What Happens AFTER You Lose a Lot of Weight
By AUGUST MCLAUGHLIN
You've worked hard to improve your eating and exercise habits, and your efforts have paid off. You've shed all those excess pounds that caused you angst, and you finally feel healthy and physically fit. But are you happier?
If your answer is “not necessarily,” you should know that you’re not alone: Losing weight can affect your emotions in positive and potentially negative ways.
"I thought losing weight would make my whole life easier," said Esther S., a former client of mine in Los Angeles. "It did help in some ways, but it's a lot more challenging emotionally than I ever anticipated."
Esther found her way to emotional healing through intense self-work. If you're on the road to losing significant amounts of weight, knowing what to expect will help ensure smoother sailing after you reach your goal weight:
1. You may still think like someone who is overweight.
If you've focused solely on altering your physical state without addressing underlying emotional issues, it may take a lot of time and effort to allow your emotional self to catch up. Emotional healing is often the last aspect to change in such a transformation, according to Ed Abrahmson, Ph.D., author of "Emotional Eating."
Similar to the way someone who's lost a limb can feel tingling and pain where their arm or leg once was, formerly overweight people may continually feel they are taking up excess space. If you felt self-conscious about your body before the weight loss, that self-consciousness is likely to linger.
What to Do:
If you haven't yet dealt with underlying issues that contributed to your higher weight, such as low self-esteem or stress, make doing so a priority. Practice patience with yourself as you work your way through these issues -- with the help of a therapist if needed.
2. A lack of emotional preparedness can lead to weight regain.
Emotional eating, a major contributor to unhealthy weight gain, can also lead people who've shed pounds to gain them back. If you've dieted away the pounds (versus making healthy lifestyle and nutrition changes), this is particularly likely.
A heavily restrictive diet with harsh rules, such as eating too few calories or cutting out an entire nutrient group (such as carbs), raises significant risks, including binge-eating, slowed metabolism and eventual weight gain.
What to Do:
To avoid unhealthy weight gain, establish a healthy and flexible eating routine -- one that allows you to dine out with friends and have lower-nutrient "treat" foods in moderation. Learn healthier ways to cope with negative emotions, such as going for a walk, addressing stressful situations promptly and talking your feelings through with a trusted friend or therapist.
3. Your relationships may change.
When you go through a significant lifestyle and physical transformation, people in your life may react to you differently.
"When my emotional issues improved, I ended up having more positive friendships and even met my husband," said Esther. "But before that, I had to face up to the fact that some of the 'friends' I had weren't very supportive to begin with."
Like Esther, many people who feel insecure about their weight or appearance tend to gravitate toward others with similar insecurities or who overvalue aesthetics.
What to Do:
Distance yourself from toxic influences — like people who compulsively diet or criticize you. If your weight loss causes tension in relationships you want to maintain, actively try to find a resolution. Share your feelings openly, and listen with an open heart to theirs.
When your relationship with yourself improves, your relationships with others likely will too. You'll attract and have synergy with like-minded people who care more about who you are than the size of your waistline — those are the people you want to keep in your corner.
Readers -- Have you lost a lot of weight and experienced any of the emotions mentioned above? How did your emotional self "catch up" to your physical self? What kinds of positive and negative feelings did you experience once you hit your goal weight? Leave a comment below and let us know.
August McLaughlin is a nationally recognized health and sexuality writer, former nutritional therapist and creator of the empowering brand Girl Boner®, with work appearing in DAME magazine, the Huffington Post and more. Known for melding personal passion, artistry and activism, August uses her skills as a public speaker and journalist to inspire women to embrace their bodies and selves, making way for fuller, more authentic lives.