There 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 it—to 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.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.