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The psychological effects of weight loss


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I know we don't Whole 30 to lose weight, but for a lot of us it's a nice added benefit. I've lost a lot of fat over the past few years, with the most coming off from when I started paleo a couple of years ago. As time goes on, I become more vigilant about it, and I'm on my second W30 this year.

Something I noticed about my weight loss is that I don't think of myself as a thin or healthy person. I went from a size 14 to a size 4 (not all attributable to paleo, my journey started several years ago with Weight Watchers and 10 minutes at a time on the elliptical). I keep buying clothes that are too big because I cannot wrap my mind around being the size I am. When I look in the mirror, I alternate between disbelief and actively trying to find stuff about my body that I hate.

I guess what I'm saying is that I always thought being thin and fit would immediately lead to happiness, and it hasn't. This is both comforting (because being overweight is not the worst thing that a person can be) and disturbing (because what's it going to take to like myself?). I guess this goes to show that nutrition is just one piece of the puzzle.

Has anyone else had this experience?

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I've been both tiny and not-at-all tiny (currently) and everywhere in between, so I understand where you are coming from.

Two points:

1) Weightloss (or gain if that's your goal) is not a cure all. Achieving your goals will make you feel better, and the health benefits associated with a healthy weightloss are often easy to spot. But mentally thats a whole other ball game. I've noticed that for a lot of women - it's never enough. I'm not talking about people with genuine eating disorders or body dysmorphia. I mean every day women who have healthy weight goals in mind - somehow getting to that size 2 or 4 or whatever it is for you still isn't perfect. I largely blame the images we get from society about what a 'perfect' body looks like - something that is simply unattainable for most of us. So we can always lose another 2 lbs here, or an inch there etc. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good. Focus on the positive things your body can do. Recognize that you've done a great job. Think about other aspects of your life that are going well. you body is just one aspect of who you are. The same way being in a relationship or getting your dream job won't solve ALL your problems, neither will losing weight.

2) It takes your brain a while to catch up. When I was 20 I had a breast reduction and it took me almost a year to get used to my new reflection. the same has been true when I've lost a bunch (or gained a bunch) of weight. In fact, right now I rarely realize how big I am until I see a picture, because in my head, I'm still at least 30 lbs lighter! I'm shocked when I put on a shirt and realize how tight it is. I'm slowly, but surely, losing right now, but it will take a while to get there, and even longer for my mind to catch up with me.

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I guess what I'm saying is that I always thought being thin and fit would immediately lead to happiness, and it hasn't. This is both comforting (because being overweight is not the worst thing that a person can be) and disturbing (because what's it going to take to like myself?).

I totally get this. My weight has fluctuated a lot over the years, although I'm thankful I haven't let things go for TOO long before I brought it back down. The last 3-4 years have kind of been the worst, because I've just constantly gained and lost the same 10-12 pounds...which for me, means 2+ sizes. Every time I've gotten those "skinny" jeans to fit, somehow I'd sabotage myself and end up reverting to old habits (overeating). Within a week they were too tight again. I've lost track of how many times that happened.

During those brief periods in my skinny jeans, I think what made me the most happy was the achievement, as Avalanche said. I did it, I lost the weight, I had things under control...but then I didn't anymore, and the weight came back, and everything spiralled. I don't think the ups and downs were really about my weight. It was the feeling of being out of control, and then in control briefly, that had more of an effect on my emotions. I always daydreamed about being skinny, and how happy I would be then. That never happened. At my skinniest, I was the most miserable because of everything else going on in my life.

I'm not sure what the answer is. I do know that eating Paleo has made me feel the most in control I've ever been, and I'm hoping over time this will improve other areas of my life (like my self-image).

I hope you feel good about what you've accomplished though. You've made amazing progress!

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At my skinniest, I was the most miserable because of everything else going on in my life.

This! I was my tiniest when I was my abosolute most depressed ever. And I got there by sleeping a lot and barely eating anything (not on purpose). The ironic thing was how much positive reinforcement I got. Everyone was constantly telling me how GREAT I looked, and I loved it. I'm almost 50 lbs heavier now, and while weight loss IS a goal, my life is much, much happier now. If I had to chose, I'd pick fat and happy over skinny and miserable any day. Although hopefully I can find some middle ground, right?

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And skinny doesn't necessarily equal miserable by any means--I think the telling phrase "actively looking for things I hate about my body" is the one we can all relate to so well. We go along with the idea that to be happy (and that includes happy with our bodies, our sexuality, our jobs, our partners, blah blah blah) means being thin. I don't know how you can be a person in America and not struggle with this. But I do know that being able to trust the food that I'm eating has already helped me enormously with being able to see myself, and to like what I see much, much better. I'm nowhere close to the finish line on this, but I do know that I'm running the race, and that feels good. I truly hope that thinking about this and reflecting and being good to ourselves helps each of us get closer to shutting down such terrible, critical voices once and hopefully most of the time if not for all.

Thanks for posting that.

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In my lifetime, my weight has ranged from 271 at my heighest to 137 at the lowest I can recall in my adult life. I can tell you that happiness for me has never been guaranteed with the number on the scale or the size clothing on my body. The people I have surrounded myslef with are what contributed, or honestly took away, from my happiness.

