It’s New Year’s Day. A fresh start, a chance to shake off those age-old habits that you failed to rid yourself of in 2019, and in 2018, and 2017, and 2016...
We all know what it’s like. One minute everyone’s telling you to eat cheese, cake and the wide selection of new concoctions that the shops have brought out each Christmas. Then, bam, it’s the 1 January, and now you’re telling yourself you’re fat, penniless and that ‘It’s a New Year and it’s time to shift those pounds!’
Well, that’s exactly what I told myself this time last year, and in a way it worked. At the beginning of 2019, I weighed exactly 18st 5lbs, and at the beginning of 2020, I now weigh precisely 12st 10lbs. Losing weight has definitely changed my life, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s for better or worse.
When you’ve been trying to lose weight for your entire life, being slim feels like it would solve each and every one of your problems. I’ll suddenly have infinite confidence! I’ll make so many friends! I won’t be limited to posting a selection of close-up selfies on my Tinder profile! (Yes, that’s seriously how little I thought of myself.)
“Boys were looking at me again; I felt confident enough to wear high-waisted jeans. The thought of wearing a swimming costume didn’t send me into meltdown...”
And don’t get me wrong, when I lost the bulk of my weight, physically I felt amazing. I thought I’d finally cracked my years of binge eating, starvation and just generally having an awful relationship with food. There were also mental benefits in the first few months. Boys were looking at me again; I felt confident enough to wear high-waisted jeans. The thought of wearing a swimming costume didn’t send me into meltdown.
Losing weight came with so many genuine health benefits too. I could walk reasonable distances without sweating profusely and struggling to breathe. I discovered that exercise could give you a natural buzz; after my first ever Zumba class, I remember feeling energised and hungry for more. I felt bouncier, lighter, full of energy.
So for a while, it was genuinely great. But thinking deeper, I’ve realised losing weight hasn’t solved any of my most significant problems at all. I abused this natural buzz – forcing myself to do any form of exercise, whether it was star jumps or crunches, every time I ate. This is when I realised that losing weight wasn’t worth the inner turmoil that I was putting myself through. Food was constantly at the forefront of my mind and I couldn’t help but count and re-count my calories to make sure I hadn’t gone over my day’s allowance.
You see, years of being known as the ‘fat one’ and being shamed not just by people you know, but by strangers in the street and people on the television really takes a toll on your self-esteem. To lose weight and then suddenly be accepted by those same people really messes with your brain – as I’m now more of a person to you?
When I was overweight, I ate food to comfort myself after days of feeling worthless because it was the only source of enjoyment I had. I felt people didn’t want to socialise with me or be seen with me, and when they did, the conversation would usually turn to subtle jibes about my weight. I’ve always been an introvert, but this left me really hating being around people. Over the years, this made me to link my shyness to my weight. I clearly came to the wrong conclusion as here we are in 2020 and, you guessed it, I’m still an introvert.
“Even after losing all the weight, my self-esteem is pretty much the same.”
So even after losing all the weight, my self-esteem is pretty much the same. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually think that losing weight would solve all my problems, but I definitely expected to feel much better about myself than I did. I still look at myself and think that if I lost more weight, then people would like me even more and I’d be even more confident. I still turn to food for comfort after bad days, and my eating habits change with my mood.
My point is, don’t torture yourself to fit into a mould this new year because that’s not in itself going to help you achieve your goals. Let me clear, this is not a pessimistic piece about weight loss – I have so much admiration for people who struggle with food and manage to lose weight. I am merely highlighting the danger I’ve found in sacrificing your mental health just to weigh less.
I genuinely implore you to work on yourself, for yourself. When you tell yourself you want to lose weight, think about what it is you really want to change in your life, and figure out two things: whether losing weight is really the way to achieve that, and, if so, how you make that change in a way that is positive for your mental health. We often misconstrue weighing less with being happy, but we can change that this year.
“Losing weight isn’t a promise that you’re suddenly going to be happy with your life.”
If walking down the street without feeling breathless if what you really want to achieve in 2020, then make that your goal. Don’t shape your goals around looking a certain way to please other people, because I can promise you from experience that you won’t find happiness that way. It’s far more important to be at peace with yourself.
Losing weight isn’t a promise that you’re suddenly going to be happy with your life. If anything, it makes you more self-conscious because you feel like all that effort should come to some big climax – that in my experience never comes.
I wish that at the beginning of 2019, the main goal I set myself was actually ‘to be more outgoing’ or ‘to be more confident’ because, now, my happiness would be a lot more genuine, and a lot more worthwhile.
That’s why my goal this year is to simply do everything that makes me happy. Live for myself, build meaningful relationships and genuinely enjoy my life as it is now, instead of constantly striving to be skinny. If 2019 taught me anything, it’s that I’ll never find genuine fulfilment sitting in the dark-lit corner of a Slimming World class.
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