I lost 150 pounds seven years ago and thought it would drastically improve the quality of my life. Admittedly, shedding excessive weight did upgrade my physical health, but I also became more of an isolated, egotistical asshole in the process.
We often hear stories of people breaking up with their long-term partners, changing their circle of friends, and moving on to different careers as a result of their weight loss and increased confidence. That all happened to me, too. But not all of that is a result of becoming a better person. My long-term live-in boyfriend left me because I ignored his needs and became a massive control freak (to put it nicely). Many friends distanced themselves from me because I became more judgmental and self-absorbed. And I initially switched careers so that I could dedicate more time to my unhealthy obsession with fitness.
This is the dark side of losing weight that most people don’t tell you about. They just hope that it doesn’t happen to you. There’s a misconception that somehow you’ll take all of that hurt inside of you and turn it into happiness through shedding the pounds. It’s not a magic trick. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes, losing the weight (without doing any emotional work) only makes your self-hatred more evident and explosive.
Within a matter of just a few months, I became a bully. Some might say I always was one. I judged other fat people. I became the very type of person who made my life a living hell when I was morbidly obese. I turned into one of those uncompassionate douche bags who brags, “It’s easy. Just get off your ass. Exercise and eat better. It’s not that hard.” And don’t forget to throw in, “No excuses” for good measure.
Somewhere along the way, I got cocky. That’s what really happens when you take on a lifestyle change and eat, sleep, and breathe the goal of losing weight. You become skilled at it (while pushing everything and everyone else away). You start to believe you’re an expert― that you are right. My focus and actions were so intense on fitness and nutrition routines, it felt normal to me in a very short period of time.
This superiority complex ultimately stuck with me for 3-4 years after initially losing the 150 pounds. I hated the person I used to be and would do everything within my power to not go back to being that 300-pound woman who fooled herself into believing she loved her big, curvy body just the way it was.
During the last few years, I stopped hating myself. It was a messy process of many vulnerable moments. To the outsider, I probably looked a lot like an over-sensitive whiny brat rejecting everything that society says is normal about our beauty, health, fitness, and body standards. And that’s okay because I learned how to honor who I am rather than who I should be during the process.
Throughout the course of self-discovery and building a more compassionate approach to sustained weight loss the last few years, here are two things that helped me the most (and what I teach to my clients):
I let go of ego-driven approval seeking.
High standards, perfectionism, and never-ending striving… all of it was for the sake of attention from people who don’t care. Some days, it looked like getting accepted into a prestigious university to make my mom proud. Other days, it looked like doing something outrageous and ballsy so that my friends thought I was cool. Living in that space of always doing something to stand out, be unique, or be the best was exhausting. I had to gradually allow myself to be mediocre (which is more liberating than it sounds). It’s surprising how much courage it takes to just be an average Jane when you’ve spent decades believing you had to be Wonder Woman.
I opened up to what I was running away from.
Instead of stuffing down, avoiding, and numbing my feelings. I accepted them one by one. I sat with them, and really tasted what they had to offer. I allowed even the most awful feelings of rejection, guilt, and shame to have seats at my table. If I made an ugly squinty face of disgust towards one of my emotions, I was showing that distaste towards myself. Feelings are valid and part of who I am. I have to respect my emotions and understand their flavor offer me something (even if it’s bitter, slimy, and cracks bad jokes). Pushing away uncomfortable, heavy emotions while longing to be happy ultimately sends a signal to myself, to others, and to the universe that something’s wrong and broken inside me. Instead, I learned to use my emotions in fruitful, creative, and productive ways.
You can lose weight and love yourself. But you have to face what most aren’t willing to face: losing weight won’t make you a better person.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.