There’s a lot of changes that come with losing a drastic amount of weight. They’re just as much emotional as they are physical and they affect every aspect of your life. From daily interactions, relationships to hard realizations, I’ll tell you the 10 things I’ve had to find out for myself.
1. Your body won’t look like what you imagined it would
This is obviously completely dependent on the individual, amount of weight loss and places they carried their weight. I personally carried most of my weight in my midsection and arms (my arms were 24″ around!), while some people carry most of their weight in their lower body.
When I first started losing weight, I was so excited to see my body changing. I began envisioning how I would look at a healthy weight. Fantasizing about what my “new” body would look like. I’ve been overweight since childhood so I’m sure you could imagine how exciting the prospect of looking like a typical, healthy 20-something was to me. I was pretty much completely oblivious to the fact that it may not look like I spent so much time thinking it would. I began to notice my skin starting to sag. After a certain point, it seemed like with every pound I lost, more excess skin showed up in its place. It started to become a big issue as I got closer to my goal weight. I couldn’t look in the mirror without my eyes instantly fixating on my loose skin.
I would even lay in bed and play with it or stand in front of the mirror holding it up or to the side to imagine what I would look like without it. I would think to myself, “this is what my body ACTUALLY looks like.” I can wrap my loose arm skin all the way around my arm and my stomach puddles and wrinkles when I lay on my side. I would respond to compliments from my friends about how good I looked by showing them my loose skin. I stopped hearing these positive comments from my loved ones and internally replaced them with thoughts about how badly I felt about my body under the clothes they’re seeing me in.
This is a far cry from what my imagined body would be, back when I was 293 pounds. It’s been a challenge to let go of what I thought I would look like and accept the reality of how obesity and weight loss has left my body looking like now. I wrestled with feeling like this is what I deserved – to be trapped in a body that reminds me every day of what I did to myself. I had self-deprecating thoughts about how I will always see my body in a way that relates to my weight struggle, whether being obese or having massive amounts of loose skin, I’ll forever have to think about it. It’s hard to realize that I’ll never look like a person who didn’t battle a weight issue and it’s hard to know it’s because of my choices.
I’m mentally in a better space now. I’ve worked hard to change my perspective and negative self-talk. I’ve realized that those wrinkles where my skin hangs shows that I fought my way back from a future I was seemingly destined for. I’ve began to appreciate how strong and capable this body is. I’ve learned that the loose skin will never hold me back, while the weight I carried always did. Even though I refuse to accept that the skin will be on my body for the rest of my life (I plan to have excess skin removal surgery), refuse to accept a permanent reminder of what I worked so hard for yet can’t escape from, I HAVE accepted that it happened. I can be proud of all that I’ve done and know that in a million years I’d never trade the excess skin and health for obesity.
2. People will want to talk about your weight loss
It starts out as awkward at first, then becomes rewarding and then can sometimes be downright irritating.
When I was heavy, being the center of attention or topic of conversation was uncomfortable. The last thing I ever wanted to do was call attention to myself, especially not my weight. No one brought it up back then either. Being overweight is like being the elephant in the room (no pun intended). No one mentions it and no one asks about it.
Could you imagine? “Hey, so, I see you’ve gained some weight this year.”, “You look bigger since I saw you last!, “What have you been doing to gain so much weight?”.
Losing weight, on the other hand, is a different story. Everyone wants to discuss it, ask you about it, congratulate you for it. For someone who did everything in her power to shy away from conversations about herself, this was really uncomfortable. It pretty much sucked at first. To me, every comment and conversation was basically an affirmation to how out of control I had let my weight get. My internal dialogue was, “yeah, I know. I was really, really heavy before. I get it. Thanks for pointing that out.”
I know that’s not what they were saying, but when you’re used to your weight being the topic that was avoided like the plague, talking about it openly with EVERYONE wasn’t a fun experience. Even though it was meant to be congratulatory, the attention was really unpleasant. I also wasn’t accustomed to receiving compliments about my appearance. It was a foreign concept to me. No one ever randomly came up to me and told me how good I looked when I was almost 300 pounds. Ever. So when it started happening, I never knew how to respond. An awkward, “ohh.. thank you” was usually as much as I could mumble out before quickly changing the subject. I didn’t mean to sound unappreciative, I just really didn’t know what to say.
After a while of having hundreds of the same conversation, it started to feel good. Really good. After I got used to the attention, it became a motivating factor in continuing to lose weight and get healthy. It felt good. People treated me differently, acknowledged my presence when I came into a room and wanted to know what I had to say. Extreme weight loss turns you into a little mini celebrity. People threw compliments at me constantly and, at the time, I ate it up. It sounds narcissistic, but I’ve reflected back to those months where I was losing drastic amounts, and I truly think that my self-esteem and confidence needed that boost from people who supported me.
