A reader writes:
I am glad you found this piece and are sharing this with your readers. This is a subject that is as personal and close to me as can be. Having gone from 425 lbs to 275 without surgery, I certainly expected to feel much better about it than I do.
Make no mistake, I’m proud of what I have accomplished, but the truth is that I still FEEL 425 lbs. That fact has been incredibly upsetting and frustrating. More to the point, because the skin is still there, there is a kind of phantom limb feeling that occurs, which reinforces the feeling of still being as obese as I once was. I too don’t look the way I envisioned when this journey started. I find that I look like the proverbial 10 pounds of potatoes in a 100 pound bag.
All of this takes an incredible toll on my mental health. Any happiness at my achievement is immediately mitigated by fact that weight loss was not the panacea for my appearance and mental health that I assumed it would be. When you lock up your issues in your weight, you assume that shedding the weight will rid you of those issues. Like an addict who quits drinking or drugs, you feel the initial euphoria (something akin to a sobriety high), but that wears off, and you are left to live the rest of your life in this new way.
That adjustment is hard for addicts – but I would submit that it may be harder for the obese in one way. Imagine if an alcoholic still HAD to consume some alcohol to live. Many alcoholics say one is too many, and a million is never enough. Unfortunately for compulsive over-eaters, this approach isn’t an option and leaves you vulnerable to relapse (and would explain why so many people who lose extreme amounts of weight end up putting it back on).
I really hope this can begin a conversation with readers; I feel like this a topic the Dish is built for.
Wow. This really hit home.
A couple of years ago, at the age of 41, I finally got around to doing what had been my New Years resolution for 15 years running: I lost weight. And not just a few pounds, but quite a few – 100 to be exact. I did it without surgery, through a series of different “programs”… juicing, nutrisystem, calorie counting, and yes, a good brisk 30-minute dog walk a day. It took me about 10 months and I’ve kept it off. When you do something for 10 months and are regimented about it, it just becomes the norm. That’s what I tell people that ask how I did it. Find something that works for you and is sustainable. Because at the end of the day, it needs to be a permanent change.
But back to the subject of the post. I too was disappointed that my body did not bounce back to look like It did in my youth. My belly looks similar to the woman in the photo shoot. It’s disappointing because fully clothed, I can catch myself in the mirror and feel fantastic about my accomplishment and the way I look, but getting in the shower in the morning … well, that’s a different story.
What I’ve learned though, is that while improving my appearance was always the biggest reason behind getting in shape, it’s health that has become of greater importance to me. When I finally got off my butt to lose the weight, my blood pressure was through the roof, and my blood sugar was firmly into the pre-diabetes range, bordering on full blown type-2. I was maybe two years from some serious health issues and the type of medications you take for the rest of your life.
So when I’m getting in the shower and I catch that ugly belly and backside in the mirror, I can shrug it off and be content with who I am. But there was a 15-year period where I couldn’t.
After my last major weight loss and regaining it all and more, I recognized that I was excellent at losing weight, but terrible at sustaining the loss. And I sought to understand why.
I once climbed Mt. Rainier, which, at 14,411 feet, requires that you breathe in a methodical way as you ascend to help your body adjust to the decrease in oxygen in the air. Every breath and every step must be done consciously in tandem to prevent altitude sickness. It requires a level of focus that becomes all-consuming. I don’t remember much about the view during the ascent, but I remember that breathing ritual.
That was my experience as well during weight loss. The focus required is total. Nothing passes your lips without also passing the gauntlet of calorie count, nutrient type, whether it is a “good” or “bad” food, eaten in the right quantities, pairings, settings, company, platings, etc., etc. ad infinitum. The step from healthy attention to unhealthy obsession is a short one, and downhill. The cultural obsession with body image is right there, with its hand on your back the entire time.
A function that is natural and necessary to life, becomes stilted, judged and twisted. And if it works, and you lose the expected weight, it becomes a life sentence to maintain it. Ask a dieter how much of their day is spent planning or anticipating the next tightly monitored meal. How much of their workout is spent staring at the fatuous “calories burned” indicator on the exercise machine readout. It is shocking.
I consider it one of my healthiest decisions to reject the very idea of weight loss as a goal. It took me years to purge myself of the toxic ideas of the diet-and-exercise industrial complex and the self-blame and self-hatred those ideas cultivate and profit from. I consider it malpractice for physicians to prescribe an approach that will be unsuccessful in the long term for 95% of the people who attempt it. What a choice: you can be fat or crazy.
Pinning all your hopes on an unattainable body image (with ever-moving goal posts) and placing the authority on what is best for your body on late-night infomercials is a so sad and so wrong and such a waste. I wish I could put Kozerski’s pictures on every billboard nationwide in hopes of breaking the cultural fever and dispelling the illusion of the perfect body attainable forever through diet and exercise. What we could do with all the brain power being wasted!
I am healthy despite my weight. I eat well, I enjoy moving my body and breaking a sweat. I do not own a scale. I am at peace.
(Image: Self from Kozerski’s series Half. More images from the series can be viewed here (NSFW).)