Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Role of Fear in Weight Change

I've often wondered if the reason I have been stalled for so long within the same weight window is because I am afraid, on some levels, of being thin again. I've heard people talk about some kind of subconscious fear of weight loss, of the vulnerability of losing the armour of fat, and how our heads mess with us as our weight goes down. I never bought into that stuff though. I figured it didn't apply to ME; I really *want* to be thin and healthy. I was a normal weight before. I liked it. I hate being fat... really hate it. So this whole fear mumbo jumbo must be for other people. People who have always been fat and have a fear of the unknown (life as a thin person), or women who were molested or raped and use fat as a shield against male attention. That stuff didn't apply to me. I want the weight off, no fears whatsoever.

But it's not that simple. Our bodies contain us. Our identity is wrapped up in that container, and when our bodies change, sometimes our heads don't change with them. Just as I didn't really notice the changes as I went from 140 pounds to 278, I didn't see much of a change when I went back down from 278 to 214.

When I was gaining the weight (which happened in a relatively short period, by the way: 168 to 245 in less than a year), the only real clue I had that it was happening was that I had to keep buying new clothes. And even that was subtle; when you live in sweats and stretch pants with an elastic waist, you can go through a LOT of inches before the pants become uncomfortable. In fact, the fabric on the inner thighs would wear completely out and leave my skin gaping through long before the waistband got too tight. When I'd buy new ones, I'd justify a bigger size "because this brand just runs smaller." I smaller-branded myself from a size 14 to a 26, and then when I suddenly couldn't walk more than a few steps, and started having acid reflux and heart palpitations, it slowly dawned on me that I was REALLY fat. When I saw pictures from our summer vacation 2006, I was appalled. Wow, the camera adds 120 pounds! Or not.

Before I started this journey, I'd been morbidly obese for a long time. In fact, the last time I saw 227 pounds was in 1998. After a decade of weighing 245-278 pounds, that's where I felt comfortable. Not really... but maybe you know what I mean. I *knew* my body at this weight. It was familiar: all the bulges and curves were part of me. For half of my adult life, I'd looked down and seen the same huge body... even though I didn't *get* how huge it really was. And as I lost weight this time, I could not see the loss. Yeah, I took pictures and measurements and went down in clothing sizes, and that told me that I was really losing the weight, but it didn't register. I looked down and still saw the old, familiar, 278-pound me.

Last summer, when I hit 214 pounds, I got the shock of my life. I *noticed* that I had lost 63 pounds. For the first time, I looked in the mirror and saw someone new. Someone I didn't recognise. I looked down at my waist in my size 20 (going on 18) jeans and curve-hugging shirt, and I gasped. Oh my gosh, I looked halfway normal! Oh my goodness, I am not HUGE anymore! I look GOOD! Wow! It was kind of a shock. I hadn't mentioned this before on the blog, mostly because I was so in shock about my new body but I didn't recognise how it was affecting me. Only after several months of battling with my weight have I realized what a big role fear has been playing in my head.

It was a *positive* thing to see my body looking good and not morbidly obese, but it was also scary. I didn't recognize my own body anymore. That's what happens when your *head* body image doesn't adjust in real time with your body. And when I took the clothes off, it was absolute horror. Instead of looking really great like the new woman I saw in the mirror in her jeans and sexy shirt, I looked down and saw a deflated body. I started seeing loose skin. Parts of my body were hanging where they never had before. I did not look the same at 214 pounds going down the scale as I had at 214 pounds going up the scale. Being morbidly obese for ten years really wrecked my once beautiful body. All the hanging, loose, unattractive stuff really freaked me out. The stretch marks, the way the flab just kind of hung around my hips and knees and upper arms... it scared me. THAT is not what I was going for when I started out to lose weight.

The dichotomy of the new sexy woman in the mirror and the disfigured, loose-skinned atrocity in the shower was more than my brain could process. I started putting weight back on PRONTO. I didn't do this consciously; it just happened, and I popped right back up to my old comfortable weight of 227. I hung out there for a long time... up ten pounds, down 7 pounds, back up... this has been going on for 3 or 4 months now. At 227, I don't look quite so good in the mirror; the old familiar preggo looking belly is back, the waist is not so defined, and the loose skin is a bit less pronounced and more filled-out. It's easier to cope with.

