How I’m Viewing Weight Loss as a Result of Stability Rather Than a Sign of Conformity
The past year I haven’t been on a weight loss journey per se. I struggle with the phrase “weight loss journey”; it implies that weight-loss is the sole focus, which detracts from one’s health as a whole and feeds into the shame-based tactics of diet culture and the weight loss industry. Losing weight is not our sole purpose as human beings. There are also societal standards devoted to shaming and blaming fat people until they become thin — essentially conforming. My healing journey is not one of conformity or shame. Losing weight now means that I’m not mindlessly eating as frequently anymore and that I am focused on how I feel rather than what I look like. Intuitive eating is still a practice I am working on. As I’ve developed healthier eating habits, which include being in tune with hunger-fullness cues and diversifying my diet, I’ve naturally lost weight.
I also struggle with the term “weight loss journey” because I’m not necessarily going out of my way to lose weight. I’ve made small changes and have been doing work therapeutically that have resulted in gradual weight loss. It’s more of a result of recovery and stability than a sign I am hating or harming myself. I note this because most weight loss I’ve experienced in the past, I hated myself and had no concept of a healthy body image. Many people hate themselves into weight loss, which is such a shame because we deserve to view it through the lens of reclamation rather than shamefully. I am truly respectful and loving of myself and my body during this journey — that matters most to me.
I was very self-destructive in my eating disorder as a teenager and young adult. I would restrict, binge and purge until I was numb. I was desperately trying to stay small as well as cope with the trauma I experienced. Making myself small made me feel in control when in the past, people around me felt scary, unpredictable and triggering. I gained weight in both recovering and from continued binge eating. I don’t know what my set weight is as an adult because I’ve never found it, but my goals are to feel more comfortable in my body, feel like I can do more with my body and to focus on how I feel rather than my clothing size or what I look like. I feel rooted in my goals today and feel empowered to find balance rather than to “look better” or fit into a smaller size.
Before I developed an eating disorder, I was prescribed a weight loss camp as a teenager and was often met with anger and judgment for my size when I should have been met with therapy and compassion. Having been met with compassion (by people whose opinion matters) these past few years, I’ve really developed healthier views of my body and self worth. It’s been life-saving to take my time in this journey. I appreciate that I do not want to rush through this process. To know oneself is to be able to set oneself free — free from the self hate and poor body image.
Here are some things I’ve learned during this journey thus far:
1. Don’t wait until you lose the weight to live your life or love your body. I’ve had some unhealthy thoughts every now and then during this time I’ve lost weight. One rather sad thought was thinking I’d take a lot of photos of myself once I lose even more. I’ve been challenging this by taking photos of myself and loving myself every part of the process. I hold the same morals and values in a plus size body as I did in a straight size body. I have worth and beauty no matter what. And I deserve to see how worthy and beautiful I am every part of the journey. This is a tricky thought to explore because what I see in the mirror today is different than what I saw last year. I also struggled with body dysmorphia as a teenager and while I’ve felt comfortable with my body image at my highest weight, I worry I could fall back into old patterns and thoughts. I feel very supported by my treatment team and loved ones though and will reach out for help if I begin to struggle again. I am so adamant about using my voice now because I know I cannot slip back into the isolation and pushing away I slinked into in the past. I know I’ll have unhealthy thoughts time to time. I have the skills to now challenge these thoughts and bring myself back to my intentions and goals. I’m on the pursuit of peace — not weight loss.
2. You never have to conform in regards to sharing your before-and-after photos of weight loss or sharing the numbers of weight loss or pants sizes dropped. I will always be a strong believer in my campaign #BoycottTheBefore, which also translates to the conversation about how we view weight loss in this world. I don’t believe in showing you how much I’ve lost as it inevitably shames my “before”. I struggle with the concept of transformation photos because we are programmed to be so proud of our physical growth, which leads us to forget about our immense mental and emotional growth. I’d rather tell you how I’m proud of not mindlessly eating as much and that my body hurts less when exercising than detailing the superficial, obvious changes like the physical appearance and number changing. I also aim to not be triggering to people in recovery from eating disorders by not putting such a focus on numerical or physical details. And I want to highlight the mental transformation because it matters the most.
3. Channel the need to “prove them wrong” into how you can show you had worth all along. I certainly believe “prove them wrong” has its time and place in every person’s life at some point in time; however, it is not that fitting for me anymore. It clashes with my morals and my wise mind in some ways. I don’t feel a need to prove anyone wrong because I didn’t do anything wrong. I get hateful comments at times where people tear me apart just because of my size. There was a recent careless comment saying if I walked more then maybe I’d lose weight. I want to counter this nonsense by detailing that I’m constantly on my feet at my job and I walk great distances when I have off from work. There is an urge to prove them wrong. As much as I sometimes want to do so, I stop myself because there is no point in trying to reason with rude assumptions and if they see a fat person as that terrible of a person for just existing, they’re not someone I’d want to engage with at all. Interestingly enough, I’ve learned who my friends are and are not from gaining a lot of weight. The people who love us for who we are don’t pressure us or shame us. They are mindful that this is a journey and that this should never be a “quick fix” or a mark of shame to weigh more. Having my friends and family no longer comment on my weight has in fact, helped me lose weight gradually and healthily. This is because shame never instigates positive, long-lasting change. I state this all the time, but it speaks absolute volumes and rings true. This is the first time in my life I have gradually lost weight over time for non-disordered or obsessive reasons. It can be difficult to stay grounded in your goals in this world that hates fat people, but I do think it’s possible to change physically all while mentally understanding that these changes never dictate our worth.
