My Weight Journey (and what I’ve learned from gaining weight)
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Trigger warnings: eating disorders, weight loss/gain, depression, mentions of drug/alcohol use but no details given
I want to start off by saying that this is going to be sort of long and pretty vulnerable. I’m writing it because I think it’s so important to be open and share about our struggles. I also want people to know where I’m coming from and why I have the personal ethics I have around my job as a fitness and nutrition coach.
The Early Years
In high school, I was relatively thin. Of course, I didn’t see myself that way and for many reasons that I won’t get into right now, I saw myself as “fat”, which as a teenager in the early 2000s, that was the worst possible thing you could be.
I started dieting in middle school, which was not uncommon at that time, and I doubt it’s uncommon now. Of course when you’re 11 or 12, you know next to nothing about nutrition. So I did the only kind of diet I knew how to do: stop eating. I did this off an on for probably a year or so. The cycle of extreme restriction and binging started then.
When I got to college, I had for the first time, entire control over my food. I could eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. My parents didn’t provide food for me anymore. And I ate. I ate and ate and ate and before I knew it, I had gained nearly 100lbs.
And so the cycle of restriction and binging continued. There was a point in college when I would go to the rec center near my dorm almost daily, sometimes twice daily, to try to exercise off the weight gain. I was not successful in that. I tried appetite suppressants. I tried purging after meals but hated the sensation of vomiting so much that I stopped after a couple of weeks (thank God…but at the time, I felt like a failure).
I remember every time I would go home for holidays and for weekends, being hyperaware of my weight gain and being so ashamed. I was afraid people would view me as lazy and lacking self-control, which is how fat people are viewed in our world. I suppose technically I did lack self-control in a way, but not in the way fatphobia tends to believe.
Adulthood: Shortly After College
After college, I was not successful in losing the weight at first, though I kept trying. I bought my first FitBit. My first job out of college was extremely stressful. I worked in a psychiatric treatment facility for traumatized teenagers. And if that statement alone doesn’t sound fun, I’ll tell you I also worked the nightshift. I had no business trying to obsessively change my body at that time knowing that I was stress eating Chick fil A every day.
After about 11 months there (the longest of any staff at that point), I quit and started working in veterinary medicine as a kennel attendant. It wasn’t stressful at first. I walked dogs, cleaned up their poop in their kennels, tried not to get bitten during nail trims, fed cats, occasionally would help restrain patients for blood draws. It wasn’t so bad. But me being me, I wanted more out of the job, so I started putting myself in the lab area more often when things were slow with the boarding animals. I started doing some self-educating and eventually, got promoted to veterinary assistant. And well. I was back with a high stress job where I ate my feelings every day because I was (and still am to some extent) unable to handle my emotions so I bottle them up and they come out in other ways — stress eating, drinking (back in college), smoking too much pot (in college), etc.
The Magic Solution
In 2017, a health obsessed coworker (she was a very kind person but definitely seemed to have some issues of her own with food/exercise) told me about Whole30. The creator of this program and the accompanying books (which by the way, contain a lot of pseudoscience nonsense) make it clear it’s not intended to be a weightloss program. It’s marketed as a “reset.” A reset from what? I’m not really sure, but it sure SOUNDS great, doesn’t it? And though it’s not marketed as a weightloss solution, it quickly became that and the creator didn’t seem to do anything to deter from that.
If you are unfamiliar with Whole30 or how it works, I’m not going to go into too much detail here, but you can read about it below. A quick summary is that it’s a highly restrictive 30 day “reset.” You eliminate foods that they claim can cause inflammation and other unwanted effects. You eliminate grains, legumes, added sugars, chips, preservatives, and a lot more. If you poke around on that website, you’ll find the complete list of things not allowed on Whole30; it’s pretty wild. After the 30 days are up, you can continue if you don’t feel like you got results (whatever those results may be) or you can do a reintroduction phase that typically takes anywhere from 7-14 days depending on which track you choose (fast or slow) where you gradually reintroduce food groups back in to see if you have a reaction. Here’s the thing though: you’ve gone 30 days or more without these foods; doesn’t it make sense that you’d have a reaction not because your body doesn’t like a food but because you’ve eliminated it then added it back in suddenly? Something to think about. I do not endorse Whole30 by any stretch of the imagine and would strongly recommend AGAINST doing the program.