This fear thing has been in the back of my head this whole time. I knew that was part of why I've been stalled; I also knew the emotional trauma of my marriage faltering has had a big effect. However, I have finally come to terms with both issues. I knew I was ready to acknowledge the fear issue here... and thus, to move on and past it. I think I am okay with it now: the sexier, cuter body along with the loose skin and stretch marks... all unfamiliar, but getting more familiar by the day. I'd been scared I would NEVER get down past 214 pounds because it was just too much of a change from what I'm used to. But I feel ready now. I've been sitting at 227 long enough. I want to move on.

I know this is going to be a challenge for me as I get further and further away from the old familiar body, but I'm going to work through it. I won't stuff my feelings down; I'll acknowledge them. Someday, the familiar body will be the healthy one. I'm ready to see the changes.


Heather Waghelstein said...

Great topic. Great entry Fear plays a role in everything and I'd be lying if I said my journey was free of it. So bad things happened when I was thin so naturally I subconciously fear returning to that place no matter how bad I want it. Thanks for a lovely essay.

Alaska Pickle said...

You hit it right on. As a teenager I was attacked twice in the same year and very nearly raped, and the weight came on right after. I am running from a lot of issues, and somehow I feel that people will have lower expectations of me if I am fat. If I lose the weight, I will have to live up to the new image, and that means many different things. Maybe I will get unwanted attention from men which will be scary, but just anybody noticing me sometimes feels like too much.

~TMcGee~ said...

I'm pretty fearful of how I will look when I reach my goal weight...stretching out my body with 130+ pounds has most likely done some irreparable damage to it.

Kristine said...

I have been wondering the same thing about myself. I honestly think that I am terrified of being thin. Sometimes thinking about it makes me lose my breath. LOl.

Sheri said...

That was one of the main reasons I've been sluggish about getting going. The safety issue is real for me, but I decided I wasn't going to be a victim from men anymore. It' wrinkley sacks dangling from the thinner body that has troubled me too. Plus the comfort zone...Lyn, reading your words (and I know I've said this to you before) is like reading my own. I've got more to lose, but like you I am ready...let's go!!!!

Christie said...

Thanks for your honesty and openness on this tough topic. Alaska Pickle's feelings that people will have lower expectations when she's heavier connected with me. It could be that I'm afraid of what will be expected of me when I'm healthy and fit and thin. What will be expected of me when I'm thinner? It already seems like I do everything around here. If I don't have "poor health" as an excuse to take it easy, will I be expected to go, go, go all the time? Yikes! You've really helped me see how "feeling crappy" has been functioning for me. (Deep breaths.) I'll be doing some introspection and thinking. Thanks.

Sarah said...

So this is topical.... I took the first step of calling for a PS consult today. I have been trying for years to come to terms with all of the new me. I love myself but in the end have been unable to make peace with my body as it is now. I was heavy my whole life and my skin is sad sad organ these days. It needs help and I need it gone.

But that being said, I have learned some things along the way so maybe some of this will help. The were a couple of weight ranges in particular where I felt like this problem was worse than others. Either I adjusted to my new shape or I was working out more and things were smoother or I just hung better-- something brought me back from totally hating myself. It's such a waste of energy but we are all guilty of it. Around 215 and 175 the extra skin (and fat) was the worse and totally distracting. Which brings me to the next thing. Your body will continue to change, ride it out. I would never ever prefer to be heavy again with my skin all stretched out by fat-- I may think it on occasion in the shower but I really don't mean it. Your brain will catch up to your body-- just keep at it. I've been tempted to fill my sag out with food and that is why I finally made the call. The idea of elective surgery is scaring the sh*t out of me, but the extra skin itself isn't scary. Just sad.

And since I hate being sad my last bit of advice is this... Looking good on the outside goes a long way. Many people often tell me, well, you don't look like you have lost a lot of weight. I camouflage with skirts and sweaters and that helps. It's a silly mind trick, but looking good on the outside does make me love myself a little more.

