At the point that you commit to making healthy choices for yourself, and start losing weight, some interesting things start to happen. I very clearly remember fantasizing about the 6 pack abs that would magically appear once I dropped the weight. I envisioned that I would have the self confidence of a super model. I would wear bikinis with reckless abandon. People would cheer me on as I walked the halls, much like the slow clap that turns into a roaring applause featured in all teen movies from the ’80’s on. Much to my chagrin, none of these things materialized. In fact, the things that did happen were quite the opposite.
I have a pretty healthy case of self diagnosed body dysmorphia. I don’t talk about it, which I really feel is a mistake. The embarrassment has always outweighed the good that can come from talking openly about it. Until now. The very interesting thing about body dysmorphia is that it isn’t a new thing for me. When I started to gain weight rapidly, I didn’t see the change in the mirror. At my heaviest of 265 pounds, size 24W+, when I looked in the mirror, I believed I looked more like a size 8. However, now that I am down to a healthier size and average weight, I see in the mirror the 24W person that I never saw before. I have tried to talk about it with close confidants, but it is often met with “Oh, but that is silly! People would kill for your body!” Ok, maybe not THAT extreme, but it is just not something that is taken seriously. I don’t know for sure that it happens in every case, but I do know it happened to me. I don’t know how it happens or why it happens, but it’s pretty tough to deal with. I have found that it is important for me to acknowledge that it is there, and speak out loud about the ridiculousness of it. In the times I spent trying to keep it secret, it led to what I now know is an eating disorder.
I had a lot of great success with losing weight once I committed and accepted that this is now how I live. There was no Plan B. There was no option to fail. However, when I hit my goal weight, I wasn’t able to stop. I weighed myself multiple times per day, I obsessed about every food and beverage I put into my mouth, and I started to use exercise to justify having a small cup of frozen yogurt. I beat myself up over any failure. I demonized certain foods. I would make myself sick if I strayed from my food plan for the day. In essence, I went from total indulgence to total restrictions. When I got to size 4, I needed to get to size 2. When I got to size 2, I obsessed over eating to size 0, which I never was able to do. I recognized that this was not normal behavior. I backed off weighing myself before and after going to the bathroom, before and after work, when I got up and when I went to bed, to just one time a day. Although this was definitely a step in the right direction, it was still driving my restrictive behavior. I have recently been able to weight myself just one time a week, which I never thought possible. I have also accepted that the scale is just one small piece of the picture.
The obsession with the scale was a bit of a surprise. For those of you who may not be at your ideal weight, maybe you relate to total scale avoidance. I don’t really know that 265 was my highest weight. I refused to get on the scale for years because I just didn’t want to know. When I would go to the doctor, I would just ask them to not tell me what the scale said. I would joke about it. “I bet your scale doesn’t go that high!” I believe that the obsession started as soon as I lost my first 10 pounds. Seeing the scale drop, even just a little, was success. Finally…I was winning! And I had control! Every day, I had one opportunity to be a success, so I became addicted to it. Seeing that scale drop then began to control the food choices, which initiated the eating disorder. When we think of eating disorders, we think of Anorexia or Bulimia. When you become scale obsessed and extremely restrictive on food choices to control, you may have an issue. Committing to lifestyle changes can really force you to walk a fine line between healthy and disordered eating. Be mindful. If you think you have a problem, talk about it, and seek professional help.
Losing a lot of weight takes a toll on your body. It really doesn’t matter how slow or how fast you lose the weight. If you lose mass amounts of weight, you will likely have loose skin. THANK GOD FOR SOCIAL MEDIA! Losing weight today has a much different level of reaity than it did even 10 years ago. People now have the courage to post honest images of their ravaged bodies after weight loss to show you what to expect. As I mentioned, I was ready for my honorary washboard stomach to be awarded to me when I hit my goal weight. What I did get was a saggy sack of skin at my stomach, a completely deflated chest, saggy underarms, and loose inner thighs. I look at photos like this and laugh:
Nope, doesn’t happen. This helps to perpetuate the myth that your body is just going to magically deal with the fallout of your bad choices and somehow get rid of all that extra skin it needed to grow to compensate for those choices. It can’t just un-grow it. You should expect this instead:
A million crunches aren’t going to get rid of it either. I wore my saggy stomach as a badge of honor and a reminder to myself for about 5 years. I asked doctor upon doctor what I could do to make it go away. Unfortunately, the only option they could give me was surgery, which was the option that I ultimately chose. Also, it’s not just a matter of loose skin in many cases. You may have torn your abdominal muscles to the point where they also need to be surgically repaired. It’s not cheap, and it’s not covered by insurance. I do not regret the decision I made to have the skin removed. I was using it as way to punish myself for the bad choices I had made. When I decided to get rid of it, I finally accepted that I had made mistakes, and I was convinced that I was not going to go backwards. The financial commitment helped me to stay motivated to continue on my path to recovery. There are some people who jump the gun a bit and get the surgery after losing just a fraction of the weight they need to, and end up doing it again. Make no mistake, this is a major surgery, and costs between $10,000 – $12,000. Please understand that this will not magically award you the abs you are dreaming of. You do actually have to work for those.
