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12 lessons I learned when I lost 35 pounds
Just for information: I'm not going to tell you here that you should always have a handful of almonds with you.
BuzzFeed.de © Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
Hi, my name is Rachel! When you first meet me, you might believe that I've always had roughly the same body as I am now. But you'd be wrong!
In 2003 I weighed 35 kilos more than today.
BuzzFeed.de © Rachel W. Miller
A lot of weight loss stories are about how people got from "before" to "after" ... but I'm much more interested in what happens * after * the "after".
So I'm going to share a few things I've learned about my body image, weight loss, and myself in the 13 years since I started losing weight.
And just for information: I'm not going to tell you here that you should always have a handful of almonds with you.
BuzzFeed.de © Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
1. I didn't start losing weight because I hated my body
In high school, I'd put on weight a lot without really realizing it or thinking about it. This was mainly due to depression and anxiety, medication, little exercise (partly because of my big bust, which made training difficult) and insufficient knowledge about nutrition. By the end of my senior year at school, my weight was at its peak.
In August 2003, a few months after graduating from high school, I had a breast reduction surgery and lost 15 pounds the following week (probably because I didn't have much appetite and not because my breast weight had dropped that much). A few weeks later I moved to Chicago to go to college. I signed up for a gym because I assumed that training would be easier without the huge breasts. Since I had to learn to cook myself anyway, I made a resolution to cook healthier * foods and keep an eye on calories. I have not had a dysfunctional relationship with food before. I'd just always ate processed, high-calorie foods because I didn't realize how bad they were for me or just didn't know there were healthier alternatives.
That's it. That's how it started. There was no "enlightening moment" in the perception of my body or my diet, no schedule, and no event for which I specifically wanted to lose weight. I only had a vague idea of a target weight. It was just ... relaxed. I haven't made a huge conscious decision to lose weight. I didn't hate myself or my body. Rather the opposite was true, to be honest.
*By the way, when I say "healthy" in this post (e.g .: healthy eating, healthy choices, healthy habits), I mean "what is healthy for me". It is not my intention to set the standard for what is healthy for everyone. The same is true when I say "unhealthy". All right? Cool, let's move on.
2. The problems with my body image actually started after I lost about 50 pounds.
At my highest weight level, I had accepted my body. I thought I was cute / pretty / desirable / attractive and knew that I was a meaningful and bright person. I was confident (if a little naive about how the world perceived me and my confidence). But once I lost about 28 pounds and was within 4-7 pounds of what I thought was my target weight, things changed. All of a sudden, I started to fantasize that if I lost this remaining weight, all of my problems - especially dating problems - would be solved. That arbitrary number that I thought would make me "hot" according to society was actually within my grasp and I really wanted to make it now.
That was the beginning of the phase when my weight fluctuated the most. During this phase there was quite a bit of drama in my life. If I put on weight, it was because I was out with friends a lot, drank a lot of beer, and didn't really have healthy food or exercise in mind. In many cases, I would go out and drink a lot of beer because I was sad about a guy. I thought partying with my friends proves that I don't need a guy to be happy.
When I lost weight it was because I started thinking about my fraternity's Spring Festival where I wanted to get some guy's attention, which is why I made an effort to lose weight. And me have then also lost weight ... for a short time. But if it didn't work out with the guy (despite losing weight), the vicious circle started all over again.
3. Losing more weight didn't magically make my self-image problems go away. (OF COURSE NOT, RACHEL. OF COURSE NOT.)
In the summer before my senior year of college, I lost about 7 pounds in three months. My weight had already dropped because of my annual crash diet. And then I took off some more. I lost those 7 pounds because I was sad and angry that a relationship hadn't worked. I figured if only I was thinner ... well, I honestly don't know what exactly I was thinking. I didn't want the guy anymore anyway ... I just wanted to be sure that the next time I fell in love, the object of my affection would fall back on me too - because then I'd be ~ hot ~. (Really great logic, I know.)
When the semester started, I was thinner than ever and looked completely different from a few months earlier. It's not that people didn't recognize me, but I just didn't look like the person my college friends knew before. People didn't really know how to react.