Keep on keeping on Lyn! You're getting there!

MizFit said...

thank you for writing. period. your way with words, Lyn is simply amazing and Ive told you that since the first time I found your blog.

I almost didnt comment as I have nothing to add except the above and the arm of friendship should I be able to help in any way.

Anonymous said...

Thin doesn't have to be sexy. I recently lost 52 pounds in 6 months (from 180 lbs. to 128 lbs.) & I don't feel any sexier than before - just healthy and fit.

Katschi (Karen) said...

I'm dealing with this issue right now.
I've lost almost 50 pounds but my body just looks like a smaller fat version of my starting weight. Nothing is firm, my ski

Kimberly said...

I'll admit it. I am afraid of being thin. There is safety in being obese because there are no major life decisions to be made when you weight 370 pounds. One of the side effects of losing weight has been the slow realization that there are choices galore for thinner people. I get noticed now. Men notice me. It freaks me all the way out. No, I was not attacked. They just haven't been a focus in my life for nearly 2 decades. I'm not used to the attention. I do want to lose this weight and get healthy more than anything else in this world. But it is hard to make the shift when the world suddenly opens up to you. The emotional fallout is sort of overwhelming at times. I understand completely, that the head and the heart may not be on the same page when faced with such internal conflict.

Pubsgal said...

Well-written as always, Lyn! :-)

I will admit that I did feel a kind of comfort from being obese. I know that seems odd, but I felt like I was flying under the radar in a way. But now, I have more to fear from *not* getting healthy. (Diabetic complications, such as blindness, amputations, stroke.)

That said, I know what you mean about mourning the body image we associate with "thin." I've lost 71 pounds and have 51 to go to goal (am at 194 now), but I'm a bit sad to think that the last time I was at my goal weight I was a hot young college girl. *sigh* And that body is gone forever; it will not magically re-emerge when I make goal. But there is still a strong, healthy body waiting to emerge....

So how's it going so far?
Here's what's different that I don't like:
- "The girls" are flatter, although I haven't noticed that the droop factor is any different. They were hanging low already.
- Wrinkles in my neck??? Ack!
- A little more flappage in the arms.
- My poor inner thighs...like deflated balloons!
- Stomach was already shot from 2 pregnancies, so I'm not noticing that as much.

What's different that I *do* like:
- Less back fat!
- Smaller tummy
- More definition in the shoulders and arms (even with the loose skin)
- Quads and calves are lookin' good!
- Face is less pudgy-looking

When I figure that most people will *not* be seeing the not-so-good stuff, it doesn't bother me as much. I'm a little more self-conscious in a bathing suit, oddly enough...I might have *felt* invisible before, but when I looked at pictures of myself in a swimsuit, yeah, pretty conspicuous! ;-)

Anonymous said...

in one of your posts you mentioned that you use your weight against your husband so he doesnt push you around. isnt that the reason of the fear in weight change?

♥ Dee ♥ said...

Isn't that funny... I'm more self conscious in a bathing suit, too! I thought I was just weird and alone!

Lyn, thank you. Once again you have put into words what I could not articulate. I'm the same in my pish toshing of the fear. And yet, here I find myself 2/3 of the way through my journey, and so afraid that I revamped my goal weight to reflect my current rather than continue. WTF??

I, too, am ready to move past it. I've been bouncing in this seven pounds since June. ENOUGH.

Lyn said...


That was my *ex* husband I mentioned, about how I don't feel as threatened by him anymore because of my sheer size. I rarely see him anymore (maybe twice a year) so I don't think that's much of an issue for me. But I do think part of it is just feeling more secure... more big... less able to be carried off/abducted/pushed around by *anyone.* I mentioned that in the earlier post as well. Thanks for the reminder. I think this whole fear issue has a lot of layers to it.

ryry the adventurous said...

The best surefire way to rebuke unwanted male attention - train to be a ninja.

I'm serious!


If only I had the patience...lol.

