If you have ever been overweight, then you know what I am referring to by the title. Being overweight not only puts stress on your bones, joints and internal organs but it also has an emotional weight associated with it. This emotional weight can also manifest on someones outward appearance; the tired, non-confident and depressed look that people get when they talk about themselves and their bodies. This can also affect people that have lost the weight, but suffer from body dysmorphia. There may be some of you that don’t have physical weight to lose but still have emotional weight that you are carrying around with you. As someone that use to weigh 230 pounds, I can relate to almost everyone of those experiences and I can attest, emotional weight is heavy.
I started my weight loss journey in 2010, my last year at Humboldt State University. I had gained the freshman “eighty” and no matter what I tried, the weight wasn’t coming off. This is when I discovered the HCG diet. It took about 8 months to lose the first 80 pounds and then another 5 years to keep off the last 10 pounds. Unfortunately, I became a yo-yo dieter because I lost weight so quickly that I didn’t develop the necessary life skills to stay there. I knew how to cook healthy meals but I still had the emotional weight/emotional eating habits that kept bringing me back to unhealthy patterns. So for the next 6 years, I bounced around 20 pounds. My mother always told me that body weight is like the ocean tide, sometimes it’s high and sometimes it’s low. At the time I was so young and focused on losing weight, I couldn’t really hear her words of wisdom, but moms are always right, right?
Medical school was tough, and I was not easy on myself either. I would always feel like I should do better for my body even when we were faced with 30 units in the span of 11 weeks. One year of medical school credit hours would be almost enough for a bachelor degree in undergraduate, and the stress was unfathomable. Stress does horrible things not only to your metabolism but also your hormones. My hormones were a mess at the end of medical school but again, that is another blog all in itself. Regardless of how my body felt, I pushed it to its limits for what I thought was health reasons. In the end, I now realize that I was being unreasonable with myself, and when I started being kinder to myself, my weight stabilized. I got into a healthy relationship, started taking necessary “me” time, and really worked on my mental health. Once I did all those things my body was finally in a non-threatened state and it naturally let go of weight I was holding onto. I think emotional well-being is the key that people do not focus on when giving weight loss advice. In my case, and in many of my patients cases, it was the biggest piece of the puzzle that was missing.
Now that I am almost 30, I have fortunately been able to acquire some of my own wisdom, and I can hear my mother’s words ring clear. I could sit here and give you some nutritional advice about what to eat and how that will make you “drop the pounds” or “make your skin glow” but the internet is full of them (and it really will help your skin glow). It has now been 8 years since I began on this weight loss journey and I have some general advice that I would like to bestow.
1) It’s ok to be gentle with yourself
You only have one body, and one life to live. Many times we are hard on ourselves, especially when we have an ideal we are striving for. It takes focus to achieve a goal but it is crucial that you give yourself grace and a break when it’s needed. The key is balance, which makes your experience on your journey more fun and will get you to your goal more efficiently. Without balance, a body produces stress hormones which can make you feel terrible and hinder your progress. The stress hormone cortisol is released when your body perceives a threat. Cortisol has numerous negative side-effects; however, if you’re facing down a sabre-tooth tiger, it’s a wonderful hormone to have on your side. Cortisol as a result of a modern-day threat, like a negative performance review at work, or an unexpected bill arriving in the mail, is much less helpful. Unfortunately our bodies produce cortisol in all stressful situations, as your body only knows that you are going to need more energy to tackle whatever is stressing you. This is why we crave calorie-dense foods which are pre-processed, all the swifter to get you ready to tackle your problem. But even though the way you’re going to handle an unexpected bill is a different confrontation entirely than running from a bear, your body will still be producing the cortisol. To make matters worse, your body will anticipate that there could be future threats, and wants to make sure that you’re prepared to meet them. And the more you eat in preparation, the more stressed you feel… you can see where this is going. The only way to break this cycle is to do what seems most impossible in that moment: taking a moment to breathe. To be at peace with where you are on your journey, and giving yourself the grace to be comfortable where you are at this moment. Think about how far you’ve come, and be proud of it!
2)Relationships turn out to be really important.
Sometimes the emotional weight can be something you place on yourself, and sometimes it’s an external weight that is placed on you. Taking the time to re-evaluate your relationships will serve you more than you expect. Get rid of expendable/toxic relationships or find your healthy boundaries and set them firmly. Declutter your social media with unrealistic body/beauty images and join groups that are inspiring and motivating. Watch body positive youtube channels, read positive website, and blogs (eh? Thanks for reading). If you are constantly berating yourself for not meeting beauty ideals or being in a toxic relationship your body can perceive it as a threat. Cortisol again comes into the picture. See where I am going with this? Just keep in mind, the friends and truly loving relationships will stick with you while you make yourself a better version of yourself.
3) Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day…. Good things take time.
Some things take more time than expected, and that’s ok. There is YOUR plan, and there is the “universe/god/insert faith here” plan. Life is long and there will always be a time in the future to make yourself a better version on you. Also, if you take time to really learn a new skill like healthy habits, then it becomes an easy habit in the future. Who doesn’t love an Easy button, am I right?
Losing weight is a difficult, arduous process but if you have the right tools and support system it doesn’t have to be. Be gentle, give yourself breaks and realize that it might take more time than you think.
P.S. I realize I am writing this in the fall, just around the corner for all the goodies at Thanksgiving and Christmas (plus the pumpkin spice latte’s!!!). Again, give yourself grace and start your journey when you are in the right headspace to crush your goals. I’m sending all the good vibes in your direction!
In love, peace, and happiness
Dr. Faith Coats.