Unbearable Lightness: what happens when the weight comes off?

The million-dollar answer to the question of why weight loss is so difficult to maintain, is that along with the exaltation of being thin come less positive feelings. The lightness that accompanies an unencumbered body feels vulnerable. And if we’ve used our weight in any way, even unconsciously, to keep us safe, the joy of weight loss can be overlaid by a wash of terror. In my experience, the unspoken reason why people don’t maintain their weight loss is that they don’t want to be thinner more than they want to stay protected. Or hidden.


When we don’t either understand or believe that the weight has served a crucial purpose, we can feel as if having a thin body is like being shot into the open sky without a space suit. We are supposed to know how to breathe without a mask, move in a body that is no longer weighted down, relate to people without layers of padding. And we are supposed to feel thrilled about the whole process even when the pounds we shed served us in oh so many ways.


If you ask a group of people who want to lose weight whether they’d find being thinner threatening, you would hear a unanimous No. But you would be asking adults, and that which wants to stay hidden is young. The proof is not in what people say they want, but in what they do. Not in their wishes, but in their actions, which consistently lead to the spectacularly dismal results of maintaining weight loss. And while it is the adult who decides to limit her food or eat the Paleo diet or substitute good fats for trans-fats, it is the Ghost Children—the ones that hid in the closet when our parents were fighting, or whose breasts our uncles fondled, or whose mother died when we were ten—who sabotage the results. If even just a part of us is constellated around a painful story from the past, if we haven’t named or allowed the feelings that accompany that story their due, then losing weight is like telling a small child that everything on which her survival depends has been ripped away. Which makes it scarey indeed ...                from This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide

Have you ever lost weight and it actually felt scary? What was your experience?  

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One response to “Unbearable Lightness: what happens when the weight comes off?

  1. I’ve lost 20 lbs. most recently, by counting calories, and gained almost all of it back. I also lost 30 lbs., another time before (some other way). Those were substantial weight losses for me, and both times I started to feel strange in my body. Like my body was too light, my regular day to day existence too easy, and I was too beautiful, and I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t feel like me, I felt a weirdness, and it happens to me every time I lose a significant amount of weight. At first, I tell people, I feel a little strange, and think it’s not a big deal, it’s better than being fat, ugly and rejected and having a hard time with my physical tasks. But it’s extremely unnerving, it doesn’t go away, and eventually I get ravenously hungry, particularly for decadent desserts, and regain all the weight I’ve lost. I’m not currently on a diet, but I don’t particularly want to be fat right now.

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