Gawd I love your blogs. I've been at a stalemate too... fortunately didn't have too much of a gain over the holidays, but am really ready to get back to the weight loss grind. I think my fear is my potential... in an odd way. I feel like if I'm skinny I will suddenly have to break out of myself and do amazing things. Why can't I do them now? Awful self-stereotype of "I'm overweight and therefore not as important or impactful." So strange and stupid, yet we think these things.

Either way, let's lose in the new year together, for sure. <3

pish said...

Wow. Thank you SO much Lyn, for this really scary-honest-heartbreaking post. You put into words the fear of stretchy skin thing that I've always subconsciously feared myself. That's the part of weight loss that people just don't talk about enough. Why is it taboo? I want to hear these stories of women and the flab they have after weight loss, where it sits, how they deal with it, ideas on how it got there, etc. You bringing this up makes me feel so much better and less alone. Now we just need to research how to take care of our skin as we lose weight so that we can make it an easier transition for us. Tips? Lotion and massage? Yes, please!

Thanks also to Sarah for her reassuring and wise words. I second wearing clothes that make you feel awesome. It always makes me feel like I look hot when I wear stuff that I feel like I look hot in.

But wow. I'm mostly speechless. Thank you again.

Alexia@theonelastthing.com said...

I have to say, I'm afraid of some of the changes I'm seeing. My body isn't shrinking so much as it is melting and sagging down. Years of obesity have definitely done damage. I thought to myself recently that I had more body self confidence at my higher weight than I do right now, naked anyhow.

Mel said...

Wow I must say this post on your blog really hit home for me. I could almost close my eyes and hear the same things in my head. I have been stuck at 227 for months and when I got down to around 215 that is when I put it back on again. I never thought about fear of being thin but what you said really makes sense. May we both move below 214 in 2009! Thanks for a great post.

Karyn said...

A big step...and it took courage to share these feelings, I'm sure.

I've wondered where the 'fear' could come from....you've given me some insight, as always. And something to be aware of.

Anonymous said...

hey..fat cells don't disappaear when you lose weight..they just get smaller..so it is very easy to go back up to the weight you started at...that is why it seems like you gain the weight easliy if you don't continue to workout and eat clean...

i really would recommend that you start a more rigorous exercise regime...walking for an hour 6 days a week might help..maybe your body is fit enough now to handle this and has gotten accustomed to the bike....your body can adjust to workouts , hence why you should change them up every so often.....i'd also recommend that you eat more low calorie stuff more often and at the same time reduce your calories to 1300 a day instead of 1500...

i would be shocked if you didn't lose a hell of a lot more weight if you implemented these two things....

what ever you decide to do, never give up...

Hanlie said...

Oh fear is definitely a factor! We hide behind our fat and for me the fear is that when it's not there anymore, I will have no excuse not to do all the things I've always said I wanted to do... I'll actually have to live and take risks. Some people fear failure while others, like me, fear success. I'm working through this with affirmations...

Twix said...

powerful truth, and i can relate to it thank you for putting this out here

Natasha Vaughn, Cake Designer said...

I think another "fear" of weightloss aside from unwanted male attention is the fear of rejection. When your heavy you can blame your rejection on your fat. When you lose that fat then your rejection will be for you and you alone. We lose our excuses and thus opens doors to more hurts.

Lynn Haraldson-Bering said...

Lyn, you took me back to the days I had the same issue. Took me 168 pounds and several months to finally get past the fear. I'm glad you've taken it out and examined it. You'll conquer it now that you have named it. Sending you a big thank you and a hug for this post :)

Lyn said...

I would love nothing more than to take long walks every day! It's been a ery hard thing for me to NOT be able to walk much, but I have severe knee problems (I've talked about it in other posts... suffice it to say, it's bad) and my orthopedic surgeon says I need double knee replacements. It's kind of miraculous that after losing weight I can walk more. But I can't walk on sidewalks or pavement or anything hard for more than a couple blocks and can't walk daily for exercise. I am hoping to increase the biking, but honestly the knee pain is pretty severe and I am already working through it and limping a bit just to get the half hour in.

