Back in 2010, I began a weight-loss effort that took me from a high of 354 pounds (possibly higher, but I lacked the courage to get on a scale for a long time) to a low in 2014 of 176. I had reached that magical place where I could declare, “I lost half my body weight!”
2015 was a difficult year for me, for many reasons. Importantly, my lifestyle changed dramatically. I went from very active on a daily basis to very sedentary, and from planful about meals mostly eaten at home to meals mostly grabbed on the go. The weight began to creep back on – well, creep suggests a slow accumulation; perhaps a word suggesting a process both more swift and more dramatic would be most appropriate (I just can’t think of one).
Anyway, the point is I’ve gained back a bunch of weight.
Why am I writing about this today? Well, for the past several days I’ve seen snippets of a former television weight-loss contestant talking on TV and in my Facebook feed. Basically, all of the bits I’ve seen have focused primarily on her feelings of shame over regaining much of the weight she lost during her televised contest*.
Here’s what I am feeling about the weight I’ve regained:
I would certainly say that my weight gain is a shame. I would not say “I am ashamed” of my recent weight gain. There is a world of difference between these two sentences; it is not just semantics. I am disappointed that, in pursuit of other goals I lost sight of my own personal health goals. I experience discomfort because all of my clothes are too small, because I feel the extra weight as I attempt to become more active again, and because my body just doesn’t feel as good at this weight. I am discouraged – that it is so easy to gain weight but so hard to lose it and that, so far, my efforts to arrest the gain have been less than successful. But I am also determined to refocus my efforts, primarily to bring my physical health and the daily experience of being in this body back into healthful alignment. Secondarily, to make clothes shopping easier again (#truth).
Shame: the debilitating, self-pummeling toxic emotion has little to do with it (and that little, I remind myself, is internalized from external factors). “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change,” says shame researcher Brene Brown. “Shame'” she says, “erodes our courage and fuels disengagement.” If I learned anything in the process of losing a lot of weight in a healthy way, I learned that the shame I had nurtured and held on to for so many years, thinking it was the only correct response to being obese, was the very thing that prevented me from taking action for change. When I stopped hiding in the house of shame I had constructed, I was finally able to move forward in my life.
It is such a different experience to take a look at my current weight and see the daily choices, the environmental factors, the emotions that feed into it and to feel generally ok in my own skin in spite of them. Some days, I’m mad at myself for allowing it to happen – but in the way you are sometimes mad at a friend when you discover she gave you a “nice” response rather than a “brutally honest” response – you get over it and the friendship survives.
When I met with my doctor recently, she said, “I’m confident that you know how to and will get back on track because you’ve already done it. ” And while, for a moment, I ruefully wondered if her confidence was justified, in the end all I could do was agree. I have done it. I can do it.
Whether I will lose these regained pounds or not remains to be seen. If I do, I believe I will be more comfortable, encouraged, and satisfied. But I don’t believe the outcome will determine whether I am a more worthy person. So don’t be looking for me to take to the shame-based talk show circuit anytime soon. I wouldn’t offer the viewers enough drama on the subject: just me, doing the best I can to make one good choice at a time.
To all of my friends who are out there, attempting to do the same, I say:
“your worthiness is a birthright and not something you have to earn.” — Brene Brown
(To be fair, I believe she is trying to promote a more positive message, but I haven’t tuned in for the full episodes of her appearances.)