By that point, I realized that the method I used to lose weight in the spring and early summer was actually bad for me - so I corrected my approach. I started following a healthy (if quite strict) diet and also built a sensible / sustainable exercise routine. I was actually happier at the time - partly because I felt beautiful, but mostly because I was no longer attached to this guy. I had a blast with my friends, started dating about three guys at the same time, and loved life.
After a few months, I realized that losing weight didn't protect me from heartache, and that being thinner doesn't prepare me to cope with it. When I graduated that spring, I let myself be carried away by frustration-eating and frustration-drinking. I took absolutely no care of myself, had no self-confidence and, overall, was a lost and sad 22-year-old slack. I gained the 7 kilos that I had lost the previous summer - and on top of that 7 more.
BuzzFeed.de © Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
4. If you lose a lot of weight, your body may be publicly perceived in ways that you may not be comfortable with.
In the meantime I experience this less because most of my friends don't know my "before". Yet people who notice your weight loss often have a lot to say about it. Not all comments are negative or mean - most of them are likely intended to be compliments - but when people openly address your body and diet it can feel incredibly intrusive.
People who study carefully what's on your plate when you eat in public are hard to ignore. The same goes for comments like "Wow, you look so different! You look so thin!". That feeling of being made an attraction can make you really care about what you eat or whether people will think you're a loser if you should gain weight again. Corrosive!
5. Once you start hating your body, it can take a long time to accept it again.
After graduating from high school, I moved to New York and my weight was within five pounds. But I firmly believed that if I could get back to the weight I had that one "good" fall, everything would be better. I imagined that then suddenly I would no longer be insanely underpaid, would no longer feel lonely, and that the guy I was into would reciprocate. This misconception led me to more shitty diets that didn't really work. I lost weight, but never too much, and it never lasted very long.
It was a few more years before I accepted my body. The following things helped me:
* Quit a shitty job and leave a town that has a well-deserved reputation for stealing your soul
* move home to my family
* pay attention to a healthy diet
* Do the kind of exercise I enjoyed when I started working on myself a decade earlier
* start a blog and Tons write
* See a licensed dietitian
* training for a marathon that forced me to see food as fuel and my body as a collection of muscles and organs
* TO DECIDE that I am attractive
* Honestly tell guys what I want and end relationships when they don't want the same thing
By the way, my weight stayed about the same, mostly because I'd finally gotten rid of the harmful habits that kept my weight breaking so wildly in both directions.
I really didn't expect to lose any more weight after that, and I didn't care. However, over the next few years after moving to Texas, I slowly lost weight. Now I am actually at that "target weight" that I had been following unhealthily for so long, the same weight I was in my senior year of college. But it feels so different this time because my relationship with my body is so different. And because the way there is so balanced.
6. Losing weight can actually make your life easier, that's what's fucked up.
I would like to tell you that losing weight doesn't make your life better, but that's not 100% true. Right now, I can be sure that most stores will sell my size. I can take a flight without worrying about getting kicked out before takeoff because another passenger thinks my body is gross. I can see a doctor and my symptoms will no longer be attributed to my weight without further investigation.
I am exposed to much less insults and humiliations every day than if I weighed more. My life is so easier in many ways. But it annoys me enormously that it is so - because everyone deserves to be respected as a person, no matter how much they weigh. It is absolutely me enigmaticthat so many people still think differently.
BuzzFeed.de © Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
7. Current diet wisdom tells us that it is bad to focus on numbers. But I've seen that the fear of numbers didn't help me either.
After having bad body image for several years, I tried to think less about numbers and more about how I felt. I never weighed myself, and when I went to the doctor I would stand back on the scales because I didn't want the number to ruin my day. But after a while, I realized that feeling like I had to avoid the numbers led to the numbers still having a power over me. So I tried to educate myself so that no matter how high the number could no longer ruin my day. Every day I reminded myself that it is a number like any other - my body temperature, my height - that can tell me or my doctor something useful, but it doesn't determine my life.
8. The way you lose or hold weight may need to change as you change.
I've found that many people who have lost a lot of weight live by the motto, "I've figured out how to live, now I have to do it this way forever!" And while that may work for some people, it hasn't been my experience.
After losing those first 28 pounds and then the extra 7 pounds in college, I was very frustrated to find that I couldn't lose any more, or at least maintain my new weight. "I know how it's done! Why can't I bring myself to do it like this? Why doesn't it work?" I've asked myself this many times, and I've watched my husband, who lost 150 pounds right out of college, later experience the same frustration. (And we're not the only ones.)
