Thursday, July 21, 2011

Stages of Weight Loss

I have spent a lot of time thinking about why I am (still) fat, and why I am not at goal (yet). You'd think after more than a decade of working on it, I'd have it narrowed down to *the reason* or *the issue*. But you know what? The longer I am at this, the more complex it becomes.

Sure, it is simple on the surface. The problem is that I consume more calories than I expend. Period. I eat too much, sometimes, and the wrong (unhealthy) kinds of foods, sometimes. I don't move enough, sometimes. Easy to understand. But I believe there are also mental/emotional stages we go through during weight loss. They are drivers, in a sense, and can lead us to regain (a little or a lot of weight) in order to quell the uncomfortable feelings OR they can lead us to make internal changes consistent with our new weight. Whether we work through these uncomfortable things determines, I believe, whether we do eventually lose the weight and get to goal or not. One cannot live in an emotionally distressing state for long without the body and mind doing what it can to get one back to a state of comfort, even if that means regaining weight.

Some of the stages of weight loss I have gone through (and am going through):

I am too fat! This sucks. I am going to lose weight!
Wheee! I lost some weight! Success!
Oh cool, I can see changes in myself and I like how my clothes are a little looser! This is fun!
I am starting to really love the taste of vegetables!
Wait, I can't have that ice cream? That sucks.
Hey, um, what am I supposed to do with my sadness and stress if I can't EAT it??
This is kind of hard.
Oh man, I love to bake but if I bake I will eat it. But I am a great cook! Who am I if I lose that part of me? I have always been a great cook!
Wow, I am really doing this! I feel awesome! I am so proud of myself!
My fat clothes don't fit anymore! How cool! Um, wait, what am I supposed to wear??
Buying new clothes is freaking me out.
I am sad that my old, comfortable clothes are too big for me. I don't want to stop wearing my favorite sweater!
Hey, these new clothes look great and I love having a smaller size!
I miss having candy bars and cookies. They were yum.
I cannot even look at a salad or a plate of broccoli right now. I am so sick of vegetables!
People are starting to comment on my weight loss! I am excited!
Wait, men are starting to look at my body. This is not comfortable!
People talk to me more and are friendlier to me, how cool!
But... why are they treating me differently, just because of my size? I don't like that.
Hey, my new, smaller clothes are getting too big. I just got them! I liked how they fit. I looked good and now they are getting too big already and what the heck am I going to wear??
Wow, look at how small my waist is getting! I look fantastic!
Holy crap! My skin is sagging off my body and looks horrible! I totally do not like the way my skin is hanging!
My double chins are gone! Yay!
Some creepy guy made a sexual comment to me when I was walking today. I did not like that at all. Men did not bother me when I was fatter...
I am getting kind of nervous. Maybe I am light enough now that a stranger could abduct me, or drag me off, or rape me. I felt safer when I was bigger because men didn't look at me and there is no way anyone could carry me off. I feel sort of vulnerable.
Why are all my larger-sized friends treating me differently, and not wanting to hang out anymore? I miss my friends.
I feel normal and it is so exciting to go out and about and just "be" a regular sized person!
People who don't know I was fat talk about fat people in ways I have never heard before. I cannot believe how people talk about obese people outside their hearing!
I want to eat a cake. Can I just eat a cake, just one more time? A whole cake, just for me.
My body is losing weight disproportionately. I have a thin middle and obese legs. I don't like how I look. I don't look like me anymore.
I got to shop in the regular sized clothing section! How exciting! But... it was kind of stressful. I don't know how to wear that kind of clothes. I kept waiting for someone to point me to the plus sized section.
I love how I can move and fit and do things I couldn't do before! Life is so much richer!
Wait, I don't have morbid obesity as an excuse to check out of life anymore. So, like, if I don't want to go to the park and play, or walk the dog, or mop the floor... even though now I can... does that make me a bad person??
People I haven't seen in ages don't recognize me anymore.
Wow, everyone is raving about my weight loss. I am getting an awful lot of attention. Why is everyone looking at my body? I don't like this...
People tell me I am going to gain it all back.
I should exercise but I don't feel like it.
Meh, I am fine the way I am, I can just cruise along and wait 6 months and then try to lose some more weight later.
Oh my gosh, I am still fat! I really need to get this weight off!
I wonder if everyone is watching and waiting for me to gain it all back.
Crap, my skin is starting to look like crepe paper where the fat is disappearing. I think it makes me look old. I don't want to look old.
I wish people would mind their own business. I hate how people are looking at me to see if I have lost or gained.
I am so proud of myself for learning to feel my feelings instead of eating them.
I am so sick of feeling my feelings. It is exhausting. I just want to eat a bag of chips and zone out for once.
It was easier being fat.

