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.
QUESTION: Part of the reason I want to lose weight is my health. I haven't had my cholesterol checked or anything, but I'm sure it's horrible. I get sick all the time; I have no energy. And I'm a nurse: I know what happens to people after a lifetime of not taking care of themselves. However, this doesn't motivate me at all. I want to look good. And I'm afraid once I lose the weight, I'll be covered in loose skin and won't be beautiful anyway. What if I do all this work and still have low self-esteem about how I look, and then gain everything back? How do I get motivated to try even if I may end up still not liking how I look?–Anna
DEAR ANNA: You’re not the only nurse I know who neglects her health: I have a few in my own family. My theory is that the tendency we women have to sacrifice our own needs to care for others in our lives is only amplified when you’re in the business of caring for patients—it’s that much easier to justify leaving yourself out of the equation.
It’s not a bad thing to want to lose weight to look good, really—most of us are motivated at least in part by that. But here’s the thing: There IS no guarantee you’ll be happy with the results. Yes, you may end up with excess skin, although the fact that you are in your early 20s works in your favor, because the younger your skin, the more elastic it is. (Smoking and sun damage decrease elasticity, too). The amount of weight you lose seems to be a factor in whether you will have excess skin, too: It's unlikely your skin would be so stretched if you were losing 30, 40 or 50 pounds as compared to 100 or so. And then there’s the idea that the faster you lose the weight the more likely you are to end up with lose skin, another argument against get-thin-quick diets. I myself escaped with only a few stretch marks (despite the fact that I was a faithful tanner all through high school, college, and graduate school), and I lost my 70 pounds in my late 20s.
Regardless, though—it is worth the gamble. Deciding to change your life is scary, there’s no doubt about it. Sometimes it’s easier to stay where you are, because at least you KNOW that place, even if you don’t like it so much. When you’re at the edge, where you are, you don’t know who you are going to be when you come out on the other side.
But part of what I found through my weight loss journey was that I needed to accept my flaws, both physical and emotional, or I was never going to be happy with me. It’s something I work at every day, trying to let go of that perfectionism that eats away at my ability to be happy and just enjoy life. The fact is that I still don’t have the “perfect” body, because there is no perfect body. There is only my body. As I began to eat right and exercise, I started feeling powerful inside and out, and I began appreciating that strength as much as—or even more than—how I looked in the mirror.
So, commit. Take those steps. Try making your goal less about a number on the scale or a jeans size, and more about the behaviors that lead to a healthy weight—exercising 5 days a week, for instance, or eating more vegetables. Set your sights on creating a healthy life, not building a bikini-worthy body. If you approach weight loss that way, your head will change as your body changes. And that, my dear, is what it takes to make weight loss last.