“Oh wow, you look amazing!”
I get this comment a lot – from coworkers whose cubicles got moved to other buildings, relatives from far flung states who I only see at weddings and funerals, college friends who lingered in Massachusetts after graduation.
I don’t fault people who comment on my body – losing over a quarter of your body mass in pure fat has an effect on your appearance. I didn’t just drop some clothing sizes and develop a jawline – my ring size changed, my shoe size changed. And yeah, it’s not exactly comfortable being the topic of conversation, but it’s like going out with neon pink hair.
People are going to notice.
What makes me truly uncomfortable is what happens next –
“Not that you didn’t look good before.”
Rationally, this back-pedal comes from a good-natured place – as though a complement today is going to time-travel back to 2016 or 2007 or whenever and slap Past!Me in the face. But every time I hear it, it makes me die a little inside.
Most people have not lost fifty pounds or more. People who typically have healthy habits catch themselves at ten, fifteen, twenty pounds gain and course-correct. People who struggle with their weight often find themselves cycling within the same twenty-thirty pounds, up and down, over and over.
The latter is probably the most common as almost 75% of the US population is overfat, with just shy of half of that being obese.
I wish my story was more common, but it is not. So, because people have no concept of what it feels like to be inside my skin, they default to what they can see.
When I hear “You were fine before” all I can think about is what before is really like.
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1) Before, I got winded walking up from the subway.
I’d be sweating profusely in the middle of winter, hoping my heart rate would come down before I got into the office. People asked me how I could wear short sleeves in the winter, truth was the amount of sweat was mortifying. And yes, I did run hot. All that extra insulation really made it extra difficult in the summer when I felt like I could never get cool.
2) Before, I wore out my clothes in a matter of months.
The worst offender was pants going threadbare from where my legs rubbed together. Sometimes they tore outright, just from sitting down. You’d think that would have been a wake up call, but my friends assured me it was fine. It was the pants that were the problem. The thought of going shopping for replacement clothes was equally mortifying. Would the store even have clothing big enough for me? Everything looked so impossibly small.
3) Before, life was exhausting.
Pictures of me looked like I’d just pulled an all-nighter, even if I had a full eight hours of sleep. Sure there are days now when I joke that I want an IV full of coffee, but it’s not the same long drag day after day. I actually wake up before my alarm now, even on days I don’t have to. I have a sunny disposition in the morning and it seems to have a positive effect on others around me.
4) Before, anxiety and depression had the upper hand.
On top of feeling like a failure, out of control of my life, there’s evidence that excess body fat can make antidepressants less effective. Whatever the reason, my symptoms were so much harder to manage, and I was starting to tip into eating disorder territory. I ate until I was in pain, and then made myself throw up because I couldn’t stand feeling so sick. I was so miserable and desperate I turned to unhealthy behaviors instead of crafting healthy habits. I wasn’t thinking straight.
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5) Before, most of my paid time off went towards sick days.
I seemed to catch one cold after another and when I was sick it took me longer to recover. It took longer for cuts and bruises to heal. Yeah, we talk about excess fat as a risk for big scary diseases like cancer and diabetes, but no one tells you it makes it harder for you to recover from the flu. I had to be careful about planning any vacations for fear I’d run out of time if I got sick.
6) Before, my body hurt.
From my feet which swelled every day, to my back with its bulging disc. I had random aches and pains too, which is no surprise. My C-reactive protein was almost always high, higher when I was having an endometriosis flare, of course, but still high most of the time. You can’t see internal inflammation in a photo.
7) Before, I lacked confidence.
Maybe you could see that in the photos, but you couldn’t see what it was doing to me personally and professionally. The bigger I got, the more I wanted to disappear. The few dates I went on, everyone felt out of my league. The idea of getting ahead in my job? Having a career? Never even occurred to me. I was existing, but not living. Partially because I was limited by own body, but more because I was limited by my self-perception.
8) Before, I thought I could be fat and fit.
I trained in taekwondo (and had no stamina), I did Spartan races (and was becoming slower and slower). Fat but fit was a concept that took off in 2012, and I bought into it. It was soothing when I was struggling with my weight. Just like the idea of your weight having a “set point.” Of course being active is better than being sedentary, but being overweight and active is still riskier than having a healthy body composition and being active. (That 2012 study has been debunked, btw.) There are no words for how excited I am for my next Spartan.
9) Before, I thought everyone was judging me.
I know now that’s not true. Most people are so caught up in their own lives that they don’t pay much more than a few seconds of notice on the strangers around them. Yeah, if I was squeezing into a subway seat someone was probably judging me for about five minutes. I realize now I was projecting my negative self-thoughts into other people’s heads. In fact, more people pay attention to what I eat now than what I did then. “Are you sure you should be having that?” Yes, Karen, it’s the holiday office party and one cheesecake fondue cup is not going to make me fat again.
10) Before, I did not appreciate my body.
I never had a moment where I accomplished something and thought “wow. I can do this?” I did not fully understand my body as my partner, my tether to this world. It was not some separate thing, or a shell I lived inside. It is me. It is what allows me to accomplish, to run, to laugh, to carry groceries, to pet my cats, to hug my family. How can I not try to make it as strong and as healthy as possible?
Telling me I was fine before is telling me all that pain and exhaustion and mental anguish that I fought to rid myself of are “fine.” You may not care about my outward appearance, but I’m the one who has to live in this body.
I never want to live in my Before body ever again.
Do you recognize these feelings? Are you ready to leave Before behind? Check out my eBook, Level Up Your Life!
Are you already on your journey? Let me know what changes you’re feeling in the comments below!