All of these things, I have gone through. I have worked through many of them and am continuing to experience and learn to cope with others. I think it is *essential* to understand your journey, your feelings (positive and negative) about weight loss, and how to be comfortable in your *new life* in order to get to goal and keep it off. I firmly believe that NOT doing this mental work is the main reason so, so many people gain back all the weight. Just look at the blogging world, for example. So many bloggers lose a ton of weight and then gain some, most, or all of it back. I have been reading blogs for 4 years now and while I have seen many folks go from morbidly obese to a normal size, I have also seen most of them regain. Keeping it off is HARD. If you just crack down and focus madly on the physical aspects of weight loss, sure, you can get the weight off at an inspiring speed and get to goal and it's all confetti and cheering, but then you have ALL that mental/emotional work to do at once! If you ignore your feelings on the way down the scale, you might find yourself dealing with them on the way back up. Take it easy. Lose the weight, focus on the physical but also pay attention to how you *really* feel. Usually, a regain, even a small one, is a sign of some underlying discomfort that one needs to acknowledge.

All those thoughts and feelings are not excuses to stall or regain. They are true, deep emotions that are perfectly normal when going through such a huge, life-changing experience. If you don't think about them and feel them now, they will crop up later.

I am happy to say that while I have thought and felt ALL of the things I listed above, I also have worked through 90% of them. How? Just by thinking and feeling. You might need to grieve some things or talk about them with people or just think them through and let yourself be sad or mad or frustrated or whatever. If you don't stuff them down, eventually acceptance comes. And with it comes healing.

I hope this is as helpful to you as it has been for me. Try making your own list or timeline of emotions as you are losing weight, and stay aware of what is *really* driving your eating. Success will come.

23 comments:

crazedmama said...

Hi there! I stumbled onto your blog via Twitter. I've struggled with my weight for most of my life and have been obese since I was a child. I've lost some and I've gained some (well, a lot). I'm back again to wanting to try to lose and have been trying to read as many blogs and success stories as I can. You are definitely an inspiration. This is one of my big fears of losing weight though, is my body not looking right and me never being happy with myself no matter how much weight I lose.

Deb Willbefree said...

You know, I am barely resisiting the tempattion to copy your list and jsut post iton my blog as my own!

The only thing I'd need to add is, "Now that I've lost weight in my face, I look like my mother and it's freaking me out!"

That little episode cost me a huge gain and lull in the weight loss, it did.

Loved your list, loved your conclusions at the end.

Deb

Amanda said...

The crepey skin is making me insane!! On my forearms, of course. Grrrrr.

And I hear you on the list. I started losing weight back in fall of 2006. It's only now, almost 5 years later, that I'm close to goal. There's been a lot to work through in those five years... and I'm still working on it.

Arwenn said...

Thank you so much for posting this! Not enough people are willing to be honest about the mental/emotional changes that have to happen along with the physical ones. I've lost 50 lbs since January (100 more to go) and I had been feeling bad that it could be going so much faster...but reading this I'm more okay with the idea of a slower loss giving me more time to deal with these issues.

erin said...

Thank you so much for this. I have been trying to lose weight for about 3.5 years, and I actually lost 90 pounds before I got pregnant. I gave birth to my daughter in March of this year (after gaining around 40 pounds while pregnant), and it has been a HUGE struggle to get the weight off again. And I think part of it is that I didn't deal with the mental aspect of weight loss entirely. And now I'm fighting all these feelings of helplessness and fear that I'll never lose the weight, and I just need to work through them and NOT let them convince me to give up. I can't tell you how much your blog has meant to me. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Lyn, this is exactly how I've been feeling... I've lost between 35-40 pounds on Medifast, then my doctor switched me to a maintenance version since I developed some health problems... and now that I'm OK health-wise, I'm having very conflicted feelings about getting back on my diet. Everything you said has run through my head, everything from feeling great about myself to wondering how I can cope with bad feelings without a binge. It's crazy, isn't it? I am giving myself a small breather since I just haven't been able to stick with MF now (and I was 100% op for three months!)

I'll get back on it soon, but I think I need to do some emotional work too.

Thanks for your post. It really resonated with me.

Hugs, Maria

kiosk said...

Absolutely amazing post. I've been reading you for years and this is such an incredible summary of everything I've heard from you. This should be your introductory post! Thank you for highlighting the incredible complexity of weight loss.

Munchberry said...

MAN! How you managed to remember all those internal conversations for one post is a credit to your steel-trap of a mind! My gosh! Every single one of those has passed through my mind a million times each, but try to recall them for a post? Nope. I can come up with a couple.

The other day I was thinking I could write something about some do's and don'ts of exercise (like don't use the balance ball in your socks). I came up with 3 things I thought would amuse me.

Do you carry around an idea book? JEESH!

I just recently had my pants fall to my ankles while wearing them. I have trouble letting go. Ah - duh - 100+ pounds I have been holding on to with a death grip.

At least I am consistent.

Anonymous said...

Another incredible post!!!!!!!!

