At first when I started thinking about this article, I thought, I can’t possibly relate to this, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I absolutely can. Several clients of mine have experienced a significant amount of weight loss (in the range of 20-30 lbs) and on a person with a small frame, the change is VERY noticeable. So WHAT on earth is wrong with THAT? Successful weight loss is something to celebrate, right? Well, of course it is, particularly when you make it STICK. You’ll want to be prepared for not just a new wardrobe, but for some potentially unwanted attention, curious comments, general nosiness about what you’re eating, what you’re doing in the gym. As a close friend put it, what might go behind the “fear of success” is the “fear of visibility.” As a trainer, I know that people watch me when I lift and can be especially curious of what I eat, so I can certainly imagine what might be going on with you.
With 20-30 lbs off your frame (or less or more), you become much more noticeable. While I certainly congratulate the great weight loss successes, it’s not like we’re saving lives or creating world peace here. Nevertheless the amount of unnecessary and undue attention that will be heaved upon you will make you feel like quite the hero. At some point, after you get tired of your clothes swimming on you, you may find yourself tired of being public property- with everyone and their momma watching what you eat, why you eat that, and WHY you’re eating all the time. This has happened to me, so I relate, but I had to tell myself that people really are that insecure about their bodies and relationships with food. Someone even had the nerve to imply I had an eating disorder. If anyone’s seen how much I eat, the comment was truly stupid and laughable.
I can also say that in my own experience, this type of behavior is especially true among women. I’m not sure why that is, maybe because I am one, but I can’t say I’ve ever been publicly attacked by a man for what I’m lifting or eating, unless they’re complaining about the fact that I’m lifting more than them. I know I’m a role model for others, in the gym and outside, and I’m fine with that. Just ask my husband how quick I am to tell people to buzz off (not in such kind words, either). But YOU will find yourself thrust in that role, like it or not. Your friends, family, and coworkers might start to “police” your behavior, so God forbid you get caught eating pizza or office doughnuts!
Of course, the irony is that when you are overweight, those same people who police you for being thin now are the same people who were thinking at one point: “she shouldn’t be eating that.” Don’t expect that people will relate at all to what you are doing, because they won’t. Thin or not, they will choose to draw attention to your eating habits regardless of your size. To regain weight or backslide is tantamount to “failing in public” so you may feel the pressure’s on to continue to do so… at a time when you’re not real confident in your ability manage this (particularly since failure is the norm with weight loss).
Here is an excerpt from a true conversation:
Onlooker 1: “Oh, so you’re cheating on your diet today, huh?” or “I thought you only cheated on Sundays”
Reply: “This ain’t cheatin’ this is treatin’ and I work HARD to look like this.”
Not only are you working harder and doing more than the average bear, if you’ve lost the weight through sound nutrition and a smartly designed exercise program, you probably ARE living a healthier life than the average person. What you are doing will be really foreign, extremely difficult, and a major sacrifice to others.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the following phrase:
“Live a little,” supported by the VERY convincing argument that “what If you didn’t eat this cupcake right now and you got hit by a bus?” This is a true conversation! Of course, I’m sure that if I got hit by that bus, the first thing I would be thinking about would be: “if only I ate that cupcake!” Along the same lines of nobody understanding, I am currently bulking (as in purposefully choosing to gain weight-lean body mass (LBM), in body builder lingo). I was walking the other day when someone commented “wow, your hips are looking thick, are you pregnant?” Me: “Nah, I’ve just been eating a lot and picking up some heavy weights.”
Moral of the story: deflect the comments, don’t encourage them. Find a way to end it and disengage the onlookers. You never know when a person who you thought was a “hater” may eventually take a genuine interest in your fitness journey. A standoffish “f*&k you!” reply may not always be the perfect response with family members for instance, and you can alienate the same people who might actually aspire to do what you’re doing, and eventually be your new training buddy!
The truth of the matter is, most of the time, people are really bad at being supportive. It’s not that they don’t want to be, it’s just that they don’t know how. What you’ve done (lost the weight, stuck to a meal program, pounded the pavement, paid your “dues” at the gym, reached your goals, worked with a trainer, trained for a marathon, lost the post baby weight, added LBM, whatever) is something that only a few people will really ever achieve. Nobody will ever question your success, especially if you know how to make it STICK, so be proud of your success, never fear it, and recognize that your “new” way of eating and exercising is now your permanent lifestyle choice. Don’t fear yourself, your success, and the dreaded back slide. Add more new and fun fitness goals (like a bigger deadlift!, a 10-K, hang out with like minded athletes, learn a new sports) always, now, and forever.
–Sumi Singh is a Personal Trainer in Austin, TX and an online diet coach. Her website is www.shailafitness.com