I'm still playing around with the calories, but oddly enough, I actually lost weight when I increased my calorie level from 1500 to 1800/day. So I'm trying to stick with that and see what happens. It's those *off* days that slow me down.

Thanks for the ideas :)

Mary said...


Great post, as always. The same thing happened to me when I lost weight -- in that it took my mind a while to catch up to what I really looked like in the mirror.

You're doing such a great job and I know you'll get there.

Big Girl said...

Another fabulous post. Sometimes being stuck isn't a bad thing. It's a time to reflect and move through more issues, like it sounds like you have.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah fear plays a role. People look at you different. I think a lot of it is the fear of change even thought the change is for the better. I lost 130 lbs and I still get fearful about the changes I have made.

Anonymous said...

I am coming into the weight range where I am no longer invisible, and it's weird. All sorts of people are more receptive to me and want to hear what I have to say, and guys are even starting to flirt. This might have freaked me out, but I've been living in the city so long that I have no problem defending my space (not physically, unfortunately-just with bad attitude). I'm actually kind of enjoying it, being that I'm 40 and likely don't have many years before I'm invisible again.

I don't have baggy skin, mostly because I never got about 215 (now 170 and dropping), and I lose it so slowly, and do body sculpt classes at the gym a few times a week.

Sugar Bush Primitives said...

I absolutely know that fear is a great saboteur. A few years ago a man at church said some highly inappropriate things to me. That started an eating binge that I haven't been able to free myself from. And I know a good part of why I am not willing to let go of the weight is the fear of these kinds of approaches from men.

ani said...

You describe it so well. I never thought I could possibly have any of that fear. I didn't think I was using fat as a shield and being slimmer was all I could possibly hope for. I lost 265lbs and having been big all my life my skin was pretty shocking. When dressed I even had a doctor say she couldn't tell I'd lost weight but naked I was more embarrassed than ever before.

I had that same misaligned body image and couldn't have picked my figure out from a line-up the whole way up or down.

Unfortunately I've put half of my weight loss back on again and now I crave that slimmer me again. I really do believe recognising it and allowing yourself all that hover time around any single weight is the best thing you could have done for yourself. My whiskers never fully shrunk to my smaller size and it made it all too easy to slip back on again.

On the skin issue - I got married at my lowest weight wearing a sleeveless dress. There are some photos where I cringe at lose skin on my underarms but when it came down to it I asked my photographer to remove the airbrushing she'd done to hide it - it just didn't feel like me.

Very much looking forward to getting my lose skin back again. All the best Lyn and thanks for writing so honestly.

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is such a fantastic thread!

I lost, then regained, and am losing again, so I've got a double-whammy on the fear thing going!

I lost 130 pounds about 6 years ago and lived in my "new" body for about 3 years. I felt better, but was also unnerved by how the world treated me, which was better, and I've always resented that being bigger was such a constant source of rejection, and not just by men, but by prospective employers, by cashiers, by strangers on the street.

Around that time, I started being really busy with work and extracurricular activities and that's when I stopped being vigilant about working out. I was more or less where I wanted to be size-wise, so I figured I could slack off without worry. I put on about 20 pounds that freaked me out, so I started working out again.

But I was also slipping into depression because EVERYTHING in my life hadn't improved along with my weight, as if it was the source of all my problems. I was still experiencing rejection -- not by men, necessarily, but by former GFs who didn't know what box to put me in anymore. That was very depressing and isolating. And that's also when I took up with sugar again, and that just accelerated my weight gain. At first, I told myself that I was just going for a brief binge -- I told myself that I missed all those treats, thinking I had a little wiggle room, but really I was indulging in old behaviors I thought I'd conquered because I was angry and depressed.

For the past 2-1/2 years, I've been regaining weight. This morning, I stepped on the scale for the first time in a year and I'm 70 pounds up. I've been miserable, needless to say, and the same random rejection I experienced before has returned. I've also been hiding from friends for the past couple of years, which is bizarre, and for which I've lost some friendships, I think. If only they knew...