Speaking of those abs, did you know that every magazine, movie, and publication uses make up and photoshop to give you the most perfect image possible? I am sure that you do know that, but I didn’t. So, the scale obsession and restricted eating, combined with the naivety of not knowing about photoshop really sent me into a deep depression. Why, even after losing weight, eating a perfect diet, and working out for hours a day, most days a week, is my body not looking like what I see?
The best thing that you can do for yourself is accept that your body is unique. You may NEVER see visible abs, and that has to be ok. You may always have a flat bottom, and that has to be ok. I have previously discussed accepting yourself for who you are and what you look like but always striving to be the best you that you can be. I had to eventually understand that it was necessary to shift my goals from a number on the scale to accomplishment. For instance, I wanted to see 135 on the scale. When I couldn’t break 137, I started to punish myself and give up. Negative self talk took over. This was not a healthy mindset to be in. However, when I decided that if I eat more good than bad, and I exercise more days than I don’t, I started to think about things I could never imagine that I could do. Run Pat’s Run. Complete a half marathon. Be in Oxygen Magazine. Become a Certified Personal Trainer and help others. When my focus shifted to achievements from scale numbers, things started to be easy and enjoyable.
Finally, the absolute hardest thing to deal with was other people. When I had lost about 80 pounds, it started. “Don’t you think you are losing weight too fast?” At 100 lbs, “Wow, how much more do you plan on losing?” At 110 Lbs, “Do you really think you can keep the weight off?” At 120 lbs, “You are really getting too skinny. Are you anorexic?” At 125 pounds, “I am so glad you’re done. I am so worried about you, I think you need help.” Funny thing is, it was similar to quitting drinking (“You don’t really think you have a problem, do you? You’re FINE!”) and quitting smoking (“You’ve quit for two weeks, you’ve proved you can do it, why not just have one with us? You’re FINE!”) I tried to remind myself that people were just trying to show concern. I found that people who I thought were friends became very jealous and couldn’t be friends with me anymore. It became a competition to them. If we were together, and people said hello to me first, it would be an issue. To them, I suppose I was just the fat friend, not an actual human being. I was there to make them feel better about themselves, not for an actual friendship. People started talking about me behind my back under the guise of concern. They started to watch everything that I ate and chime in if they thought it was too healthy or a bad choice. (This actually happened this week, 9 years after I lost all of my weight.) I also noticed that people who would never even look me in the eye before were now talking to me and seeing me as a human being. You can’t imagine the rage that I felt. I vowed to NEVER treat people differently based on their looks. I know that we all tend to see ourselves as benevolent acceptors of others, but are we really? Do we see someone and immediately judge before we even speak to the person? It’s definitely something we can all examine and improved in ourselves.
I know I have given you a lot to consider, and I do NOT want to discourage you from losing weight or making changes in your life. When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of things, you can learn and grow from ALL of these things. I can’t tell you how invaluable my experiences have been for me. I am able to help people around me. I thirst for knowledge on nutrition and health, and just basically making good and healthy choices. I was recently asked, “If you had two years to live, what would you do?” I would travel the world, meet as many people as possible, and do all of the things that I was always too afraid to try. I would not go back to drinking, smoking, or eating myself to death. In answering that question, I am reaffirmed in my commitment to my way of life. All of it is worth it. You will succeed if you stay committed to yourself. Through all of this, you may not believe me, but I know it’s true…
You’re probably NOT crazy!!