And not knowing much about nutrition aside from a general education required class, I was like, “Wow, could this be the magic solution to all my problems?”
I did the program and succeeded. I lost 15lbs in 30 days. Shortly after, I went on a trip with family to visit out of state family. Traveling and trying to do any kind of restrictive diet is not usually very successful, especially when with a Southern family who eat biscuits and fried chicken a lot. On the trip, I was constantly thinking about my food and how I would have to do another reset when I got back in town.
And I did. Weight started to slowly come off. That same coworker started to convince me to try running as well since I had expressed interest in exercising but could never get to a point where it was miserable.
And so, the runner was born in me. I started Couch to 5k (which is a GREAT program for beginner runners).
The weight began falling off and before I knew it, in just over a year, I had lost nearly all the 100lbs I had gained. And the feedback was everything I thought I ever needed. FINALLY, I had acceptance from others on my body.
I also FELT better. I had more confidence. I was in better physical shape so I had good stamina for my job working in a veterinary clinic. I felt like I was on top of the world.
The most important thing in my mind at that time though? The constant approval and validation in my new body.
It’s a totally normal and socially acceptable thing driven by good intentions: literally everyone in my life commented on how much better I looked, how much weight I had lost. And my brain soaked this in and thought: yes. I have approval; I am loved. My self esteem has always been low, and I always think the worst of what people could be thinking about me. When I was in a larger body, it was even worse. I didn’t want to leave the house or go in public. I didn’t want to eat in public. When work would have sweets, I wouldn’t eat them because I didn’t want everyone to think, “of course the fat chick is eating a donut.” But now I could eat a donut ironically! I could eat one and laugh and say it’s just “my treat for the week” and no one would question it! I was free!
I want to be very clear here in case someone reading this is someone who commented positively on my weight loss and is feeling guilty: You cannot hold yourself accountable for the flaws of our society.
What’s important to focus on instead is making a conscious decision to not comment on anyone’s body regardless of what may have changed unless THEY bring it up. We as a society are so trained to approve of shrinking our bodies that we of course think we are being kind and approving when noting someone’s weight loss, but sometimes, what you see physically is not the whole picture. We must make conscious efforts to work on our own internalized fatphobia that we ALL have (regardless of size) as a result of living in this society. I remember taking one of those bias tests when I was in college and at my largest size. I thought there was no way I could have an unconscious bias against fat people living as a fat person. I was wrong. I did. It was eye opening.
I was in the midst of some of the worst disordered eating patterns I had had in my life. I was paleo because it was what “worked” for me. I associated my “success” with weight loss with the purity of my diet. I was constantly reading labels on products on grocery store shelves to make sure they upheld this pure standard. I felt so ashamed of eating sweets and breads that at one point, I had convinced myself I had a gluten intolerance so that I had a “good reason” to avoid many sweets and breads.
But on the outside, I looked like I was fixed didn’t I?
Moving and Career Changes
How did I go from an English degree to a psychiatric treatment facility to veterinary medicine to having an established career in nutrition and fitness?
Well. It was because of my weight loss. I distinctly remember a family member sending me an incredibly long text about how inspiration I was and how proud she was of me for taking control of my health. Her super long text that came from a place of pure kindness and love inspired me to become a personal trainer so I could help others lose weight too. I wanted that to be my platform and niche.
It’s somewhat ironic how it all worked out though.
The Weight Gain
I moved to a new city and got my first job working at a gym while I worked on my personal trainer certification. I’m not sure exactly how or when my eating habits started to “revert” back, but they slowly did. Part of it is because I was living with a partner who was not paleo and ate pretty freely. He also worked at a restaurant and would frequently bring home food from that restaurant.
Slowly, the weight started to come back on. Not a lot since I was still running and slowly becoming active in the gym as well, but I definitely put on a few pounds.