As I’ve mentioned, being overweight my whole life I never received any positive comments on my looks. I was always complimented on other aspects of me. My personality, my intelligence, my creativity, my humor. I felt good about who I was as a person, even without anyone’s validation, but I knew I felt absolutely terrible about how I looked when I was 293 pounds. I don’t feel that way anymore. While that also isn’t solely from the attention from my friends and family, I do think that certainly helped me feel like it was okay to love what I look like. Not that I, or you, need permission to feel beautiful at any size. It was just incredibly rewarding to hear that the efforts I’ve been putting forth were noticed. That both encouraged me to keep going and gave my previously low self-esteem the boost it needed.
Buuut. After a certain point, it gets really old when your weight loss becomes the only thing people want to talk to you about. Again, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful or unappreciative, but sometimes I want to talk about other things besides how I lost weight, what I eat, how I cook, what exercises I’m doing, how much more weight I have to lose or what I look like. I don’t hold it against most people. After all, how are they suppose to know I’ve had the same conversation with 4 other people tonight already.
It will start to seem like all you do is talk about your weight loss. It sort of becomes part of your identity and it will always get brought up by those who know you. At work, at family functions and everywhere else. Even if you don’t want it to. You’ll become the person who lost “x” amount of weight and just like in the first awkward stage, you’ll again try changing the subject constantly. I realize it’s not as new and interesting to me as it is for other people who don’t live it everyday and I know it generally comes from a place of curiosity or support. It doesn’t always bother me but I do find myself wishing I could have a normal conversation that isn’t about my weight.
Which leads me to #3:
3. Everyone has an opinion or advice and sometimes they suck
I’ve learned the hard way that losing weight opens you up to unsolicited comments from, basically, everyone. Even the most well meaning people give some crappy advice and even the most supportive people have some less than helpful things to say.
Some of my personal favorites? “Be careful.. You don’t want to get too skinny!”, “Keep going!”, “You look fine. I don’t think you have any more weight to lose!”, “You can eat this just this once!”, “I don’t remember you being that big.” “You look so much better now!”
I think these are self-explanatory as to why these may not come across as helpful and supportive as someone who hasn’t lost a significant amount of weight may think. In a nutshell, I learned that these comments from people I love are hard to stomach and are taken much more personally and literally than they should be.
When someone tells me to “keep going” I either want to say, “no shit, really? I was planning on just staying 30 pounds away from a healthy weight actually.” or “What? I don’t look good enough right now?” Either way, someone using that as a form of encouragement results a negative reaction. A bit irrational, maybe, but it makes me feel like they’re really trying to slip in a subliminal message telling me they still think I’m too heavy.
“You look so much better now!” Well, thank you. I didn’t realize I was such a monstrosity to look at before but I’m glad you approve of my new appearance. If I didn’t feel like shit about how I let myself go, I do now. Thank you.
I roll my eyes so hard when people tell me that they don’t remember me being as big as I was. This one just annoys me. I remember. I lived that way for my entire life. Being the biggest person in every room, not being able to find clothes in regular stores that fit me, having a hard time getting in and out of the car, my weight affecting every aspect of my everyday life. I remember. I remember it really, really well and I doubt I’ll be as quick as you to forget.
Also, telling me I don’t have any more weight to lose places me in the position of having to defend how overweight I am still. I’m now forced to explain that, no, I am not at a healthy weight and I do, in fact, still have plenty of weight I could stand to lose. That’s not enjoyable. Please don’t make me have to explain to you that, although YOU think I look fine, I’m still unhealthy. I’m working really hard and having to tell you I’m not there yet makes me feel like I’m also having to discredit myself.
I don’t hold these comments against people who haven’t had to deal with weight issues. I know they just don’t understand how some of these things sound to someone who has. I’ve realized the hard way that I need to take these comments with a grain of salt, understand they’re meant to flatter and encourage, and then move on. I’ve learned not to let comments and advice that come off horribly affect me because more often than not, I’m hearing it, interpreting it and digging deeper into it than I need to. No one is trying to call me “still fat”. They meant “keep going” on a surface level so I’ve learned to keep it at that, too.
4. You’ll do everything right and still not lose a single pound
Weight loss is a complicated beast sometimes. It’s determined by a lot of factors and influenced by things beyond our control. Even when you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing sometimes your body just ain’t gonna cooperate. There will be gains, losses and stalls. It’s disappointing to not see losses every single week, but if it was easy, more people would be doing it. It’s more than just intake and expenditure of calories. Things like genetics, other health issues, sleep, environment, menstrual cycle and stress can all stall your weight loss progress.
