Up to an amazing 90 percent of people who lose weight may eventually go on to gain it all back, according to the results of a recent study. When a reporter for Elle magazine asked me to comment, I told him that the statistics are so shocking because the critically important emotional after-effects of weight loss aren't usually taken into account.
Losing weight isn't just a physical change for women. In fact, the emotional upheaval caused by weight loss can be devastating. Television, magazines, the internet, and even some health care practitioners lead us to believe that once we lose weight, everything gets better.
While it's true that losing weight can be a major boost physically and mentally, there are some very real emotional effects that go along with weight loss, especially for those who have lost over 30 pounds. So often these consequences are ignored, but in my opinion, they're worth addressing if you want to look and feel good for the long-term.
The Shelter of Extra Weight
At some point, women who have lost weight might ask themselves, was I getting any subconscious benefits from my extra weight? Does that seem crazy to you, that a woman might find real advantages to her additional pounds? It's not -- extra weight not only gives you more physical presence, but it also provides more of a barrier between you and the rest of the world.
It's easy to become emotionally at home behind these extra layers -- even if it is physically uncomfortable. Once weight begins to come off, some of my patients say they feel exposed and vulnerable, unable to cope with all of the new attention. This is really the very beginning of how a woman's weight and appearance can be deeply connected to her own emotional "story."
How many times have you heard someone say, "You look fantastic! Have you lost weight?" It's as if looking good and losing weight go hand-in-hand. But there are many reasons for weight loss, some not fantastic at all. Even when losing weight to look better was your original goal, it can feel strange to have people commenting on your physical appearance.
Plus we tend to focus more on ourselves after weight loss as well. You may look in the mirror more, buy new clothing, use different makeup, or change your hair to go with your new look. These sorts of changes can make some women feel unsafe, self-conscious, or awkward about being in the spotlight.
Fear of Going Back
Probably the hardest emotional hurdle to get over is the very real fear that after working hard to lose weight, you could gain it all back. Then what will people think? What will they say -- to you, or even behind your back? Many women I see in my practice are desperate about this. And it's no wonder, because research confirms the vast majority will gain their weight back -- and then some.
I've seen women follow their new diet plans with such vigilance and fear that they're more anxious than ever and end up sabotaging their efforts. So how can you avoid this? Now that I've been on my own weight loss journey, I'm always aware of the things I need to do to keep the weight off. I suggest deciding which factors you will not compromise on. For example, I'm strict about exercise and the food I eat. I warn friends when we go out to dinner that I'm very specific about what I order and if that makes them uncomfortable, we can eat at home. But leave yourself some room for letting go and having a treat now and then. For more practical tips, see my article on emotional eating.
However, no amount of planning or practicality can take away our core beliefs. We may have lost weight, but if we haven't dissolved the core belief that we are fat, it still has the power to guide us right back to where we were before.
Seeing Yourself Anew
Losing weight isn't easy. It takes a lot of planning, change, physical exertion, and emotional healing. You've got to put yourself first and change your lifestyle, what you eat, your exercise routine, and your emotions. If we don't deal with the emotional aspect of losing weight, we simply exchange one emotional issue for another. Look at Demi Moore. She may look young and fit, yet at the age of 49, she was hospitalized recently, allegedly to be treated for anorexia.
Due to a bombardment of cultural and media messages, we have unrealistic standards about weight and body shape. Even when we reach our goals, it remains a struggle -- because we're measuring our own self-worth by our looks instead of finding beauty from within. And as long as this is the case, we'll never be satisfied. There's always more you can do.
It's wonderful to look beautiful, but what will sustain you is the belief that you are beautiful -- inside and out. Getting there may require some soul searching about how you envision yourself in this new version of your body. Your personality won't change, but you do have to see yourself anew if you want to maintain your weight loss. Otherwise, like some say Demi Moore did, you may end up exchanging one set of problems for another.
For more by Marcelle Pick, OB-GYN, NP, click here.
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Sumithran, P, et al. 2011. Long-term persistence of hormonal adaptations to weight loss. New England Journal of Medicine, 365 (17), 1597-604. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22029981.
Mann, T, et al. 2007. Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62 (3), 220-233. URL: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17469900.
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