Then 2020 rolled around. In March, I temporarily lost my job at the gym because of the COVID shutdown. My anxiety was through the roof, and I didn’t have the capacity to focus on my diet. I gained a few more pounds, as most people did over COVID. 2020 was a pretty hard year for my mental health, as I’m sure it was for most people. In the fall of that year, I decided to make an appointment with a psychiatrist that my therapist had recommended to see about trying medication.
The medication ended up working REALLY well for my mental health, but a major side effect I experienced? Rapid weight gain.
When the gyms reopened, I was able to start strength training again in addition to running. In fact, I hit a deadlift PR in November and then a month later ran a half marathon. I was in the best shape of my life, but my body didn’t reflect that according to society and the fitness industry.
Is my body a different composition now than it was in college? Sure. Does that matter? No. I am still in a larger body.
And so the yo-yo dieting and restrict/binge cycle started all over again and here I am now: sitting at the same weight that I was before I lost weight.
I was never “fixed.” Though it may have looked like it on the outside because we associate smaller bodies with having all the answers, I was not fixed. I thought I was. I thought I had found the solution, but I was in the same cycle that I had always been in. I never actually got out.
The issue was not and never has been my body’s size. My issue has always been with my poor relationship with food.
I am now in the process of letting it all go and trying to not diet anymore. I am keeping “junk” food around to try to combat binging (it’s an actual technique recommended by dieticians and therapists for some people who struggle with binge eating).
I try to not focus on my body too much. I try to just exist as a person who loves lifting and is incredibly athletic these days in a larger body and just owning that and accepting that.
But it’s hard working in the fitness industry.
I’ve always had a gnarly case of imposter syndrome with everything I do, but some days, it is especially bad being a fitness and nutrition professional in a larger body. I always think back to the time I was in a nutrition class in college where a RD was teaching the class. This RD was very knowledgeable, a good teacher, very kind. She was also in a larger body. There was a girl in the class who sat behind me and commented on how she couldn’t possibly know what she’s talking about since the RD was fat.
Things like that stay with you. I am also TERRIFIED to see people who saw me when I had lost all that weight — family, old coworkers, friends. The anxiety is sometimes overwhelming when I think about that.
Because in the world’s eyes, when you gain all the weight back, you failed. You become part of that BS statistic about how the majority of diets fail, or whatever it is they say. No one wants to be seen as a failure.
But here’s the thing: you’re not. I’m not. I am now in the process of combatting 15+ years of severely disordered eating and possible diagnosable eating disorders.
I still have my bad days. Sometimes, if someone says that I have a larger body, I get deeply hurt and defensive. That’s something that will take a long time to break out of because the lessons of fatphobia I’ve been taught run very deep.
I am in a larger body. I am working towards accepting that and working towards body neutrality. It’s a very difficult and complicated journey working in the industry that I work in.
Here are some positives though in the last few weeks since I stopped restricting: I don’t binge nearly as much. I stop when I’m full probably 60% of the time (vs the maybe 2% of the time before). I eat foods I enjoy and also eat vegetables. Has my body changed? I’m actually not sure because I stopped weighing myself and checking my body composition. I enjoy seeing some of my muscles getting defined from the work I’m putting into my workouts (I’m focused on powerlifting right now), but I’m not thinking about that as a goal.
I am slowly starting to feel good about how strong I am instead of worrying about my body composition.
I am wanting to start running again – not for weight loss but because I miss how good it made me feel.
I am capable of so many things in this body. Fatphobia is all around us. It’s especially present among people who work in this industry. I am learning to not just survive it, but thrive in it.
I sit on a very neutral position these days about body recomposition in clients. Is it something I advocate for? Absolutely not. But ultimately, my journey isn’t your journey and isn’t anyone else’s journey. I just feel we should tread lightly in terms of weight loss/fat loss. I also think it’s important that we retrain ourselves on what warrants comment (i.e., if someone has visibly lost weight, we should be careful about how and when we comment).
I don’t have all the answers when it comes to fatphobia and changing how we perceive our bodies. That’s out of my scope since it’s heavily rooted in psychology, and I myself am not “cured.” Here are some fabulous accounts to follow on Instagram that you may find helpful in these terms: