September 15 2016

How to Accept Your Body After Significant Weight Loss

By Mark Sisson
17 Comments

How to Accept Your Body After Weight Loss in lineThere are many meaningful reasons people go Primal: they want to improve their fitness, increase their longevity, feel younger, reverse lifestyle conditions, heal hormonal imbalances, enhance fertility, get off prescription medications, and lose fat. With regard to losing fat, some want to lose a good deal of itto significantly alter their body composition. This goal, while it has the power to shift one’s entire health trajectory (not to mention life experience) may also be the most likely to come with unforeseen, even undesired results. I’m talking particularly about those who undergo dramatic transformations—the kind that can leave them feeling incredible, enjoying vitality, and (in particular) looking substantially different.

To be sure, there is much to celebrate when we meet body transformation goals: the impressive discipline, the new strength, the renewed health, the added energy, and so on. But for some people there can also be an uncomfortable gap between how they saw themselves before and how they have yet to see themselves post-goal. Once the major push to the objective is done and they relax into a new normal, the striking incongruence can bring up surprisingly ambivalent or even critical feelings. How can such extraordinary success become a Pandora’s box?

I’ve heard people describe this post-goal experience in terms of everything from emotional struggle to serious letdown, from identity crisis to reality check. Some people may feel unsettled by not fully recognizing the person in the mirror anymore, especially if they’ve not been close to their new body composition in a number of decades. Others may suddenly feel they’ve exchanged body image issues, losing the fat but now noticing stretch marks or loose skin.

Some people’s stress revolves more around the social response to their transformation. Being the topic of conversation or recipient of new attention and compliments can leave them feeling uncomfortably vulnerable. Still others may struggle with an unrelenting anxiety over regaining the weight or a self-conscious, even compulsive perfectionism around body image that drains the joy out of their success.

If we take the Primal call to thrive seriously, we likely want better than this for ourselves. But what can we do when major transformation leaves us anxious or ill-content? How can we move into acceptance when “after-effects” hit? What perspectives can help us counterbalance normal struggles so we can enjoy our achievements and the possibilities they open up in our lives?

Here are a few tips.

Recalibrate your expectations (after the fact).

Some of us go into major fat/weight loss anticipating it will be the panacea to all negative thoughts and patterns in our lives. We’ll finally like ourselves once we change our bodies. We’ll be better partners or feel more effective at work once we have our energy back. We’ll be grateful for our lives once the image in the mirror reflects what we want it to.

Physical transformation delivers many results, but it doesn’t deliver self-respect you never had. It doesn’t deliver a better marriage, particularly once the novelty of your change wears off. It doesn’t rewrite your job description or your work habits.

And it doesn’t guarantee physical perfection. You came into this world with a physical template based on a genetic formula. There’s a lot of flexibility in the end result, but most of us in our “best” condition will never and should never match what you’d find in a magazine.

To boot, we may forever live with the effects of our previous girth in the look of our skin, and there’s nothing wrong or abnormal about it. The most powerful objective, if we’re honest, was never about having the ideal body as much as it was about having a better life.

What are we going to do about that now?

If we attached unreasonable promises to body change, it might be time to change our attitude. While the choice and discipline we harness for physical transformation can open us to deeper mental shifts, what’s inner work is still inner work. Accept that maybe the outer change is just the first step in a bigger movement in your life—a journey toward greater well-being and deeper self-acceptance that you were able to conceptualize at the outset.

Understand that change always leaves us feeling displaced for a while.

The more we feel like things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be, the more discomfort we’ll feel. If we can accept the unsettledness for a while, we’ll eventually relax into the new conditions. Life will continually change us over the years—our identities and our bodies. There isn’t a time when we won’t be expected to shift, grow, and adapt. This experience now is simply one version of that call to adaptability, a Primal principle if there ever was one.

Find other people who get what you’re going through. Process it, but put it in perspective. Others have come to feel at home in themselves after transforming their bodies, and so will you with time.

Let go of what others think of you.

This truth goes for all of us at any time. The fact is, we’d all be more peaceful, grounded people if we gave up our careers in mind-reading and extracted our self-image from others’ perceptions.

This goes double, like it or not, when we’re feeling vulnerable or pressured by others’ commentary. Sure, it might not seem fair to have to be the ones to change more when the problem is other people, or so we think. The point isn’t who’s to “blame,” but what we want to feel. Do we want to feel good about our transformation rather than feel targeted by it? Then the onus is on us to detach.

Who we are has nothing to do with what others think. We can give away our self-identity to the social consensus if we really want to, but that’s a choice—and not a healthy one.