But now I know that it was completely short-sighted to believe that my weight, my hunger, my motivation, my relationship with food, my ability or desire to stick to a certain diet, and my understanding of "healthy" were not mine Workload, my income, my relationships, and my overall mental health are all affected.
I've also learned that things like appetite, lifestyle, motivation, preferred sport, and also my weight will keep changing in ways that I can't really predict. I always thought that I would never be able to do anything with yoga ... until I finally did. The same goes for running. Nor did I think that I could ever be one of those people who would lose weight without trying. Anyone who has eaten a whole pizza while crying and listening to sad music will likely agree with me when I say that I thought the idea of losing weight through stress was basically a legend. Last year, however, I experienced something so stressful that I lost my appetite and 10 pounds without really realizing it (or even caring about it - that's what got me going really amazed). Oops - my dear body, you surprised me again!
9. I've learned that what is "healthy" or "unhealthy" to me really depends on the context.
Whether yoga or running is healthy, or whether partying and drinking with friends is unhealthy depends entirely on the situation. But if you are someone who has put on weight from stress in the past, of course you want to change that after you lose weight. There were definitely times when my "new healthy me" experienced something crappy and thought: I better not start eating again! Instead, I get over this new round of crappy experiences by exercising a lot, because that's a ~ healthy ~ way to deal with it! But I've now understood that supposedly healthy things can become a kind of drug or simply a distraction just as quickly as "unhealthy" behaviors.
When I experience bad things today, I resist the urge to immediately resort to "healthy" cheers. Instead, I pause and consider whether excessive yoga practice is really best for me right now, or whether the "unhealthy" habit of going to the bar with my friends would be a better choice. Or maybe neither! Sometimes feelings like anger, sadness and stress are not a problem that needs to be resolved! I am now much better at recognizing what is really "good" and what is "bad" for me in a given situation - for example: am I training because I love myself or because I hate myself? - but it took me YEARS to get here.
BuzzFeed.de © Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed
10. Staying motivated when you hit your "target weight" can be a real struggle.
I haven't had to struggle with myself for ten years to motivate myself to exercise. I really enjoyed exercising - I liked the feeling it made me and I liked that it was good for me. Although I associated exercise with weight loss / posture, I assumed that I would continue to do it even if I didn't "need" it. So I got myself to be able to maintain a weight I was happy with by eating healthy and being a generally active person - and believe me, I had really extreme trouble motivating myself. PUH.
It turned out that I have been doing this for the past decade definitely was motivated more by the weight loss goal than by the health goal. As I said, my body surprises me again and again!
11. I'm not sure I'll ever stop "working" on my weight.
Many people who have lost weight feel that they need to work to maintain their weight and this healthy lifestyle for the rest of their lives. I am not sure if this is true for me or not. On the one hand, I am not currently following a diet plan and I do not exercise as much and my weight remains constant. On the other hand, I definitely watch what I eat for weight / health reasons.
But these actions are so automatic and habitual that I spend far less time thinking about them than I used to. So can I say I'm eating ~ what I want ~ if I'm still careful about my portions? Or what if, out of habit, I stick to things that I know are healthy, filling, and have "acceptable" caloric values? There is less work for me at the moment than in the past, but it also doesn't work * without work *.
12. CAN I JUST HAVE MY PEACE? PUH, NO IDEA.
When trying to lose weight, it's easy to lose perspective and no longer know whether you want to become the fittest version of yourself or just an anxious, body-obsessed, over-stressed version of your true self. It also happens quickly that you lose the view of your body that is appropriate for you. Yes, I feel pretty good about my body now, but does that have to do with the fact that I currently have a socially acceptable weight? Am I just a bad week away from gaining weight again? How would I feel about that? What kind of work could I do if I couldn't do the work of maintaining my weight - as simple as it may be now -? How much of that is just patriarchy? CAN I JUST BE LEAVED IN CALM ????
And that's the whole point - the answer to that is still a big, fat, "I don't know." It's a question I'll keep picking up on as my life changes, and my body with it. I have a lot of answers after 13 years and 35 pounds less, but the bottom line is that there is still so much I have to learn.
This article first appeared in English.
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