It was a tough pill to swallow when it happened to me for the first time, but after a while I learned to accept that it’s part of the process and kept on trucking, knowing that the stall will eventually break. It’s one of the most frustrating aspects of losing weight, however. You start to feel like you’re spinning your wheels and continuing to get nowhere. I just kept reminding myself that I was doing everything I could and giving my body the things it needed. Eventually my body caught up with my efforts. Experiencing stalls in my weight loss ended up helping me not depend on the scale so much and to learn to love exercise just for the sake of exercise instead of doing it to solely lose weight.
5. Not everyone will understand why you’re taking it so seriously and they will take it personally
Most people will be outwardly supportive until it inconveniences them or goes against what they want from you. It’s easy for people to be supportive until it it affects them in some way. Those ways are usually incredibly small, but there are certain people who WILL take offense to them.
A specific example of this is from when I was only about 4 months into my weight loss journey. It was my good friends birthday and to celebrate, all of my friends were going out to dinner and the bar. The restaurant she had chosen for her birthday didn’t have any food that would be a good decision for me. In fact, I knew that restaurant would be a very slippery slope when it came to being able to have enough will power to refrain from eating and drinking all of my old favorites. Because I was so new to this, I made the decision not to go. I also offered up an alternative, suggesting her and I get together to go do an activity together instead.
This unfortunately didn’t go over very well, as she saw this as my being selfish and not coming out for her birthday just because of my “diet“. I, of course, got majorly annoyed that she couldn’t see where I was coming from. I didn’t trust myself to be in a situation surrounded by food and liquor yet. She saw this as a personal dig at her for not making special arrangements for me on her birthday. I would never ask her or anyone to do that, which is why I offered up a different idea that would actually give her and I more quality time together. She was defensive and told me I should be able to go out for one night without being so serious about eating healthy. The thing she doesn’t understand is that, at the time, I really couldn’t. One night used to turn into days and weeks of bingeing before I got back on track. I ended up doing what was best for me, even though she was offended by it.
Holiday food is another one where certain people will take offense to your refusal to indulge. I call them Food Pushers. You’ll learn to pick them out because they’re constantly telling you, “oh come on, you can just have a little!” or “you can eat _____! It’s Christmas/Grandma’s birthday/Easter!”
Well, no. For starters, I’m around temptations constantly and I don’t appreciate having added ones from my family and friends. That being said, I’ve learned the hard way how to avoid offending anyone in these situations, especially if they were the one who made the food they are trying to push. I often simply respond with I’ve already ate or I’ll try it later. I’ve even just plain lied and said that I already did try it, always thanking them for offering. This was a hard lesson to learn but I did.. after many months of having to explain and defend the way I am eating now. Having to explain to said Food Pusher that I’m not eating sugar or dairy often ended up just offending them. That, in turn, made them feel like I was putting down what they ate. I learned that when I explain to people what I do and don’t eat and answer their questions about why I make those choices, they get extremely defensive. They perceive it as me telling them that they aren’t healthy, but yet I’ve only talked about my diet, not theirs. It’s a reflection of them, not me and I’ve realized it’s easier not to deal with it sometimes.
6. You’ll get (almost violently) annoyed when people say they wish they could do it and say that they “just don’t have the time” or “are too busy”.
When people tell me this, it comes off as undermining my time and schedule. It feels like they’re saying, “well, I’m way busier than you are, you must have a lot of time on your hands, I have a lot more important things to do”.
Not only that, but I just can’t take that excuse seriously. It’s a flimsy way of saying that you don’t prioritize your health. I can see right through it, because I used to use it myself. I had to make time. My life didn’t stop. Appointments, responsibilities and deadlines didn’t cease to exist because I wanted to lose weight. I had to decide to make it a priority. We make time for what we think is important and we make our choices based on that. I have very little sympathy or patience for people who tell me they’re too busy. Frankly, it’s almost hard to continue the conversation because I know they’re looking for me to either agree with them, furthering enabling and enforcing their excuses or they want me to give them some kind of secret key to success. Neither of which I can do. If I, previous Excuse Queen title holder, can do it, I really think anyone is capable.
7. You’ll start to unconsciously judge people for their food choices and worry that people are judging you for yours
I’ve learned that I find myself judging people, usually random strangers, for their food choices. Not on purpose and not in a mean way. Really, not in a mean way at all. More out of concern and wishing I could tell them how much better they’d feel because I’ve been there and I know what it’s like. When I catch myself thinking these things about these people I don’t even know, my heart instantly sinks. I don’t know their relationship with food, if they’re trying to make healthier choices and I caught them on an off day or where they are in their own health journey but I do know I have no business in any of it. I never say anything, because when I was 300 pounds, those people who were always talking about their dietary choices drove me craaaazy. I didn’t care about anyone’s totally-amazing-gluten-free-totally-healthy-way-of-life and I definitely didn’t want them to talk to me about it. I always wondered back then why everyone who was gluten free seemed to feel the need to tell everyone else that they were, too. Now, well, now I kind of understand. I just want to share what I’ve learned and hope that maybe it helps someone else change their life like I did.