As I lost weight, it was important for me to do visualization exercises. I pictured myself at what I considered my fittest. I would visualize myself running, wearing cute outfits, etc. One day upon looking in the mirror, I realized that image looking back at me matched the one I had in my visualization. It takes practice but you can get there!

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Ugh, I hear you! I had been "the fat friend" for 22 years. I still struggle with that difference. I still think of myself that way, I still see that in the mirror some times. I get caught off guard when I see recent pictures of me pop up on Facebook that don't reflect that. It's...weird.

Works in progress!

I love what kb said though about the visualizations, though!

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Thank you all so much for your replies! I think as women we've been conditioned to compare ourselves to the ideal body type, whatever that may be. I do love my huge quads and growing shoulder boulders.

It's been suggested to me to consider the way I talk to myself, and consider if I would ever say that to another person. If I would never insult someone like that, why is it ok for me to do it to myself?

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  • 3 weeks later...

I agree 100% about visualizations. THey really work. Guided imagery/self-hypnosis, while it sounds hokey, has really helped me. This exercise feels goofy at first but also helps: http://www.drnorthru...g/robert+holden

I think it's also a matter of wherever you go there you are.

We all have this idea that getting down to a certain size, or a weight, or wearing a sort of outfit we couldn't wear before will magically make everything else in our lives better. But it doesn't. You're still the same you in there with all of your stuff. We also put things off until we get to where we want to be with our bodies, so that it becomes an excuse for not getting things done. And then we meet that goal but realize we still have to do everything else we want to do and there's no cushion or excuse anymore.

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  • 1 month later...

While I am not in "maintenance" at this point, I have spent most of my adult life either trying to lose weight or trying to sabotage myself to keep my "security weight". Funny thing is that I am very confident in every other aspect of my life.

I finally feel that with my paleo lifestyle that I can change this yoyo pattern. I am happily married and have a wonderful supportive family and extended family. This is only my issue, they all love me no matter what.

I am a survivor of sexual abuse as a child and have always felt that since highschool I packed the weight on to protect myself. I have moved beyond the abuse issues through much therapy and finding a man who loves and supports me no matter what.

I really like the idea of starting to visualize myself how I would like to be now in hopes that I will be able to better adapt to my new body. I believe that with my slow and steady weight loss that will also help me adjust more easily.

I honesly believe that if you do not deal with the issues that caused the weight to come on then it will not stay off, this is why I delt with those issue and learned to love and respect myself beyond the physical.

Good luck to all!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I wish that thin took care of everything but as Beets said, wherever we go, we take ourselves. My weight was my negative magnet. Not was, is my negative magnet. Whole 30 with the focus on health, not weight has helped me so much. I have spent mega decades waking up and wondering what the scale would say. I tracked very morsel that I ate. I tracked my exercise and made charts of my progress. And in the end, I felt good or bad based on the scale. I have found more freedom than I thought possible on Day 39 of my WholeWhatever. Now I'm refocusing on feeling great everyday.

When I got hypnotized in 1990 to quit smoking, I had to come up with a visualization of myself that I could focus on. At that time iwas 100 pounds heavier than today. In my visualization I was walking on the beach. Breathing in clean fresh air. I was wearing beautiful loose white linen. My body was a perfect size and I looked great. The best part was how confident I looked and the big smile on my face. Today I own a lot of beautiful white linen.

Reading these posts, I realize that today I look like I did in that visualization. I havent thought of that in a long time. I guess it's time to be joyful and quit worrying about the last 3-4 pounds.

Thanks for this great space for reflection.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I've lost 63 pounds so far, and one of the things I've lost, finally, at age 43, is the anger and bitterness that used to accompany my efforts to lose weight. I was on some diet or another for pretty much my whole life starting at around age 11, and I always attacked a diet effort with the fevered dream of some kind of revenge fantasy. i thought that being thin would silence the bullies, magically make me good at sports, and generally 'get back' at anyone who was ever mean to me. To this day, as an adult, i tense up when a group of teens approaches me because I've had groups of kids say ugly things to me (even as an adult) many, many times. So in addition to seeing myself physically accurately, I've had to relearn how to relate to people in a non-defensive way and somehow, since adopting this way of eating and knowing that every day I do something good and positive for myself and not something based in deprivation and self loathing, I have been able to let go of that anger, fear, and bitterness. When i was dieting low fat I didn't see how I was nourishing myself and feel good about that because well, I wasn't. Now that I am the number on the scale going down is almost a side bonus. My 'eye' is still off when I buy clothes. But I find that for the first time in my life, instead of liking big loose clothes to hide in I find all the extra material a nuisance. 

I think that learning how to see ourselves correctly is that extra mile we didn't see coming. The good news is we have the strength to finish it.

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  • 6 months later...

I am just now starting the Whole30..I am tired of feeling ugly and fat, and just plain old not feeling good.  I read the book, and as a scientist, it makes a lot of sense.  I want to feel better, I want to loose weight..It has been such a cycle for me...not happy at home, full time graduate school, full time work...I just have not had time to take care of my self...I need to loose 60 pounds.  I am currently moving 2000 miles cross country...It really is frightening, but I have already signed up for hot yoga....sounds like fun...Your stories are really uplifting...


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