When obesity has roots in shame, loving our larger bodies (in my case, a 300 pound body) may contribute to healthy, sustainable weight loss.
We’re tormented by our obsession with weight. Losing weight is hard to do, and the overwhelming majority of us gain back whatever weight we lose (and then some). Every failed weight loss effort drags us deeper into depression. It becomes harder and harder to get and stay motivated. On the heels of every failed effort, we grab for anything to numb out, to check out, to quiet the critical, screaming beast in our heads. We drink, we watch TV, we eat. And eat. And eat.
My story began in the standard way. I was overweight from early childhood. By my 20s, the loss-gain cycle had me tipping the scales at over 300 pounds. But 11 years ago, I became an outlier — an exception to the rule when it comes to weight loss. First, I lost more than 150 pounds. Then — and this is rare — I managed to keep it off. It’s been 11 years since I dropped my weight. How have I managed to keep it off when so many people gain it back?
I hit a nerve last month with my “5 Things I Miss About Weighing More Than 300 Pounds” post (see the original post here). I love and am public about loving the fat body I once had, and that caught lots of folks off guard. It resonated with people at every point on the weight loss spectrum. It also made lots of people very angry. How could I — how DARE I — love my old body?
Some folks believe that me loving my former, larger body is grounds for a mental health diagnosis. Not only that, but that expressing that love makes me unfit to help other people.
If I’ve learned anything in the last 11 years about weight and wellness, it’s this: The secret to staying committed to the caring behaviors that results in healthy and sustainable weight loss, 1 and, in my case, to maintaining our most comfortable weight, is to practice cultivating LOVE for YOUR BODY, Past, Present, and Future. 2
Skeptics, hear me out.
Hateful thoughts breed feelings of shame. If I hated my old body, or feared regaining my weight, I would feel tremendous shame whenever I ate the foods that make me gain (in my case, sugar and wheat). To dull that pain, my instinct would be to eat more crap, 3 which would cause me to feel – you guessed it – still more shame. Hating and fearing the fat I lost would all but guarantee I’d binge myself to and beyond the point of pain, and that would all but guarantee I’d gain my weight back, one self-hating shame/binge cycle at a time.
By contrast, loving thoughts breed acceptance and patience. Sometimes I stray from my chosen path and eat something that triggers my food cravings. Because I’ve cultivated love for the body I once had and don’t fear returning to it, I’m able to respond to these slips in a healthier, more caring and mindful than I might have been able to if I were still operating from a place of shame. I accept that I’ve made what’s not the strongest choice for me. I forgive myself. I recommit to eating foods that nourish me and bring me pleasure, while abstaining from the cheap-thrill foods that always leave me wanting. I’ve done this a thousand times since I lost my weight. Every time I do it, it gets a little easier.
The truth is, loving my old body is what has made it possible for me to keep my new body. Writing and sharing the “5 Things” post was some small insurance against falling back into self-harming behaviors, some of which would cause me to gain my weight back. By nurturing love and acceptance for the fat body I once had, I get to honor the beautiful woman I was, while empowering the beautiful woman I am. 4
If you want to lose weight – and even if you don’t – nurturing love for the body you have can help you develop acceptance and patience. Over time, that acceptance and patience will make it easier to recommit to treating your body with care, even after you’ve strayed.
If acting with more mindfulness and care means you’re walking around in a smaller body, nurturing love for the body you once had – trading in your shame for acceptance and love – will help you continue to make those caring choices.
No matter what you weigh, where you fall on the weight-loss spectrum, and even if you’re content to stay exactly where you are, this simple exercise can help get you started loving your body:
1- Write your own “5 Things”
Make a list of 5 things you love about yourself, about your body, or the life it enables you to live, past or present. Be specific. Be honest. Be unapologetically positive.
2- Share the love
Now share what you’ve written with someone that loves you. If you’re open to it, share your love with the whole world under #StrongLove (if you want me to read it, hook @strongcoffey)
3- Pay attention
Observe the critical voice in your head – the screaming beast, as I like to call it. When does it pop up? What does it say? How much less power would that voice have if you replaced your body hate and fear with love?
Write yourself a love list. Share what you uncover. Let’s all support each other and show ourselves some strong love.
- I witness this with my personal training clients. ↩
- Best believe I’m already writing drafts of love letters to my older body (if I’m lucky enough to live a few more decades) – Stay Tuned. ↩
- And do all the myriad other things I do to change the channel in my head when I don’t much like where I’m at or how I’m feeling. Being compulsive around food was where my addictive patterns began, but that ain’t the end of my addiction story. ↩
- Psst – Same woman, differently shaped. ↩