Kathleen Long, SheByShe member and guest contributor, works and lives in Northern California. She works full-time at a software company, and is a single mom. She writes with humor and honesty about her current weight-loss and how she copes with the comments of others.
When you’re overweight, as I have been much of my life, or obese, as I have been for the last 15 years, if you start to drop dress sizes, you can expect people to notice. And when people notice, they have a range of reactions about the fact that I’ve lost nearly 80 pounds, 65 of them in the last 9 months. It’s like my slimmer appearance temporarily freezes the impulse control and speech centers in their bewildered frontal lobes, and consequently they blurt out whatever inane thing first occurs to them when they see me.
“Wow, you look like a completely different person. I didn’t even recognize you.” This feels awkward. Is it a compliment? I usually respond with thank you, to which the person heartily replies “You’re welcome!”
“You must be so happy now that you’ve lost all this weight.” Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t unhappy before I started losing weight.
“I really hope you’re not losing weight too fast; you look too skinny.” Not at all, I’m still 40 pounds overweight.
“I guess there is a difference between eating healthy and losing weight.” This comment often comes after my interlocutor discovers I’m not vegan/paleo/ juicing/ gluten free/etc. I’m under a doctor’s care and my health is being carefully monitored, and I say so, but usually my reply is drowned out by the statistics of whatever diet it is that ensures optimal health.
“I just don’t eat after 7 pm, and I have cut out all dairy.” This is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to unsolicited advice. Usually someone will first ask how I am “doing it”, then will argue with my answer despite the obvious fact that what I am currently doing is already working for me.
“I guess you won’t be able to eat any of this.” This is something people generally say anytime I’m anywhere in the vicinity of a dessert. Or they say the opposite, trying to encourage me by letting me know that if I “don’t have a cheat meal once in a while”, I’ll never make it all the way to my goal. If I had a cheat meal every time someone told me that, I’d be all the way back at the starting line.
“You’ve lost like a whole person, if not more. How much weight is it at this point?” Yes, at this point I’ve lost a “child”, but since infants start out at about 5 or 6 pounds, most who’ve ever lost weight could technically say this. For many, weight is an uncomfortable subject. It has been for me for many years. People assume if you’re losing weight, you must want to share all the details.
“Well, good for you, but I’d rather live well. Life is short.” I’d understand the defensive response if I was proselytizing, but this is usually offered spontaneously, as if my mere presence is an argument for restrictive eating.
“You’re disappearing.” Not true; you’re paying more attention to me than ever!
I’ve never been a person who blends into the background; I’m loud and I have an energetic and effusive personality. I’ve always come across as confident, and in charge. But losing weight has put me on center stage, the performance is my shrinking body, and I have well-meaning hecklers. People currently introduce me to other people by letting them know I used to be more overweight. They tell me how proud they are of me “now”. They ask me what happened, how I let myself go for that long. They confide in the “new me” that they were worried about the “old me”, usually in a whisper, lest the “old me” should overhear. At first, I found this all rather embarrassing and disconcerting. But I knew if I wanted to continue my success, this was another thing I’d need to figure out to keep moving forward.
I started by admitting I was obese and sharing my “before” and current weight throughout my journey. I’ve posted it on social media and I will answer anyone who asks. I loved myself at my heaviest weight of 255 pounds and I love all 175 pounds of me currently writing this blog. Yes, it still stings to announce that I used to weigh more than most professional linebackers, but it is the truth and it gets easier every time I say it.
I’ll tell anyone who asks what I’m doing but I won’t try to enroll or enlist anyone in it unless they want me to. Just in case you want to know, I eat moderate amounts of mostly lean protein (with the occasional piece of red meat), vegetables, and limited amounts of carbohydrates, mostly fruit and sometimes beans or potatoes. I drink lots of water. I weigh in regularly and get B-12 and chromium shots. I get advice and support from the doctors and staff at JumpstartMD, which is the program I attend once a week.
I’ve learned to be patient with my body and the process and my appearance. Losing a lot of weight means that I get surges of hormones resulting in acne and mood swings like an angst-ridden 16 year old. I get dry mouthed. I have hot and cold flashes. It’s like puberty and menopause all at once. I have loose skin because it hasn’t been able to shrink as fast as the fat underneath. At times, I lose weight disproportionately and feel awkward and gawky because my parts don’t seem to fit together. It’s not always easy, but it’s not always difficult either. Finding what works for me has allowed me to lose weight during what has been one of the most stressful periods of my adult life, even when I’m not specifically focusing on it.
I’m also learning to appreciate and be (mostly) patient with the people who were in my life before I started losing weight as they adjust to the changes I’m making. I’m observing their reactions, asking questions and being curious about how they’re relating to me as a physical being. I’m recognizing when someone makes me uncomfortable and using that as a tool to examine hidden feelings of shame or inadequacy. It is a process for them as much as it is for me, and if nothing else, I think the plethora of diet book authors, doctors and nutritionists can all agree that losing weight is ultimately about being self-aware and present.
Thank you, you sometimes insensitive but loving verbal bunglers, for giving me the practice I need to be my best self.