4. Know that we each have autonomy over our bodies and can decide if weight loss is appropriate or not at this time. I absolutely did not feel ready to explore weight loss a few years ago as I was still concerned it would trigger my eating disorder thoughts. I’m very conscious of how I talk to myself and how I address any disordered thoughts today; I feel ready to turn the volume down on them and to redirect the energy so I feel empowered rather than shamed. When you see a person living in a larger body and they are not pursuing weight loss, know that they are likely very aware of their health, potential limitations and know that they will do things in their own time if they feel it is appropriate. We do not tell you what to do with your body, so do not tell us what to do with ours.
5. Take everything one day at a time. Weight fluctuation is very normal in life and it’s important to know that weight gain can be just as natural as weight loss. I do not pay close attention to the number, but I can at times notice when clothes fit differently. I remind myself of my internal progress and root myself in how I feel better overall. Sometimes we can also get caught up in long-term goals and wish everything was better now. Change takes time, especially change that we intend to be healthy and natural. We are never a failure for gaining weight. In fact, during such a difficult high-emotion time like a pandemic and burnout for essential workers, it makes sense why some of us have gained weight. Weight gain is not a moral failure; it’s the result of a multitude of valid reasons.
6. Ground yourself in how much you appreciate what you can do with your body and mind. With losing weight, I can now stretch and do yoga easier. I also do not feel so much pain in my feet after a long shift at work. Some of us may have physical mobility issues, so I even remind myself in a more inclusive manner to appreciate what my mind can do. When I’m in distress, I can be skillful and take good care of myself. When I’m worrying, I remind myself I’m safe. When I feel insecure, I ground myself in reminders from my friends about who I am and I practice reminding myself of my strengths. Who I am can be unseen at times. My body is simply the physical vessel in which I make the unseen seen; when I feel sad for a friend, I comfort them, when I see someone needs help, I jump in and do what I can and when I want to celebrate someone, I write them a personable card or get them a thoughtful gift. These wonderful things that show who I am stem internally and then branch out into the physical world. I don’t do these things because I live in a larger body. I’ve done these things at every size. They’re intrinsically who I am and have nothing to do with what I look like. I appreciate that I can use my empathetic nature to show my love to others.
I hold so much love for the people who have loved me even when they were aware my weight held me back in some ways. The most important thing for my supporters to do was to continue encouraging me, but to not directly comment on my weight or shape. I’m immensely appreciative of them for not shaming me because it helped me not shame myself as harshly. We are our own worst critics, after all.
When we saw shows like “The Biggest Loser” and watched fat people get verbally assaulted and pushed to their limits, it deeply ingrained in our minds how much we hate fat people. We absolutely need to have softer, kinder approaches. We deserve to be treated gently when perhaps in the past, we abused our bodies and minds the very ways society continues to. My past of self hatred promises me a future of self compassion and self forgiveness.
These are never easy conversations, but my hope for you in reading this is you seeing that weight loss is not a mark of shame or a telling that we are ugly and unworthy. We need to start seeing that weight loss has the potential to be a byproduct of a healthier mindset; it doesn’t have to be intentional, shame-based or done for simply superficial reasons. We can drop the negative connotations and associations and just let it be. It’s just part of my process. It’s certainly not my entire process and it does not define me. To me, weight loss in this part of my journey is like breathing for many of us; breathing happens naturally without us even knowing most of the time and it occurs because we are alive and well. We do not have to force our breath; it just happens. Similarly, I haven’t had to force weight loss; it just has happened because I’m in a better place mentally.
I could not be at this part of my process without being stable in my mental and emotional health. My mental and physical health is a package deal and in the past even when others pressured me to lose weight because they didn’t care about my overall health, I did what was best for me. That’s so admirable and brave — to know who we are and to say “no” when we worry an action could further harm us.
Mental health is the cornerstone of nearly everything in life. If we pursue weight loss with the goals of “looking better” and reaching size x, we may very well hate ourselves thin. If we pursue weight loss with a number in mind, we may very well drive ourselves mad if we feel we are slipping up some days. We must have grace with ourselves. Weight loss can also jeopardize our mental well being and indicate illness or struggle. It matters that we have a solid foundation in who we are and to feel well mentally first. We must recognize that what we look like is a result of genetics, environment, medications, illness and so much more.
I am aware that my weight loss will be seen by some as an invitation to treat me better. I will always be standing up for people living in larger bodies and I will never stop fighting for us to be seen as worthy people who do not owe you health or weight loss. This journey is our own. I don’t owe you anything. I do, however, owe it to myself to continue finding balance and allow who I am to shine through. I may look different today than I looked last year. And I may look different in a year from now than what I look like today, but I will absolutely be the same person deserving of respect and fighting for the right to exist and not be hated solely for what we look like. We are so much more than our bodies and there is so much more to health than what is on paper or what we see in the mirror.
Health is not captured in progress photographs or a dwindling number on the scale. Health is complex, individual and ever-evolving. Health is not an achievement or something to hold above others, but rather something to consider, something to be mindful of, and never something defining of our entire worth. Do not conflate health with worth. And do not conflate beauty and worth with thinness. I’m always most proud of my progress in terms of my mental health. That took a lot of hard, internal work. Just because you cannot see that hard work in obvious ways doesn’t invalidate it. Contrarily, if you take note of my reactions to everyday challenges, you would see great progress in how I work through things and react to the world around me now. I am more patient with myself and work to be a person who looks inward before reacting outward. I’m always a work-in-progress (we all are) but my mental health being better has allowed me to be a better person to myself and others. Weight loss can easily take a back seat to that growth and progress.
Our health is our own. And if you couldn’t love me for who I am at every size, that’s your personal issue and not a fault of mine. I made my own path. The shaming tactics only ever magnified the shame I felt within and contributed to a negative mindset and unhealthy behaviors. I will never hate myself thin again.