When we begin a weight-loss journey, we often have a vision of what our body and life will be like when we reach our goal weight. But the reality is typically different.
“Weight loss is something that, for people who need it, can make a huge positive impact in their lives, physically and psychologically. But weight is such a complicated and publicly visible matter that sometimes weight loss is a mixed blessing,” says Patrick O’Neil, PhD, director of the Medical University of South Carolina Health Weight Management Center.
Here is how to handle eight typical consequences of losing weight that nobody tells you about:
Dropping a lot of weight can lead to loose skin. “If you’re losing a significant amount of body fat, that body fat has been under your skin protruding and helping to keep the skin taut,” O’Neil explains. Depending on your genes, age and how much weight you lost, your skin will recover somewhat, he adds. Resistance training to build muscle can help some, so try that first. You may also choose to talk to a plastic surgeon about surgery to remove the skin.
When you grow up being teased for being heavier, “you incorporate that as part of your self image,” says Sofia Rydin-Gray, PhD, behavioral health director at Duke Diet and Fitness Center. “When you lose weight, unless you develop a realistic image of yourself, you may continue to think of yourself as a bigger person.” Movement is a great way to help tune into your body, she adds. Or consider keeping one piece of larger clothing and putting it on to see how much bigger it is now. Looking at photos of you at your starting weight may also help you see the changes in your body.
“Often weight plays more of a role in some relationships than we might appreciate at first,” O’Neil says. Your friends and family may not always be supportive of your weight loss. If someone questions why you’re no longer eating certain foods or always going to the gym, explain why losing weight is important to you. If a friend says you’re getting too skinny, say, “Thanks for your concern, but I’ve spoken to my doctor, and I’m at a healthy weight for me.”
Often when women lose weight, they find they get more attention from men. If this is discomforting, you feel vulnerable or you fear relationships and intimacy, speak to a therapist. “Clients sometimes say the fat has been a protection,” O’Neil says. “Oftentimes there are other issues bound up in that. In some cases, there may be a history of sexual abuse.” It’s important to work through those things with a professional.
When researchers studied 1,979 overweight and obese adults over four years, they discovered weight loss was associated with a reduction in health risks but not with psychological benefits. “When you’re in the active weight-loss phase, it’s the honeymoon period where you are seeing results and gaining confidence,” Rydin-Gray explains. “When you are in maintenance, you’re not getting that regular feedback.” And you may not land that job or have your girlfriend propose like you thought you would. Think back to why you wanted to lose weight — what were your deeper motivations? It can help to explore what you feel is missing in your life and the barriers to achieving those things with a therapist.
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When you have lost weight in the past and later regained it, you may think you “can’t” lose weight. If you think your current weight loss isn’t real, listen to your self-talk and come up with counterpoints, O’Neil suggests. Pretend the weight loss is real — how would you behave differently? Why not do that now? Remember, too, that you have tools and skills you have used to lose the weight. Keep using those and it will be real, Rydin-Gray adds.
Shedding pounds after the wedding can cause your partner to feel threatened and insecure, leading to tension in your marriage, according to a study in the journal Health Communication. Talk to your partner if you sense this may be happening. Ask what their concerns are and talk together about how to address those concerns. If you think it’s best, see a couple’s therapist together.
“Losing weight is one challenge; keeping it off is a whole new challenge,” O’Neil says. By now many of the skills you adopted in order to lose weight are habits, so keep them up. And be prepared to face setbacks. Identify the most critical pieces of your weight-control program that you can do if your weight starts to trend upward.