How a different kind of weight kept me from drowning in a new, maddening perspective after my massive weight loss.
It was 2004. I’d recently lost somewhere in the ballpark of 150 pounds.
Like size 28 me, size 6 me was living alone in the same shithole apartment, walking to the same bit job, and getting coffee at the same mom & pop cafe.
Like size 26 me, size 6 me preferred dirty jokes, strong coffee, and loud music.
Inside, little had changed.
But my outside was a new and novel thing.
It was absurdly small.
Hip bones and stomach muscles and clavicles. Oh my.
Moving was wild. It was nothing to get into and out of my car, climb the steps to my door, and walk to work. Hugging blew my mind; feeling the whole length of me pressed up against the whole length of them.
As someone who’d never been active, who’d always been obese, and who’d always struggled with obsessive thoughts, depression, and shame, I was “in my body” more than ever before. I spent time noticing and enjoying how it felt to lift an arm, to stand, and to breathe.
This made the earliest days of being thin awesome.
The vibe I got from other people helped, too.
It felt like I was living in a music video.
Strangers made eye contact and smiled.
People held the door open for me.
I got more compliments.
I got more pats on the back.
I got more invites to lunch.
All this nicey-nicey validation worked on me like a drug.
Between the positive attention and my new body awareness I floated for a while, high on my strange new life.
Nothing’s new forever.
I started to get used to getting in and out of my little Saturn coupe.
I stopped thinking as much about how easy it was to walk up stairs.
My focus was moving off my body and back into my monkey mind.
I fixated on noticing if I was being noticed.
And I was.
I spent more and more time thinking about how people were treating me.
I realized that I was being shown more random kindness in a single thin day than I might have gotten in a year or more when I was overweight.
“Holy shit,” I thought. “Compared to this, I’ve been treated like crap my whole life.”
Not just by the high school kids who used to scream “Fat Ass!” from passing cars.
Not just by employers who wouldn’t interview me for jobs once they saw me in person.
Not just by the doctors who wrote me off before I even told them why I was there.
I’m talking about everyone. Co-workers. Acquaintances. Family. Strangers.
For a while, every smile I got made me think of all the ones I’d never gotten.
Every door held open reminded me of all the ones that closed in my face.
Every “Come to lunch!”
Every “You look great!”
Every “Can I buy you a drink?”
All the kindness and courtesy and flirtation made me angry.
And without strong tools to help me cope with this new perspective in a healthy way, everything I did just made it worse.
I acted out.
I used men who would never have given large me a moment’s notice. I started showing up late and leaving early. I treated my friends like shit.
I acted in.
I drank more. I ate more. On the weekend I woke up in the afternoon in my shithole apartment hating myself.
I still woke up hating myself during the week, but in the morning. (HA!)
I smoked on the steps downtown, ruminating on how I’d been wronged, hoping someone would start a fight with me so I could do something with my rage.
But no brawls came.
I was thin, but I was gaining weight and losing ground – mentally and emotionally – fast.
I needed to get out of my head. I needed to get back into my body somehow. But how? None of the standard girlie exercises appealed to me.
I was only willing to run if I was being chased.
Yoga was for wusses.
And only gals who looked like Jamie Lee Curtis in 1984 actually did aerobics.
I wanted to feel powerful. I wanted to win that fight I kept hoping I’d get into.
One Saturday morning, in a fit of clarity and uncharacteristic action, I put on a pair of sneakers and took my anger to the gym.
I’d never been there before.
The front desk gal was tall and solid. Friendly looking. Her name tag said “Denae”.
“Hi,” I said. “Any chance you could teach me how to lift weights?”
“Sure,” she said.
She taught me the most basic lifts that day and told me to ask her questions as they came up.
I thanked her, put headphones over my ears, and angrily lifted weights for the first time in my life.
I kept my head down and counted reps, one for each breath.
I didn’t notice if I was being noticed.
An hour later, I wiped the sweat off my face and smiled. I felt my body: warm and alive and satisfied.
I walked out without checking myself in the mirror.
The next day, I went straight to the gym after work. I slapped on my headphones and angrily lifted weights. An hour later, I noticed it again.
I felt it.
I noticed my muscles humming and my blood pumping and my joints yawning and it felt like love.Tweet This
I kept going. I kept lifting. Not once did I regret it.
Every time I left the gym, I was aware of my body, connected to it, and grateful for it.
Pushing myself with weights helped me stop obsessing about how other people saw me, how they felt about me, and how they happened to treat me, thin or fat.
Lifting weights helped me focus on how it felt to be me, in my body, in this moment.
It was a gift and, without it, I believe my life and my health would’ve turned out very differently.
Regardless of your weight, you may obsess about how you look or how other people perceive you. Challenging yourself every day can help free you from your mental quicksand and help you come back into your actual, physical self. Present. Grounded.
And, after a good workout, prob’ly feeling great.
You don’t have to lift weights. Some women shouldn’t. Really, any activity will do. What’s important is that the activity be genuinely challenging. That way, you HAVE TO concentrate on what you’re doing (read: not be trapped in the storm in your head).
Some folks need recovery days, like hard-training athletes and heavy lifters. But if you’re walking, lifting moderate-sized weights, dancing, or doing yoga, the benefits of daily practice will probably outweigh the benefits of scheduled days off here and there.
If you’re trapped in your head – whether you’re angry or depressed, anxious or obsessed – this formerly obese personal trainer’s advice is simple: Find a safe, challenging physical activity and do it every day.
