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Cope with the mental challenges of weight loss and embrace your new body

Cope with the mental challenges of weight loss and embrace your new body

Congratulations! You’ve put forth self-control and determination to reach your target weight! Once you’ve accomplished your weight loss goals, you’ll want to continue your regimen of sensible eating and exercise. And now here’s something else to think about. Significant weight reduction often comes with mental challenges - you might say they are the side effects of weight loss. If you don’t handle these side effects astutely, you could experience self-doubt, frustration, and discouragement that can affect your outlook and mental health.

In this article, you’ll learn a bit of helpful advice for dealing with the mental challenges of weight loss.


Do

Do resolve unfinished business

Examine any emotional issues that initially may have led to your weight gain. Some studies have suggested that a high percentage of overweight adults were abused, bullied, or mistreated as children. For some people, excess weight serves as a defense mechanism in a world that continues to evoke feelings of fear and powerlessness. Are you one of these people?

What did your fat say for you that you couldn’t say for yourself? Some people “hide” behind a large body to avoid direct confrontation with others. They use excess weight as a passive way to say, “No”. Are you one of these people?

If either of these descriptions fit, resolve these issues once and for all. A good counselor or psychotherapist can help you navigate the emotional storms that emerge from hurtful events of the past so that you no longer see the world through a lens of resentment, fear, or rejection. He or she can help you build skills for assertive communication, interpersonal negotiation, and conflict resolution.

Do develop stress management skills

Many overweight people use food to soothe difficult emotions. They eat not for hunger but for comfort. If you have a tendency toward emotional eating or overeating, now is the time to develop effective stress management skills. Basically, there are two types of skills you need: palliative skills and instrumental skills. Both are important to maintaining your target weight - and your mental health.

  • Palliative coping means that you find healthy ways to soothe difficult emotions and nurture yourself when things go wrong. Instead of drowning your sorrows with ice cream, you could call a friend, play with your pet, take a walk, listen to music, go see a movie, sweat to an exercise DVD, or soak your troubles away in a hot tub.
  • Instrumental coping means that you take steps to resolve the source of your distress. Confront the issues and identify the sticking points, get additional guidance or information, evaluate your options, make a plan, take action, and follow through until you get results.

Do expect varied reactions from others

Your friends and family are sure to notice your weight loss - and you may find their reactions emotionally challenging. Some people will always love you and admire you, regardless of your weight. Others may make careless remarks that can really hurt, such as “How long will you keep it off this time?” Worse yet, suppose you become friends with someone who doesn’t know you were once overweight - and he or she makes a cutting remark about fat people. Ouch!

Even some well-meaning remarks can sting. If a friend says “You look so attractive now,” it may come across as “You were so unattractive before now.” Be aware that, for awhile at least, you may feel sensitive about whatever people may say about your weight.- or anyone’s weight. Learn to take such remarks in stride and tactfully confront others when necessary.

You may also feel some discomfort or awkwardness when the opposite sex finds you more attractive. Overweight people often feel self-conscious about their weight and sometimes feel ignored or even shunned. At first, you may feel perplexed by an admiring glance or taken aback by a open flirtation.

When it comes to others’ reactions, decide what you like, what you don’t like, set your boundaries, and learn to convey them clearly, both verbally and nonverbally. You can do this!

Do be cautious of those who would sabotage your success

Some people may feel uncomfortable with your new looks. They may say or do things to sabotage your success. Your new physique and new habits will inevitably affect friendships built around “how we plus size people need to stick together,” or “we know diets never work,” or “how great it is to get together and eat all those luscious, fattening foods.” Your overweight friends might not understand why you now eat a salad instead of a cheeseburger. What will you say? How will you feel?

Your increased attractiveness and vitality may upset the dynamics of the relationship with your spouse (or intimate partner). He or she may want your reassurance that the relationship remains secure, now that you look and feel more attractive and self-confident. If your spouse (or intimate partner) is overweight, he or she may sense a pressure to catch up or feel the loss of a binge buddy. Decide how to handle such issues so that you and your partner continue a loving relationship with open communication.

Anyone who feels uncomfortable with your new weight may unintentionally sabotage your success with unkind remarks by creating tension through envy or jealousy, by offering you tempting foods, or by dismissing or interfering with your efforts at maintenance. Be alert to these moments, take a few deep breaths, and talk things over. Let others know how you feel, how you value their friendship as well as your success, and tell them how they could best support you. Then set your boundaries and say no when you must.


Don't

Do not continue to think of yourself as a fat person

Even with smaller proportions, you might still think of yourself as a fat person. Your major mental challenge might be to dismiss the thought that you are a fat person parading as a thin person - an imposter, so to speak. One major challenge will be knowing how to dress and shop for clothing in a smaller size. The remedy: meet with an image consultant who can advise you on how to look good, move well, and feel comfortable at your target weight. When you start thinking of yourself as a slender person, you’ll start thinking like a slender person.

Do not hold onto limiting beliefs

I once had a female client who kept losing and regaining 40 pounds. In counseling, it came out that she believed if she were slender, others (including potential male partners) would like her only because she was physically attractive, while devaluing her talents and personality. Her thought was that people who found her attractive would not notice her inner spirit. It took some time for her to realize that she could be physically attractive and be loved and valued for her talents and personality as well.

What beliefs might be lurking in your mind to undo your success? Do you think all naturally thin people are snobs? Do you think that maintaining a healthy weight means a life of eating tasteless, boring food? Do you think weight gain is inevitable after a certain age? Limiting beliefs can undo what you’ve achieved. Replace them with empowering beliefs that help you to maintain your target weight and the behaviors that got you to it.

Do not let old habits creep back in

If you start getting back into old habits, those extra pounds will sneak up on you. Sure, you can have an occasional slice of cake or a cookie. But if you start stocking up on sweets, ignoring healthy nutrition, or skipping your workouts, you’ll soon suffer the consequences - not just extra pounds, but also guilt and disappointment. Your best prevention is to weigh yourself regularly. If you see a weight gain of even just a few pounds, figure out how you’ve gotten off track and make the necessary corrections.

Do not go at it alone

With all these mental challenges, it may seem tempting to simply give up and jettison the new habits you’ve worked hard to acquire. Don’t do it. The side effects of weight loss are surmountable. You don’t have to face them alone. As mentioned previously, a mental health counselor or psychotherapist can assist you in acquiring the flexibility, resilience, fortitude, and coping skills to conquer these obstacles and potholes on your road to maintaining self-control and keeping your weight exactly the way you want it. Interview a few professionals. Ask about their experience and credentials. Choose someone you can really click with.

Another idea is to find or start a support group, discussion group, or meet-up group of people like yourself who are all facing the mental side effects that sometimes accompany recent and significant weight reduction. Make the group’s purpose to support each other in meeting these challenges and resolving them with grace, character, and self-respect.


Summary
Jumping cartoon

By reaching your target weight, you’ve done something to improve your physical health. Your mental health is just as important. Significant weight reduction brings about more changes than a smaller clothing size. It calls for adjustments in your coping skills, your relationships, your self-image, and managing your emotions. Follow the advice in this article, get the help you need, and celebrate having the body size you like!


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Photo Credits: Happy Bday KDON by Flickr: kk+; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D., L.P.C.Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Life Coach, Hypnotherapist, and NLP Practitioner

Dr. Judith E. (Judy) Pearson, the Habit Maven, has over 20 years of experience in private practice. She is a certified Master Clinical Hypnotherapist, serving as the Executive Director of the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists...

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