of all the early dates. I wore jeans (the ones I’m wearing right this minute, as a matter of fact) and a teal blouse with adorable cap sleeves and a cute little belt. I loved that outfit. I felt sexy as hell in that outfit. And I had a fantastic evening in that outfit. I was chasing those feelings.

I wasn’t thin by any stretch of the imagination on that date. I was probably still a size 12, but I was rocking that size 12.  Setting this as my goal seemed like it would be not only good for my psyche – years of dreaming of looking like the other girls always caused me so much pain – but also attainable.

So I started Weight Watchers and I loved it immediately. It’s a system that’s really well suited to my personality. It’s concrete. It’s a numbers game. Did I mention that I love it? If you’re interested, I’d be happy to tell you about it someday if you ever ask. I love to talk about the program because it works. The program. That’s a very different thing than talking about me. It’s very different about talking about how much I weigh or how my body fits in my clothes. Because it’s my body. It’s not up for discussion and dissection when everyone feels like it. I get to own that conversation. It’s not small talk to fill a silence. It’s me, and there’s a lot of complexity that goes with that.  It’s not yours. It’s mine.

So I guess that’s half of what my stress is about.  The other half is much more familiar.

On New Year’s eve, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and those old feelings came back. Why is my arm so fat? Does this dress fit okay? Are people looking at me? Despite achieving the goals I’d set out for myself, I seemed to be spending even more time nitpicking. Here I am, upset about other people scrutinizing me, and yet I’m doing it to myself. What gives?

What’s the solution?

Part one is: Don’t talk about other people’s bodies unless you’re invited to do so.

Part two, and this one is for me, is to take some of the focus off losing the weight. Am I quitting WW and breaking out the sweat pants? No. I really do enjoy how things are going. I have a new dress in my closet I look forward to wearing. I have set new goals and I look forward to achieving them. But I need to stop looking at being lighter as being better. That’s not an easy task. I’m a goal oriented person and I really like to win at things.

But history has shown that I’m not happier just by being thinner. I need to put some serious work into self-acceptance again. It’s one thing to accept myself as fat and put up a wall to any criticism. It’s another thing to truly understand that my value as a person isn’t actually related to my appearance. I thought I was at that point before, but clearly that’s not the case. I need to really learn to like myself at whatever weight I am at that moment – whether I’m 100lbs or 300lbs.

I don’t actually know how to do this yet. There may be another 2000 words in my future devoted to tearing this issue apart into little pieces, and then tearing those pieces into even more pieces of excessive analysis. If you last that long, let this be my apology to you in advance. You won’t get those fifteen minutes of your life back either.

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5 thoughts on “Being Fat, Losing Weight, and Feeling Really Confused About the Emotional Consequences

  1. Did you ever come around to rational reasons why your family made a big deal about a slimmer you? I think that making a list of ten or so possibilities isn’t difficult.and could continue your internal discussion.

  2. This is so well done. I’ve yo-yo dieted since I was about the same age, maxing out well over 200lbs and a size 16 (looking back this wasn’t “as big” as I felt in my mind) and bottomed out around a size 2 after I stopped eating and got dumped in 2006.

    The thing that struck you is what struck me: no matter how totally miserable you are, people will be BLOWN-THE-FUCK-AWAY by weight loss. I got compliments left, right and center about how fantastic I looked and didn’t I feel great and did I have any tips. My tips would have been: stop eating food, replace with pathetic undergraduate tears while watching Cruel Intentions. I was more unhappy than I have been in my entire life and no one cared because I looked “great”. There’s something so devaluing about having people say you suddenly look great as if you’d spent the previous stretch of life being incredibly ugly.

    After I finished grad school I was on an upspin weight wise, topping out around last March due to my (ongoing) horrible job. I have also been a very vocal supporter and believer in FA and HAES (yes, these are difficult to accept on a personal level). [This was also my all-yoga-pants-all-the-time era] I decided to start doing exercise since in the past practicing controlled eating/counting calories has pushed me towards an obsessive and eating-disordered lifestyle. I did some dvds at home, and then a few months later, after some success, joined a gym. Over time, I felt less like I was ‘making a change’ and more like I was just living a slightly different lifestyle. And yeah, I lost about 50lbs (don’t own a scale, use a measuring tape 1x/mo).

    People at work are the worst. People in my real life know that I don’t want to talk about my weight. People at work say “WOW YOU LOST A LOT OF WEIGHT” which is uncomfortable and makes me feel like they’re noticing my body instead of the work I do. It’s also hard to go on a rant about the impropriety when the person saying stuff is the boss.

    [wow this is going on forever, forgive me!]

    Just wanted to throw my support behind you. I started feeling genuinely happier when I started running road races, I feel empowered and really in control. Training for them makes me feel like I’m really achieving something for myself. Taking the focus off the specific pounds and moving focus to other things is really constructive.

  3. Hi Lizz Hope I wasn’t the relative who made you feel uncomfortable about losing all the weight. I’ve been there also. I do believe that it is how self-accepting you are of yourself that matters. I’ve had the experience of looking at pictures a few years later and thought with a lot of surprise that I looked really good back then. What really happened? So keep on doing what you do to feel good and healthy and don’t worry about how heavy you are as long as you are healthy.

    1. Thanks Betty. No, it wasn’t you. Though, I also wouldn’t want those family members to feel bad either. I just wanted to sort out how I was feeling about it, and also to ask people to consider what they’re saying so it doesn’t give the impression of valuing a person higher based on their weight.

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