Practice feeling solid in yourself with some kind of meditative method that fits you. (And, yes, it is a practice that takes root over time rather than an intellectual realization that solves everything in the moment.) Harness the physical strength and resilience you’ve experienced in your fitness endeavors and imagine transferring them to emotional fortitude.

Love the person you were.

This might sound more sentimental than my usual commentary, but it’s worth saying. In fact, I wish it were said more often.

After a major body transformation, we may find ourselves liking our reflections more, fitting into clothes we never hoped to wear, enjoying compliments left and right, garnering attention from people who may have ignored us before. We suddenly have options, energy, cache we may not have felt (or embraced at least) when we were heavier. As a result, we might get the sense that Self 1.0 is something to disown, to forget, to hide even.

We put the old photos away, not wanting people to see them or not wanting the reminder ourselves. We eventually may not want to talk about the change at all, preferring to see ourselves solely as we are now. But that kind of renouncing doesn’t bode well for intact emotional well-being.

Ultimately, full spectrum acceptance may not be about leaving photos up of yourself at previous sizes, but it is about reflecting on your motivations when you take them down. It may not involve sharing your story, but it is about being forever proud of it. Others cared about you then. Others supported you in your process. You can likewise value yourself at all stages of life and health. You can value your story and find meaning in it. How we adjust to the hurdles of physical change and embrace the whole of our experience is without a doubt part of the Primal approach to living well.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have you felt unexpected “kick-back” emotions following a significant transformation? What perspectives and actions made a difference for you? Share your experience, and have a great end to the week, everyone.

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TAGS:  body fat

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17 thoughts on “How to Accept Your Body After Significant Weight Loss”

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  1. I am in the process of trying to transform my weight and body composition and this helped in terms of knowing what possible feelings and emotions I may experience as this transformation takes place. Thank you for the information.

  2. I think a really helpful thing is to love and accept yourself as whole and worthy, no matter what your body comp/weight/measurements are. I always tell people that you can’t hate yourself healthy…that is, you can only put in the effort and time and sustain the changes if you love yourself enough to do it and keep doing it. And by doing that you can more easily accept the “new improved’ version of yourself.

  3. This article is spot-on. I experienced many of these points during and after losing 125 lbs. In public, I felt very vulnerable. People were constantly looking at me. I asked my husband if I looked like a freak or something. Male personnel in stores would go out of their way to see if I required assistance, whereas before, I would be ignored. I built muscle while losing weight, so my sagging skin wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it’s still there. Bad stretch marks that will never go away. I was quite unhappy with that for quite some time, but I have learned to accept it as “battle scars”, to show where I was and how far I came.

  4. Absolutely tremendous article Mark. So much energy and focus goes into changing lifestyle to start down the path to health success (in all it’s parameters). Much discipline and physical work goes into being effective nutritionally, mentally and habitually to get from “before” to “after”. But once at “after” that is a whole new kettle of fish. You’ve really opened the door to what could be the most significant part of the transformation – sorting it out once your train has arrived at version 2.0 of the new you; the journey hasn’t really ended. This is likely where friends, family and clients need the most support. A different support and understanding than it took to help them get there.

  5. This post is really helpful for those of us who have struggled with weight/self-esteem issues. I’m a medium/short person who was born extra chubby and have carried between 30 and 70 extra pounds at various times in life. The first time I transformed my body through weight loss was at age 19 and I was not prepared for the psychological turmoil it caused. It was only the first of about 4 times since then of losing and gaining in a cycle which (hopefully) ended the last time with a loss of about 50 pounds kept off for more than 12 years now. I’m not skinny, nor as close to my ideal weight as I want to be but it is a work in progress. Now that I’m 4 decades older and more experienced with how my body reacts to weight gain and loss, I can take these things more in stride and not panic when I look different and when others react differently than I expect. One very funny (to me) thing that happened right after this last (12 yrs ago) round of reducing: One day while lying in bed, I flipped over too quickly and over-corrected, hitting the wall beside the bed, from not realizing on a physical level how much lighter my body was. A silly little thing, but its stuff like that which can throw us off our game sometimes. Wearing new clothes is fun but it can also be a minefield, since nothing we think of wearing looks the same anymore. I have to say that even though I may never weigh what I think I want to, I’m much more content as a person than I was when I was young. Everything Mark says about not needing the approval of others is key to loving who we are at any weight, and for some of us that journey isn’t quick. It takes a desire to keep trying and a willingness to learn from our own and others experiences. Thanks for all you do.

  6. Here’s a suggestion, enjoy your new found health, be happy to be alive and get on with it.

    Also, if loose skin is a problem following major loss I’ve heard world renowned strength coach recommend Gotu Kola. Google for more precise info.