Activity will help get you out of your head and to focus on what’s important: Not the size of your body, per se, but that you get to be in it, that you get to care for it, and that you get to enjoy it for as many moments as possible in your one precious life.
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I was think for a few years of my life. I loved being in a thin body but I had no skills for living a mentally and emotionally healthy life. Guess who gained weight? Yup me.
I still feel great sorrow for that weight gain and losing the bliss I had about my body for those 18 months. Now to feel that bliss about all of my life and get my body back.
Thanks for the inspiration and support.
Great post. Same thing, same reactions, same anger happened to me after I lost 100 pounds. I also worked it out in the gym/pool/track. The only way for me to stay healthy is to stay ONLY focused on how I feel/how my body feels. External pats on the back no longer motivate me as they disappear the second you slip up/become human and gain some weight back. Grind it out at the gym. I never feel bad after I’ve worked out, even if I didn’t particularly want to do so that day.
damn… THANK YOU for this bit of clarity and insight. i am 52 and have struggled witih my weight for a decade. i recently went from 250 to 220, but have let 5 lbs bounce around over the holidays. holiday is over, now, and i’m ready to get back to work. or am i?! i just feel so damn old and out of shape. i like what you’ve said here about doing SOMEthing.. ANYthing…. and i joined a gym a few months ago — it’s time to get back at it. i’ve had to start with the eeeeeeassssssy stuff — chair yoga, etc., but it’s a start. i’m hooked by your description of being IN your body, feeling it, knowing it is strong and healthy. i want that, too. it’s not too late for me. there’s still a chance…. and by the way, WHOA on that lifting photo — i may have to print that one out for inspiration! thanks for being real, and candid — have a great weekend… stephanie
Perfect blog post to read today. I’ve lost a bunch of weight, and am at my goal, but man I feel all the feels if I don’t get exercise on any given day.
Thank you so much for this; I really needed this perspective!!!
As always, Kelly — Excellent, important information — cogently, coherently and entertainingly presented. May your wisdom and understanding spread far and wide!
Thank you so much for this post! I’m in that spot! Lost 150+ lbs.. Got angry with all the attention I was getting now that I was “thin”. I am now struggling, gaining weight and feeling like crap! Don’t feel like doing anything anymore. Need to find something to do to offset the anger. I’m still the same person, why could no one notice before? Frustrated beyond belief!
Yes, I was there. 40lbs lost, everybody noticed, then nobody did. What was the point? I ate and a lot of it came back but I hate how it feels. I have now realized that I need to figure out how to do this just for me.
Your timing was perfect
I’ve been reading your blog for a short time and I am amazed at how you manage to creep into my head.
I’ve gained and lost weight at various times, and right now I’m in a place where I put back some weight over the last year and I’m now taking it back off. Exercising regularly, eating clean, and feeling good. Most especially, recognizing and trying to be honest with myself and others about the addictive relationship that I have with sugar and sugary starches. You’re honest writing on that has helped me immensely.
Like so many other women, I can relate to the experience you shared about how differently you were treated when you are thin versus heavy. I know that sometimes the attention I got at my thinnest made me uncomfortable, and I retreated back into comfortable fatness.
Your posts and insights are fabulous. Thank you.
Thank you, Teke!
Whoa, you really put your finger on it!!! Everything you said – true!!! Thanks so much for also pointing the way out of that trap – getting grounded in your body again, escaping those nasty mind traps set to toss you back into old bad habits. Coffey, you rock!!! Abundant blessings!!!
Thank you, Cathy!
Thanks, Kelly! I’ve recently lost 60#, for the “15th” time and I want to now focus on keeping it off. I cycle/spin about three times a week, do the elliptical two times and/or walk the dog 5 miles. I used to be this size six years ago so to again have this svelte wonderful body brings me much gratitude and confidence. I keep having people at church think they can make comments about how much I lose when it’s none of their damn business. I am not now nor have I ever been an anorexic. I have tried telling them nicely several ways – my doctor is working with me and this is the weight she wants me at….yada, yada, yada. They still think they can comment even if I bring the dr’s opinion into the conversation. I dont want to make enemies but it pisses me off. And I don’t want my stupid brain to think that I can start the eating behavior again because of what they are saying. That scares me. I will definitely keep up with my exercise. Any input would be great! Thanks much!
Hey there, Barb –
I have lots of input. I have no end to input. I think you’d get a lot out of a Pleasure Principles practice. If that’s a strong choices for you, and you use this link, you can join up for 50% off. http://www.strongcoffey.com/0l0e
Thanks so much for this perspective! It helps shed a little light, and also fires up a realization about myself. I’m currently kind of stuck in the mindset you described, but am *pre*-weight loss (and thus probably come off sounding pathetic rather than triumphant, but screw it– I’m owning it).
It’s infuriating how prevalent this attitude is, that you’re a human being worthy of positive regard only if you are perceived as fit/thin. Well, here’s a little bomb for such a world: The opposite side of the coin is… cancer. Yeah, I said it. I’m tipping this sacred cow right here, right now.
No matter how you contract cancer (whether or not it came about via lifestyle choices) or how often it comes back, you are a saint and can do absolutely no wrong. Complete strangers will wear purple, Like-bomb your Facebook images of you in a hospital bed with no hair, and sob their way around a track for days so that you can have anything you could want or need, from necessary supplies to a trip to Tahiti.
The precise. Fucking. Opposite of the above paragraph is true if you’ve got weight issues.
I’m not downplaying cancer patients’ experiences, and am certainly not demanding to be sobbed over or treated like spun glass. However, being treated like an actual human being and NOT like a shit-encrusted child molester would be a nice little change!!