In 2011, I stepped on a scale in my college dorm room and saw the number 204 glaring back at me between my feet. Two-hundred-and-four pounds. At the time, a 5-foot-4-inch 19-year-old woman, I was broken-hearted, coming to terms with the reality that I was drastically overweight and needed to make a lasting change for my physical and mental health. Fast forward seven years, I’m now a six-time marathoner, down 70 pounds, with a newfound appreciation for my body and my life.
But losing weight, whether it’s 5 pounds or 100, involves a complete change in lifestyle. That change can be overwhelming, bringing about a barrage of different feelings. If you’re only addressing the physical aspects of weight loss, you’re making a major mistake, says Dr. Farrah Hauke, a licensed psychologist in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Here, four factors of weight loss nobody talks about and how to positively deal with them:
“Many individuals who lose a significant amount of weight expect that their weight loss will somehow cure their other problems, such as marital distress, poor self-esteem or challenging work dynamics,” says Hauke. “While weight loss certainly has positive effects on our energy and health, it does not necessarily cure any emotional problems.”
The fix: Take an honest look at the other factors of stress in your life and come up with a strategy to minimize those issues. Reaching out to friends, family or a licensed professional for help is always a good idea.
A study of 1,979 obese and overweight people found those who lost 5% of their body weight were nearly twice as likely to feel some symptoms of depression, compared with those who stayed a similar weight.
The Fix: While regular exercise has been shown to help alleviate depression, it’s important to speak with a mental health provider if you find yourself feeling some of the core symptoms such as a lack of interest in activities you previously enjoyed, feeling tired and low-energy.
Because weight loss is an external change, it’s often challenging for the internal dialogue to match the new external expression. Put another way, it’s normal to have thoughts, beliefs, and feelings of being a “person who struggles with weight,” says Michelle Hastie Thompson, weight loss coach and author of “The Weight Loss Shift: Be More, Weigh Less.” “This leads to a perpetual fear of gaining all the weight back and having this struggle for the rest of their life,” she says.
The Fix: Find ways to positively reshape your inner dialogue whether that’s via regular journaling or sessions with a therapist, suggests Thompson.
If you get unwanted attention and questions about your body after losing weight, you are certainly not alone, says Hauke. There’s also the potential worry for an inverse reaction: that we won’t get any attention or questions about a major change in appearance.
The Fix: The best way to prepare for either side of the coin is to consider different scenarios and how you would handle them. Think about what some of your pre-set responses might be. For example, in response to “wow, you look different — how much weight have you lost?” one might reply, “thank you for the compliment; I have been working hard but I don’t focus on the number.”
“Of course, we cannot predict every situation. However, proactively considering the types of obstacles and conversations with which you are comfortable having is super valuable,” says Hauke. Everything from a going for walk to journaling to reaching out to a support group or therapist can help you positively cope with any emotional distress associated with weight loss that you might encounter.