- Coming Clean -

COMING CLEAN: My Body, My Mind, Myself

Losing the weight was hard, but shifting my body image has been the real obstacle.

After wrapping up another great call with this month’s How I’m Doing It writer, Kathe Yamagata — we recorded this chat so look for the podcast on Monday — I’m reflecting on a darker time of my weight gain.

During our call, Kathe and I talked about how it felt to lose the weight, what motivated us to keep going, and a topic that we’re both challenged by, this crucial maintenance period. At some point, we said, it’ll just feel like life as we know it, but this transition feels odd at times for several reasons, mainly because our mindset is different — and sometimes the same.

Kathe mentioned how when she walks by a mirror, she’s still taken aback. “Is that me? Oh yeah, that is!” Or how she felt looking through old photos for her story: The image of herself is so different and yet the memories are still fresh.

Seeing old pictures, I don’t recognize myself: I see a smart woman who felt it was safer to be mediocre in her work, a woman who didn’t think she had to try to be a good wife, a woman who didn’t dare dream of anything bigger because, well, that would require more energy and more attention than I thought I desired. I’ve been pulling together photos for my brother’s upcoming wedding, and the editor in me is too strong to not be critical: Oh, I couldn’t possibly include this one! Maybe if I crop it so it’s just our faces? How about we scrap the past three to four years altogether?

Recently, the Institute for the Psychology of Eating (IPE) held a free online conference (our friends at En*theos do this, too — the audio or video interviews are free at streaming time and for 24 hours afterward; fascinating topics and terrific experts, so if you see one coming up, listen in; you can often also purchase the digital files). One of the conversations was with Jon Gabriel and IPE founder Marc David. Gabriel has lost more than 220 pounds (wow!) without crazy diets or surgery (read his weight-loss story here), and talked about the concept of weight as a shield.

Biologically, it would make sense, he said, since we added and held onto weight in case of famine or location changes or seasonal changes. It was for protection from the elements. Our bodies could tap into our fat storage when food was scarce but energy was needed to outrun wild animals. Today, even though our times have changed, it can still act like a psychological barrier or blanket — we can add the weight to hide from others or our own greatness.

It completely rang true to me: After losing 35 pounds during my last year of college, my world started to open up. I started dreaming big again, thinking about travel and adventure and lofty goals. My boyfriend at the time had become my best friend, but I feared we didn’t share the same plan for our future, and so our three-year relationship came to an end. It was a very difficult time because I was sad for us and him, but I was also excited to embrace my new vision for a great big life. I entered the dating world again, which frankly terrified me (as much as I want to believe my friend Jeff who recently reminded me that I was “always such a romantic,” the entire act of courtship in your 20s felt weird to me — “out on the prowl, Cork” as Grandpa would say). Luckily I met Kyle through friends, so I wasn’t at ‘da clubs for long.

But I had regained the weight and then some after Kyle and I got married, so the idea of losing it again reminded me of that fragile time in my life. The attention from men back then was flattering, and welcome when I was newly single, but I didn’t want it now that I was married. Kyle is a confident man and we share a mutual trust, but still, that attention seemed like a threat — what if he did get jealous as I had experienced in former relationships? My only reference point for losing weight in the past included the end to an important relationship — an unexpected outcome as my mindset shifted. Where would I be at if I lost the weight again? (Or was this all just my ego getting in the way, assuming that said attention would even occur? And we wed because we shared the same vision for our lives. Did I think it would truly change if I lost weight?)

It felt safer to hide under my blanket of weight and keep the status quo. Do my work, come home, eat, watch TV, keep my head down.

Yet, it wasn’t safer. My weight was a barrier to my interactions with the world, but also to my marriage. I was hiding from everyone, including myself.

Now that I’ve dropped the weight, there are times when I think that nothing has changed. I’m doing laundry and all I have are some old sweats that I’m swimming in, and I look down and think I see the same body. Or I get sucked into my TV and see examples of women parading around in bikinis and think, I should lose more weight. I need to lose more weight.

It’s what Kathe and I talked about: So much of this is in our heads. Our minds lead our bodies, our bodies lead our minds.

This is what psychologist Michael Hall, PhD, had to say in our article, “Your Body, Reframed”:

“One part of you may be committed to the idea of losing weight, and be motivated by the idea of looking more attractive and feeling more fit,” Hall explains. “But there may be another part of you that’s not at all convinced this unfamiliar state of being is safe or desirable. It experiences the change as a threat — a danger or challenge to another important value — and so it acts to reverse it.”

So even if we think change is good, it may still feel like a threat. Have you held yourself back from positive change because it felt unsafe or scary? Let me know in the comments below, or send me an email or Tweet @clewisopdahl.

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