a rant about weight loss

TW: weight loss (with numbers), disordered eating, body image

I’ve lost weight. Not healthily. Not intentionally. But as a by-product of extreme anxiety and stress-induced IBS. I haven’t had an appetite. I was gagging every time I tried to eat. And when I did eat eventually, I’d only eat about half of the food on my plate before feeling sick again. And I’d have an upset stomach up to 6 or 7 times a day. It was unhealthy. (I’m using past tense because I am now back in the UK and my appetite and metabolism seem to have returned to normal.) I would get head rushes just standing up. I’d feel weak and unsteady. I’d had to stop running because I didn’t have the physical energy.

I have lost a stone and a half in about 5 months. This bothers me. For numerous reasons:
a) People feel the need to comment on it
b) People automatically assume it’s 1) intentional and 2) a positive thing
c) Do I like it, secretly?

a) People feel the need to comment on it.
I’ve had several people openly make comments about my body in a public space where my colleagues or acquaintances are within earshot. It is not okay to openly make comments about a person’s body size, shape or anything else. It draws attention to the recipient, usually unwanted, and also draws the attention of everyone else in the room to start scrutinising your body and making their own silent judgments. Or that’s what it feels like.
I had a (male) colleague say “Wow, have you lost a lot of weight? You look like you have!” in front of a staff room of other colleagues. Now, I get it, he thought it was a compliment. He’d assumed I’d been intentionally trying to lose weight and therefore had been successful and wanted to express some backwards and unsolicited form of congratulations. BUT THAT IS NOT HOW IT SHOULD BE. No-one should ever think it appropriate to make comments about perceived weight loss to another person, especially in a public setting. You don’t know what that person is going through. You don’t know whether they’re ill or not. You don’t know if they have a history of disordered eating and distorted body image *raises hand*. If you don’t know for absolute sure, you don’t comment. I wanted to respond with something cutting like “Yeah, I’m actually trying this new weight-loss program called “my life is being rapidly overtaken by anxiety” paired with a complementary program of irritable bowel syndrome. You should try it – if I recommend a friend you can get a 10% discount”. But, embarrassingly, I just said “Thanks” and I hate myself for it.
That particular comment made me very self-conscious. I thought – did he think I needed to lose weight before? Was I perceived as being overweight before? Should I strive to maintain my new body shape, or worse continue to shrink it?
I also had a (now very recent ex) boyfriend, in an intimate moment, say he could actually feel it on my body, the weight I’d lost. (Although, to be fair to him, he was upset by it because he knew how ill I’d been.)

b) People automatically assume it’s 1) intentional and 2) a positive thing
I’ve had friends make comments that suggest I should be pleased with my weight-loss – despite me explaining to them the toxic causes of it. I even had my Dad say – when I told him I’d lost over 10kg – “Well, that’s not a bad thing!” Implying that I had weight that needed losing? Implying that it’s a good thing that I’m smaller now, and should be happy to be so?
I’ve had friends say “I wish I could drop a stone and a half that quickly”. No. No, you don’t. Not by the means I’ve lost the weight. I don’t want congratulations – when I confided in my friends about the weight loss I wanted support and sympathy. Not jealousy. I was terrified I’d keep losing the weight like I did when I was 14, that I’d become dangerously underweight again. I didn’t want a pat on the back.
And I know, women have just internalised all the messages we receive from the media about how our bodies should look, so can I really blame my friends for responding in the way they did?

c) Do I like it, secretly?
And finally, the hardest part of all – do I actually secretly like it? Am I secretly glad I’ve lost the weight, even if it was unintentional and achieved by very unpleasant means? Despite of my new found feminism, body positivity, health-at-every-size attitude, I can’t seem to shake that lingering shadow in the corner that whispers “Skinnier is better and you know it. Skinnier is sexier, and sexier is more power and control. And that’s what we crave, isn’t it?” It’s insidious. But it’s still there and I can’t overthrow it with all the bopo-insta in the world. There’s something hard-wired into me, that says I should always strive to be physically more attractive. I know why. But that’s not something to get into right now.