I also learned that sometimes I start to unconsciously worry people who know I’ve lost weight are judging ME for my food choices when I eat something less-than-healthy or eat a piece of the birthday cake I’ve publicly declined the last few family gatherings, eat food from the potluck in the break room or when you get the big pasta dish instead of a salad when you’re out to dinner. I sometimes feel the need to defend my choice to people before they even say anything. “It’s been forever since I’ve had this dish!” “It’s my cheat meal” or “I’ve been good all week!” quickly slips out of my mouth hopefully before they even have a thought to think about it.
I’ve learned this is just me projecting my own thoughts on them. I don’t do this as often anymore as I’ve worked on my relationship with food and the anxiety that used to accompany it. I was worried about falling off track, gaining weight back, what others would think if I wasn’t seen being “perfect” all the time. Guess what? I’ve also learned no one really cares except me.
8. You will realize how much you’ve been settling for things
Losing weight gives you a different outlook on life than you may have previously had. This was especially true for me when I think about how much I was just settling for in my life when I was overweight. I allowed things to happen to me instead of reaching for more and striving for better. Maybe it’s the increase in confidence. Maybe it’s thinking that if you were able to do this, you can do anything you set your mind to. Maybe it’s the idea that you’re getting a second chance to live life on your own terms. Maybe it’s just wanting to be happy and healthy in all aspects of your life now.
Maybe it’s a little of all of it. I’m not sure. But for a lot of people I’ve talked to, this is a common and sometimes painful realization. Knowing you spent a great deal of time settling for less than you deserved somewhere (or many places) in your life kind of sucks. Many people, myself included, simply don’t realize they’re worth more than they’re getting. I got used to giving more than I got, thinking this was the best I could do, and not asking for what I wanted. I stayed in an unhealthy relationship, tolerated bad friends, stayed in jobs I didn’t like and didn’t do things or have experiences that I wanted to. All of this, unknown to me at the time, further perpetuated my binging, low self-esteem and weight gain.
This was hard to learn because on first thought, it feels like such a waste of time. I’ve grown to appreciate that place in my life because I can see how those things brought me to the place, the people, the experiences and the mindset I have now. That whole “everything happens for a reason” thing isn’t a cliche for no reason, I guess.
9. Even though you can shop for regular sized clothes, some clothes will still not look good on you
With all of the changes in my body that have happened, clothes that I once pictured myself being able to wear are still a no-go. Shopping and dressing rooms used to be a miserable experience and they still aren’t very fun for me. While it’s easier to find clothes and there’s a much bigger selection available to me, because of my loose skin clothes fit really awkwardly. Long sleeve shirts that fit in my mid-section have to be sized up because they don’t fit my arms with the excess skin. Pants that fit in the legs and butt have to be bought up a size because of the loose skin on my stomach. Tank tops and short sleeves are avoided at all costs. My arms make me look a lot heavier than I actually am and I’ve learned that even though I thought I’d be free from dressing to hide my body once I lost weight, I still have to. I guess I don’t HAVE to, but for my own comfort, I do.
I’ve worn a dress for the first time in my adult life and while I feel so beautiful in it, it was a nightmare to find because it had to cover my arms still. I have to be particular about workout clothing because the pants have to be high wasted enough so that my loose skin doesn’t cause me issues while I run or do certain weight machines.
It’s all just kind of a hassle still and definitely not a challenge I was expecting to run into. I’m really proud of all I’ve accomplished, but I still find myself wishing I could walk into any store like a normal person and dress my body not my insecurities.
10. Your relationships may change
My friendships, familial relationships and romantic relationships have all changed in a lot of different ways. Some good changes and some not so good, but all of them have strengthened me as a person and served to teach me how to strengthen my other relationships as well.
I’ve lost some friends as the common bond of eating out or going to the bars proved stronger than our actual friendship. Other friendships have become even closer as I’ve grown into myself, been able to become a better friend to them or shared our health goals while supporting each other. I’ve made new friends who never knew the obese me which has felt almost like a fresh start.
Some of the relationships with my family members have become stronger because I’m more involved and engaged and some have become more strained as I’ve stopped allowing people in my life who bring me down and don’t serve me positively anymore. Same with my romantic relationships. When I stopped making room for people who didn’t treat me well, I made room for someone who does. I’m more “me” than ever before and it’s led to the most mature, respectful, supportive and loving relationship. I’m able to be more open, more vulnerable and accepting of love than I ever could have in the past.
Some of the relationships I’ve let go of have been difficult and just plain hard. Some of the new relationships I’ve formed have been unexpected. But both are a direct result of my weight loss and how I value myself now.
What do you think? Have you had any of these similar experiences or lessons within your own life?