Anyway, it was also incredibly depressing seeing my skin bag so terribly -- I thought it was just me, which is why it's good to read about common experiences here. I was really angry that I'd worked so hard only to achieve a body that, in my lower half, looked terrible without clothes. And my knees were still fat! There is nothing I can do (short of surgery) to fix that, but I know that continuing to work out will mitigate the appearance somewhat. It's just something I/we have to accept. I've never had elastic skin that snapped back, and aging has not helped.

I never would have thought that I'd regain this weight -- I really thought (like Oprah) that I had conquered my Mt. Everest, and it was the major negative thing in my life that I didn't have to deal with anymore. Luckily, I'm pulling out of my depression and ready to work again.

I think I had to feel "normal" in my new/old heavy self in order to be ready to tackle serious weight loss again because, for so long, I woke up every day completely freaked out about my weight gain -- it was all I could do to keep it together and function outside my home.

Frankly, I'm relieved that I've regained ONLY 70 pounds, because I can't go through another year of missed holiday parties, flagging friendships and surrendered self-esteem all because I'm miserable with how I feel and look. (Not to mention that I have a rockin' wardrobe that's been boxed up and waiting!) I've been calculating how many pounds per month it will take me to lose what I've regained, and what time of year it will be by then, blah-blah-blah. What's important is that I approach it the way I did the last time, which is that if I do the work, the results will come.

So, off I go again, and I wish everyone out there luck as they pursue their goals, too. I don't want to be the person who achieved such a huge goal, fell down, but didn't get back up again. I'm not that person. I just have to prove it again!

Thanks for everyone's input here -- I really needed to read it!

somebodys mother said...

Oh, fear and body image issues get thee behind me! Weight loss at first is fun. 'Oh don't I look fabulous.' As time goes by and the weight comes off, though my perceptions change. 'Oh don't I look old.' Saggy=wrinkly=old. Then the conversation in my head starts. 'This is not what I signed up for. I am putting all this energy into eating right and exercising so I can look better not just trade my fat-gross body for an old-gross body. I am just going to go and sit on the couch and eat a big plate of tater-tots with blue cheese dressing and hot sauce. Must it always come back to this? Tater-tots will not solve anything. Oh woe is me, what am I to do?'
Here is what I am doing to help get adjusted to the changes. First lotion, lotion, lotion. Well moisturized skin looks much better than dry skin. Eliminating a lot of the fat in my diet means I need to help my skin more from the outside.
Next I went out and got fitted for new bras. Most of us are wearing a bra that does not fit correctly anyway. New bras (cute ones with matching panties)get 'the girls' up where they should be.
Now during my morning ritual as soon as I get out of the shower I put my lotion on put my new underwear on and finish getting ready. I spend time with my new body in front of the mirror while I do my hair, put my make-up on, etc. It gives me a chance to see the changes and get used to them.
The conversation is getting back to 'don't I look fabulous.' I keep feeling better about the imperfect new me. And just in case you were wondering you do not see me holding in my stomach while I am in front of the mirror in the morning. What you see is me taking advantage of an abdominal isometric exercise opportunity.
Small steps moving forward, make decisions based on love not on fear.

J~Mom said...

You absolutely read my mind. Great post.

jae said...

You just kicked in a quote I just read and loved:

"Change is the right combination of discomfort and hope".

It was from a Self mag and the topic was getting out of debt but it hit me hard because I could totally relate it to getting out of fattness. This post reminded me and I love it.

Teale said...

See, for me, I've NEVER been thin. I weighed 100 pounds as a 6 year old... so I think that my fear comes from having to turn into someone that I've never been before. I know I'm not alone in saying that I'm afraid I'd lose who I've become because of my weight. I like my personality, I think I'm pretty kick-ass, if I do say so myself... and I've always thought that my personality developed that way because it had to... I had to be the smart girl, the funny girl, the nice girl... because I was fat. If I wasn't, then who would like me? What did I have to offer. It takes a long time to overcome that, and I think it's a daily battle.

Juice said...

Lyn, you are SO insightful! Thanks for this post.

Lynn said...

I wrote about this same thing one day last year on my sparkpeople account. There is such a fear in becoming thin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!