QUESTION: I am not sure if I can call myself a "Former Fat Girl" because I am still in the "recovery" phase. I lost 50 pounds almost a year ago and even though I gain and lose a pound or two occasionally, I know that according to the scale I am pretty much in a healthy range. But I can’t stop seeing myself as a "fatty.” What suggestions do you have to go from the "fatty in recovery" stage to the "former fat girl" stage?—FIR (Fatty In Recovery)
DEAR “FIR”: Love the “Fatty in Recovery” thing. It definitely describes the period of adjustment you need to go through after such a dramatic life change. Because we’re not just talking pounds—you had to change some major habits to lose that much weight. I know that from experience. For instance, I had to find new ways of having fun that didn’t involve the words “all-you-can-eat” or “supersize”; I outgrew some friends who I found unsupportive when I started moving in a healthier direction; I started saying no to others and yes to myself more. It was very difficult at first to trust that I wouldn’t just slip back into my old, unhealthy ways. It took me a long time to get comfortable with my body, to be able to wear clothes that really fit, to not be self-conscious about, for instance, dancing or playing sports for fear someone would actually notice me.
I’ve thought about this a great deal. One of the things that makes it hard for us to see ourselves as we’ve become is the gradual nature of the changes we’ve experienced. It’s not like we drop our 50 or 70 or 100 pounds overnight. Over the months and years it takes to lose that kind of weight, it’s easy to forget what we looked and felt like at our heaviest, and how different we look and feel now. Until time travel is possible, try these tips:
- Get out the photo books. This is an easy one—except for the fact that we FFGs tend to have relatively few old photos of ourselves, since we tend not to be comfortable in front of the camera. If your stash is thin (pardon the pun), ask friends and family to contribute “befores.” Take a look, and consider choosing one or a few shots and striking the same poses now to create a “before” and “after” board (a la Jenny Craig ads).
- Lift some weight. An FFG I know was once featured on television, talking about her weight loss success. In a stroke of genius, they created a mountain of 119 pounds of potatoes next to her on the set to represent the exact amount of weight she lost. That physical representation (in her favorite food, no less) was a dramatic sight for both her and her audience. Now, I’m not suggesting you find a 50-pound box of pasta (my pig-out food-of-choice). But it’s not a bad idea to experience what that 50 pound looks like, and what it feels like to haul around (if that’s possible). A simple way: Try to lift 50 pounds at the gym (with a spotter, of course). Find a 50-pound child, and look at your excess weight in action. Go to Costco and check out the 50-pound bags of rice. If you’re fit enough, you could try loading down a backpack and walking around with it on. Even an extra 20-30 pounds will make it harder for you to do everyday stuff, like walking up stairs and carrying groceries. Then, feel the sensation of lightness when you take the pack off and practically float through your day. This is a concrete way of experiencing the before-and-after of your weight loss. (Just check with your doc—and your common sense—before trying to lift heavy weight.)
- Imagine a scenario. Chances are the changes you’ve undergone aren’t all about the size of your jeans. Do you have more confidence now? Better boundaries? Are you more willing to take risks—state an opinion, say no, share an idea? Think about a recent example of your newfound confidence, and try to channel how you would have reacted in your previous life. I know I’m much more vocal than I used to be—much more willing to take chances, to ask for what I want, to tackle problems head on and not run from them. To stick up for myself in relationships and at the office (sometimes, I’m sure, to the chagrin of those around me!).
- Get professional help. A professional shopper, that is. Sometimes we FFGs or FIRs have trouble figuring out how to dress our new bodies. We tend to stick with the styles and even sizes we wore when we were heavy. The whole “I can’t wear that” refrain is still running through our heads. A wardrobe consultant can push you out of your box and into styles and sizes that may not be on your radar. Such a service can be pricey—for a cheaper alternative, try the personal shopper service at department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom. Even small boutiques with attentive sales people could be helpful—or a fashion-forward friend or sister.
- Find a physical reminder. This could be jeans you wore when you were heaviest, or that favorite triple-XL T-shirt. Whip them out, put them on, see where you were then and where you are now in a very real way. My reminder is always with me: When I was heavy, I (like a lot of us FFGs) was told I was “big boned.” One day, fairly far into my journey to lose 70 pounds, I put my hand around my wrist, middle finger to thumb. All the way around, without stretching or straining. I wasn’t big-boned, after all. This simple little act helps me counter the fun-house image I may see when I look in the mirror. Because—and this is the painful truth—it’s fairly normal for those fat-girl feelings to stick with you long after the weight is gone. I have to say my issues are less about how I look physically but more about the emotional issues that led to my being overweight in the first place: the self-sacrificing, perfectionism, the difficulty I have dealing with stress that makes me reach for food. Just being aware that these issues are there, and having little ways of dealing with them, have kept me from backsliding all these years. Here’s hoping these ideas help you move forward, too!
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.