On a positive note, in the three days since my return to the UK, my appetite has returned, and my IBS appears to have abated *touch wood*. And the sensible, rational part of my brain knows that the healthy thing to want is for my weight to stabilise, or even increase.

Oh, sensible rational brain, please come through for me this time.

One thought on “a rant about weight loss

  1. Dear Storms

    I am sad to read of your distress. I am powerfully reminded of similar experiences in myself.

    Once again I would like to offer some speculative opinions hoping they might help.

    I think you are experiencing self-reclamation anxiety.

    I suspect you might have a nervous habit of breath-holding, or interrupted breathing, or shallow breathing? These are all unconscious mechanisms of anxiety reduction. Reducing the oxygen supply in this way interrupts the transmission of intolerable fear and anxiety in the lower unconscious parts of the brain from flooding the cortex, the bit on top that does consciousness, like a sort of neurological safety-belt or air-bag.

    I note the anxiety seemed to start at the same time as you starting to consciously confront early trauma in a way you haven’t before?

    Given the evolutionary biological connection between the brain and the alimentary canal (AC), those appetite and digestive disturbances are most likely manifestations of severe anxiety in response to major upheavals below consciousness, where much of the trauma has lived all its life, and this is what is playing havoc with your AC.

    The anxiety happens because your truth and reclamation work represents change on an epic scale, which brains are not really built for, especially those habits of thought laid down in the early years. By rejecting the self-negativity you absorbed from your invalidating childhood, you are effectively re-wiring the lower unconscious parts of your brain. A lifetime of conditioned suppression is not so easily dismantled. The more you discharge old habits, toxic or not, the more anxiety you provoke because consciousness is at least partly built of sedimented layers of habit. Hence the discomfort you described in ‘Uprooted’.

    Metaphorically you are perhaps experiencing the death throes of the black echo as you banish it from your body and soul through your burgeoning awareness? Those AC disturbances are the physiological manifestation of your shaking off the black echoes, as I suggested in my reply to ‘Splendid Suspension’?

    They can also be seen as a final skirmish in the family psychiatric power battle, as you seek to regain control from the milieu you grew up in? Remember that Szasz quote ‘define or be defined?’ – you are now doing the important long-overdue work of self-defining on your OWN terms, not those of the family you were raised in. Importantly, it is a fight you are actually winning, because the anxiety is most likely the result of big benevolent changes deep within you.

    You alluded to a history of eating disorders (anorexia?), so it is important to realise here that the recent weight loss caused by anxiety-driven AC disturbances is the result of a different causal pathway than the presumed anorexia of adolescence. Because you probably have a history of being family-defined as an ‘ED patient’ it is crucial you grasp how different this is from the current self-reclamation anxiety. Fear is so very sticky and so easily generalises to adjacent stimuli, it will likely be harder for you to separate these in your mind, but it is important that you do.

    And on top of all this, whilst you are doing this most challenging work that a human can do, you have also had yet more difficult things to cope with:

    You mentioned having to change continents (!) suddenly, losing your home and your best friends, your social support network.

    You have just had a painful separation from someone you wanted to keep. You are facing uncomfortable realisations of how childhood trauma has dented your adult love life.

    You are holding a job down?

    The experience of the AC symptoms are triggering alarming memories from when you were very ill in your teens.

    You try and talk to friends and family but they don’t get what is really happening. You are experiencing all this from the inside, they only see the outside.

    Comments on your appearance are disturbing and uncomfortable, probably they trigger unconscious pain and fear from previous bodily violations?

    One thing that can help is doing simple deep breathing exercises. Several times a day. Lie on the floor and count your breath in and out slowly, eg following a relaxed lilting 6/8 musical rhythm, in-2-3-4-5-6, out-2-3-4-5-6. This can easily trigger a lot of crying, and intense grief, but if that happens, let it out. Write it down. Even though it will likely feel very frightening. But remember above all, you are healing deeply from within.

    You have got to be a truly amazing woman to fight through all this, and you do.

    I have so much respect and admiration for you.

    Liked by 1 person

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