WOW!!!!

Niecy said...

Bravo!

Debi said...

These 2 comments hit me like a ton of bricks:

"Some creepy guy made a sexual comment to me when I was walking today. I did not like that at all. Men did not bother me when I was fatter..."

"I am getting kind of nervous. Maybe I am light enough now that a stranger could abduct me, or drag me off, or rape me. I felt safer when I was bigger because men didn't look at me and there is no way anyone could carry me off. I feel sort of vulnerable."

Before, when I was big I felt invisible to most men which was actually OK with me most of the time because I have this (possibly irrational) fear of being sexually assaulted. Now that I am down 100 pounds (30 more to go) I have started to notice some male attention and it is freaking me out! I am terrified that my biggest fear will become reality and that I won't be able to deal with it except for to stuff the pain down with food which would make me gain all my weight back. I am working on it though. Talking about it helps me. And I know that if, God forbid, something were to happen that I would go straight out and find me a good therapist and deal with it the right way.

Thank you so much for saying what you did in your post. It is nice to know I'm not the only one who has thought those specific thoughts.

Lyn said...

Debi~

We are not alone. I think many women have this fear!

Here is how I have dealt with it:

1)I bought a puppy who is growing up to be a "mean looking" dark colored, large dog. She is a sweety but her bark is ferocious and NO ONE is going to mess with me with this dog near me!

2) I (intermittantly) strength train which builds my confidence, and I plan to take a self defense/martial arts class when I am down another 20 pounds.

You will figure it out! :)

BigGreenGirl said...

Your post hit so close to home- I have had almost all of those thoughts in my head before.

People don't stop to think of the emotional ramifications that weight loss has on a person.
Thank you for blogging!!

Lori said...

I've wondered if I've used being overweight & obese as an excuse not to participate in life. Now, I have to come up with another reason not to do things I don't want to! LOL!
Lori

Janis said...

I am one of those "can't eat if not hungry" types, so I didn't gain weight to deal with attracting men. I just covered everything up constantly and never socialize with them or am alone with one. They scare me. We tell ourselves it's all in our head, but I think every time a woman says that to herself, she's lying to herself.

I love it when women would tell me that I was "lucky" because I'm conventionally attractive so men "like" me. Yeah, they like me -- like a shark likes a grey seal.

PlumPetals said...

Love, love, love this post. I can relate to so many of those thoughts and feelings. Losing weight is not easy, and dealing with the emotional burden can be even more difficult.
I'd definitely focus on some sort of self-defence class to combine doing a workout, staying fit, and feeling strong/confident enough to protect yourself from any unwanted attention. If only the other thoughts/worries had possible solutions such as this!
Thanks again for a fantastic post!

screaming fatgirl said...

A huge part of the risk of long-term weight loss or management and especially blogging about it to a large audience is that it becomes a part of your identity. If you lost all of the weight you wanted to, what would you focus on instead? You'd have nothing to say here if you worked it all out.

I think a lot of people who get into weight loss start to define themselves by it. They would feel empty without the struggle, the obsession and the consistent conversations with others about it. They believe otherwise, but the truth is that without a bad relationship with food and their bodies, they don't know who they are.

This is a point I'm working through and building my identity in various directions to avoid. It's very important to grow in other directions as you deal with your relationship with food and weight loss so that you can minimize and marginalize that aspect as you conquer your problems. Otherwise, you have ample psychological incentive to yo-yo so that you can keep this important part of your life alive.

Undercover Dieting said...

I recognize so many of these! And some others I'm envious about :)

I know I've gotta work through my feelings, but I've no idea how to do that... Any advice?

Cara said...

This was an amazing post. I feel like I could have written your list down as my own, it would be so similar. Thank you for posting this, these are so many of the things I have been feeling and it is so nice to know that I am not the only one :)

Yvette said...

What a wonderful post, thanks Lyn! :)

Lyn said...

Unercover Dieting~

Just think them, feel them, don't stuff them down. Let them be. Experience them like any other emotion or thought. Talk about them, write about them, pray about them. The key is TIME. Time heals a lot of this stuff, if you do not stuff it down.

Anonymous said...

Screaming Fatgirl, you have some very good points. I do find my identity in my weight (wish I could add "loss" all of the time). I define myself and how my day will go by what I'm eating and what the scale says. I have never maintained. I am always losing or gaining and, therefore, happy or bitchy accordingly. I do feel like I am forever rowing against the tide and hate this feeling of being out of control of what is happening to my body, be it good or bad.

I'm not really sure how to let go of that, but I like the idea that it's possible.

Being a compulsive eater, I constantly fear regain if there's any loss whatsoever (because it happens every time).

Coming back to this blog and making it part of my commitment to being a healthier person has helped me a lot.

maggie in america said...

I can relate so wholeheartedly to that list, and (as tons of people have said) you are a tremendous writer. Thanks so much for all you share.