    Cheers.

    1. Was that edited because I included Charles Poliquin’s name? That is the strength coach I was referring to. Amazing guy.

  7. I lost 80lb and never felt better. A bit of loose skin around my lower belly but not as much as I thought there would have been

  8. I’ve had this issue before a few times, having gained and lost about 40 pounds several times as an adult. I remember losing a bunch of weight for my wedding and being really proud of myself, then looking in the mirror and thinking (for the first time) “You look old.” It was so discouraging when I felt I couldn’t win the war against my critical mind. This last time of losing weight (happening currently and going very well) I made sure to include ‘mind workouts’ as well as exercise ones. I started doing body image visualizations from Jon Gabriel and after reading Pleasurable Weight Loss by Jena La Flame, I started treating my body like a beloved animal – saying nice things to it in the same way I would a pet. (i.e. “Who’s a good body, who’s a pretty body, you are!” 🙂 It’s silly but it was surprising how I could feel my body ‘perk’ up and actually feel physically different and happy when I complimented it. Plus boy does it feel nicer than looking in the mirror and picking on every last little thing. I look in the mirror now and my attention goes to what’s looking great and getting better.

    Speaking of visualizations, I’d totally buy some Mark Sisson ones! 🙂

  9. It was only after I lost a lot of weight that I became suicidal. Like the article said, I thought losing weight was going to make me Happy (capital H). When it didn’t, I had to face that I had no idea how to love myself. That’s when the real journey started…and meditation and self-compassion became crucial.

  10. Yes! I lost 50 or so pounds after making the switch to primal..at one time, I did want to hide that part of my life away- for some reason it felt shameful or embarrassing. Now I try to think about that time in my life with compassion- not only was it a tough time mentally, but I (like a lot of people!) honestly didn’t know any better (in regards to eating properly). I’m thankful that I stumbled on this way of life- and hope others find what works for them as well.

  11. I have been fat and thin and fat and thin and now fat again. Part of the reason it feels so shameful to me is because people treat you so differently depending on size. At this weight I am invisible. When I have been thin, people are SO much nicer.

    On the other hand, I almost dread losig weight because I hate having people comment so enthusiastically (making it clear how terrible I looked before). I wish people (women in particular) didn’t feel like they have to comment on people’s weight.

    (PS Mark, I am finding out right now that the new design makes this site almost unusable on my smartphone. Maybe this is why it seems like numbers of comments are down?)

  12. If I may give some advice. As someone who lost quite a lot of weight after changing the way they ate, three years ago. My best advice would be not to go crazy on new clothes on the way down. Because when the weight was falling off I really had no idea how far it would go. And it actually went further than I wanted, which has caused me to ditch (to the back of the wardrobe for now) some of the ‘tighter’ items on the way back up.

    But on the whole, dropping a couple of belt sizes has been a massive (if expensive) net positive. Having the confidence to wear smarter, tighter-fitting clothes which I could never do as a self-conscious ‘skinny-fat’ guy. I now have a whole wardrobe of clothes I feel comfortable in, whereas before I would pretty much wear the same 3 or 4 things all the time.

  13. Such an important place of exploration and support, Mark. When I work with clients, reaching sought-after weight and body composition goals often brings other places of work to the fore. Sometimes, this manifests (at least initially) as dissatisfaction or even depression.

    When this happens, I name the specific outcomes they’ve seen. I also name their seeming dissatisfaction and ask something like: “Hmm…I wonder if there’s something else you’re really wanting here – beneath or beyond the outcomes or goals you thought were ‘it’?”

    This has led to beautiful openings for the deeper work I feel is at the heart of my practice (moving, for example, from “just” weight loss or letting go of unhelpful eating patterns to exploring what’s truly needing attention and care).

    With many clients, we can do this work as we go along; but with others (and the ones I’m talking about here, there’s often a sort of resistance to the deeper work until we reach that opening point).

  14. Hi Mark!

    Great content I must agree! Even though I had great genetics and did many sports trough out my teenage years there are many people struggling with the psychological part of the aftermath of their weight loss.

    New changes are always hard and It’s great that this article emphasizes on that, the crucial part is loving ourselves, I think.

    I’d highly recommend meditation as a way to easily overcome this specific issue.

    Kind regards,
    Philip

  15. I used to be overweight, and after a rigorous diet and exercise, I was able to get to a healthy weight, but I ended up having lots of stretch marks on my legs, and for all those who have the same problem I recommend you dermalmd treatment for stretch marks, it has helped me a lot to reduce my stretch marks.