A funny thing happened on the way to reaching my weight-loss goal.
After seeing some not-so-flattering photographs of myself a few years ago, I set out to lose 25 pounds. The attention I got from losing that amount of weight was phenomenal. Hearing people comment on the weight loss and having people tell me I looked good was amazing. Almost intoxicating.
Once I reached my first goal weight, I realized that I could do better than just 25 pounds. Open up any magazine and you’ll see pictures of a handsome guy with a thin body. Under the clothes, he’s probably toned and athletic. I figured, why couldn’t I be one of those people? It made me work harder. I feel reasonably sure that I am now much closer to that image than I was three years ago.
In my head, I know this. But in my heart, I’m fat.
You see, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see the smaller version of myself. I see every single flaw about my face and body, real or imagined. There’s a whole list of things that I dislike about my body, the number of which is quite disproportionate to what I do like.
Over time, our society has shifted from relationships based on need, shared values or protection to a society filled with image-conscious people always looking for the Next Hot Thing. I’m not enough of a social scientist to research what led to it, but that’s really irrelevant. Along the way, the desire for physical attraction took precedence over stability and security. Instead of being a good provider, trustworthy, smart or kind, people take notice of – and value! – a person’s physical appearance first and foremost.
I’ve had friends who are or have been anorexic, and I could never understand what made them take things to such extremes. Where did the disconnect happen that made them stop eating and waste away to practically nothing? It has always been beyond me that someone could do something so harmful to themselves.
I had a friend in college that had a heart attack as a result of his anorexia at 22 years old. Fortunately, he managed to get it under control and as far as I know, is still happy and healthy. I was 19 at the time, but I realized just how dangerous it could be to push yourself too far.
Now, I totally understand now how people develop eating disorders. It’s not a stretch to imagine that someone with a fragile psyche could notice the attention people with smaller bodies get and twist it around until it becomes hurtful to themselves.
I’d like to make it clear that I do not have an eating disorder. That’s not the point I’m going to make. I try to eat healthy and within certain parameters for weight control; too much of my social life revolves around food and drink to avoid it even if I could do it. I detest throwing up; it is a physically painful process for me. I work out when motivation and energy arrive on my doorstep.
But the fact is, I now obsess about my weight.
I go through ups and downs. For months, I’ll stress myself out worrying about my caloric intake. Every single bite that I eat is accounted for, logged in a journal and scrutinized. And then something happens – I’m compared to someone else or my mother makes an offhand comment about my weight, for instance – and I spiral down into a depression. I feel worthless, that there’s no point in trying to stay at my current weight, and eat everything in sight. Then I notice that my clothes are getting snug and, feeling guilty, start the process over again to stay in a specific weight range.
It’s a vicious, ugly cycle that I can’t escape from. And honestly, this is extremely hard for me to admit.
Frankly, the attention and resulting cycle pose a problem for me. I cannot walk down a hallway at work without someone commenting on my weight: “Tommy, if you keep losing weight you’re going to disappear!”, “You look like you’ve gained some weight!”, or “You can’t tell me you’re not still losing weight!” Even friends and acquaintances I see on a regular basis do this, despite having seen me at my current weight for almost a year.
I wholeheartedly expect my best friend to call me in the middle of day, at random, to tell me to eat a biscuit.
This must stop. The constant comments about my weight – whether it’s gone up or down – has made me obsess over my appearance. I sometimes change clothes three or four times before heading out of the house because I think that the first shirt is too clingy; the second too baggy and shapeless; the third is too tight in the chest and makes me look fat. The fourth, well, that’s just as unflattering as it gets and I should cut it up into little pieces, burn them, and sweep the ashes into the trash. Right. This. Moment!
I’ve always done this, but never to this extreme.
My thinking when I started losing weight was that doing so would end the worry about being judged based on my physical appearance, but instead it’s become such a focus for people who’ve known me for a long time that I take it to extremes.
Even though I know that I have a lot going for me as a person aside from any physical attributes, I now limit the relationships I have. I hold back when there’s someone I’m interested in, thinking that they obviously haven’t yet seen the same flaws I do – how could they possible be attracted to me? Why would they want to stay involved with me when there’s always someone cuter out there? Or, they’ll change their mind about me as soon as I take my shirt off.
This happens even when they approach me!
As I write this, I know it’s reaching ridiculous proportions. But believe me – it’s hard to change the mindset that your body ultimately represents who you are when you’re already feeling insecure about yourself and there always seems to be someone calling attention to the matter.
So do me a personal favor: please stop talking about my weight. Stop telling me that I look fabulous now that I’ve lost weight. Stop telling me that I’ve lost too much weight. Stop telling me that I’ve reached the perfect weight for my size. And for heavens sake, stop telling me that I look like I’ve gained weight (that’s rude, anyway, jerk!). Whether your intentions are good or bad, it reinforces the notion that it’s important to stay trim and I focus on it more.
Frankly, it hurts more than it helps at this point. I know at least thirty people of my height and weight and the people who say that I look too skinny tell those people they look great. Yes, I look skinny compared to what I did before I lost the weight, but don’t make comparisons like that. It’s not fair. At some point, we all just have to accept that, whether you like it or not, this is now the body I possess – and I can’t do that for myself unless you help me adjust to the change by treating me the same as anyone else.
That funny thing that happened on the way to reaching my weight loss goals? Somewhere along the long and winding path of weight loss, I seem to have lost a lot of self-esteem and confidence.
On second thought, maybe that’s not so funny.