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: About a year and a half ago I decided that I had enough of self-loathing. Through watching what I ate and introducing exercise to my life, I am now 128 pounds lighter. I may have shed the weight, but I am still working on the inside. It feels very surreal. I feel like, with the merest slip-up, it can all slip away. I exercise every day and eat healthy. I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been. I just can’t make these negative feelings go away. How long did it take you to start feeling comfortable in your own skin? –Rachel
DEAR RACHEL: To congratulate you doesn’t nearly convey my excitement about your success, so know that I am literally dancing a little jig of happiness for you, right here in my office! You have done a great thing for yourself, your health and the health of those you love (because you know, healthy living is contagious!). But, as you’ve said, the journey doesn’t end when the needle hits your goal weight. Oh, it’s easy to expect to be able to loosen up when you look in the mirror and see half the woman you used to be. But the mirror doesn’t show where you are inside and how far you still have to go to be able to trust yourself and trust your body not to backslide into the person you used to be.
It took me a good while—at least three years—to get over the feeling that I was just one piece of chocolate or margarita or missed workout away from gaining back my 70 pounds and returning to my former sedentary state. I think I knew those feelings weren’t rational, but that didn’t matter: It was how I felt. In hindsight, I look at it like a pendulum: it takes a swing almost to the other extreme to begin to set things right, but eventually, you end up finding the middle.
And it will happen. In the meantime, though, I would suggest this little exercise: When a “negative feeling” comes, write it down on one side of a sheet of paper. Then, try to replace that negative thought with a positive one and write it down on the other side of the paper. It may sound like busywork, but believe me: Once you take a semi-objective look at those mean-girl voices in your head (I say “semi-objective” because we can never be TRULY objective when we’re looking at ourselves—or anyone else!), you start seeing how ridiculous they are. You get PERSPECTIVE, a little thing that many of us Former Fat Girls and Future FFGs lack.
You may also want to intentionally stretch your boundaries to quash the notion that you could go from size 8 to supersize overnight. For instance, take a rest day. A REAL rest day. Get a massage instead of going for a walk, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you feel. And then resume your regular workout schedule the next day. That will show you in a concrete way that you a) didn’t immediately put on 20 pounds, and b) were able to pick up where you left off, workout-wise. You can do the same thing with food—break your “no dessert” rule one day, for instance. The kind of trust you need to complete your inner transformation does take time, but these techniques might get you there a bit quicker.