What do you do when you start obsessing about your body “flaws”? Former Fat Girl Lisa Delaney’s strategies for preventing diet sabotage.
Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: I have been overweight for pretty much all my life, and like most people have “won” and “lost” the weight loss battle several times. A couple of years ago, I decided to do things a little differently after reaching an all-time low: I decided to make changes out of kindness to myself, rather than bullying myself and beating myself up for not being a size 6. Well, I’ve been doing OK but, I’m noticing changes in my body that I DON’T like (sagging breasts, flabby stomach etc). I’m sure these things are not as bad as I think, but it’s making me go off the rails and “sabotage” myself. Is this something that happened to you during your journey—and if so, how did you deal with it?—Leah
DEAR LEAH: Thanks so much for your note. I love the fact that you’re taking the kinder, gentler approach to losing weight—and seeing results. Self-compassion and self-nurturing are sorely lacking, IMHO, in most people’s attempts to lose weight. Why, exactly, do we think that punishing and berating ourselves will get us ANYWHERE, except maybe another round on the shame cycle? This tactic doesn’t work with others, whether they’re your kids, spouses, co-workers or employees. So why is it our go-to tactic for getting ourselves to make healthy changes in our lives?
I don’t have the answer to that one. But I do know that it is a process for those of us who tend to be self-critical perfectionists. I’ve found that it’s not as easy as switching off those little voices that eat away at our self-esteem—because sure enough, they’ll pop up again, perhaps in a different form, and surprise you. You may find that you’re more forgiving in one area—for instance, when you miss a workout or overdo it on carbs one day—but that you’re still hypercritical about your body. It’s very difficult for most women to stop making every look in the mirror a flaw-finding mission—what’s sagging there? Oops—a new wrinkle! Damn—where did that cellulite come from? And on it goes.
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I know of what I speak. OF COURSE I did that during my journey, and I still catch myself doing it now. Because what we’re looking for when we stand in front of that %^&#! mirror is something that DOES NOT EXIST: perfection. Some vague ideal of what our bodies SHOULD look like, wherever that comes from. Our eyes—my eyes—go straight to the lines around my mouth or the cellulite on my thighs, or the sag in my rearview. We filter the visual information our eyes provide us with through a complex combination of cultural influences and personal expectations. What we see is so often not what we are, but what we are not.
So the question is, how can you make peace with the changes your body is going through, and will continue to go through as you continue to lose weight? I’ve written about body image issues before—check out this recent Q&A, which contains lots of specific suggestions. The biggest thing for me, though, was being aware of those critical voices, to anticipate them, and to be confident that the steps I’m taking to eat healthfully and exercise are paying off for me, regardless of what the mirror says. When I start obsessing with sagging or cellulite, I also think about what it would take to “fix” those issues—at some point, the only solution is surgical (or something close to it), and I’m not willing to go that far. You may feel differently—and that’s OK too—but it’s always good to ask yourself whether there is a solution to what you’re seeing/feeling about your body, and whether you are willing to take those steps. That might help you come to accept the body you have—or that you’ll end up with, once you have reached your healthy weight goal.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.