Monday, April 25, 2011
One thing is pretty certain in this journey - when you lose 100 pounds, people are going to notice. There's no getting around it. And in today's society, that also means that people are bound to make comments about it. Here are just a couple of things I've learned about how people talk about weight loss and what it can sometimes mean for the person on the other end.
Spark People aside, I am a person that doesn't like talking about my weight. I was brought up in a family who thinks that appearance is the ONLY thing to talk about and, unfortunately, it's really turned me off wanting to hang out with them. If you're like me in this regard, you know that family gatherings always revolve around a ton of food and then the subsequent guilt that indulging in this food brings. They talk about who's "up" and who's "down" and it feels like everyone is constantly being measured against the thinnest member of the party (most recently my aunt and uncle who went on some crazy pill plan to drop to their smallest ever sizes).
My last visit home was at Christmas at which point I was down about 80 pounds. And even at 80 pounds I felt like a disappointment. My mother had taken much pleasure in telling my family that I had been losing weight before they saw me, so rather than have my new appearance be a nice surprise, she had built it up to epic and unmeasurable proportions like she tends to do (I also come from a family of over-exaggerators) which meant that everyone walking through the door was looking for something. They were looking for the image that they had built up in their own minds about this phenomenal amount of weight that I had lost. I was trumped. How could I possibly live up to those grand expectations? After all - I am only human. So I came home from that trip disappointed and defeated over something that should have been joyous.
These types of people - the ones who like a good story and love even more to over- embellish - I call "The Storytellers". I find they like to talk about weight loss in those same exaggerated terms: "OH MY GOD, you're just wasting away!", "You're a ghost of the person you used to be!", etc. etc. But if you take a good look at those words and really analyze what it is they're saying, you'll notice that YOU aren't in there at all. It's all about the story, all about the build up, all about the pleasure THEY get from being associated with you - the newest fantastic thing that just happened TO THEM. YOU are not wasting away at all (if you're doing this the right way). YOU are perfectly whole, and healthy and wonderful. YOU are not a ghost of any former self. In fact, YOU are probably feeling fuller and more sure of who you are now than ever before. At least that's how I feel. So it strikes a funny chord in me when I hear comments from a Storyteller. What you must remember with these folks is that Storytellers want your story for themselves. Even though they may be close to you, they ultimately aren't interested in YOU, they're interested in the fact that you've done something amazing that they can now go and talk about to pump themselves up. My response for a Storyteller: I smile, acknowledge that they have made a comment about something I'm not willing to indulge in conversation about, and then expediently change the topic - usually to something about them, because they've always got a good story to tell about themselves.
During my whole weight loss process, I have shared an office with my co-worker who also just lost a pile of weight last year. She is now at goal and has been a big supporter of mine (she recently brought in another 3 bags of her old clothing for me) since the beginning. We have a couple things in common as far as the process is concerned - we both run, we both enjoy clothes shopping. But that's about as far as it goes. She lost the weight with Weight Watchers (a program I have been pretty upfront about despising since the get-go), and she's a vegetarian (another thing I find tricky since I LOVE meat and tend to eat a higher protein diet). She also LOVES to talk about herself and her own process and how all of it ties into my own journey. Not true. She often uses my weight loss as an excuse to talk about her own habits and insists regularly on telling me what she's eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner and what her weekly running schedule is, even when I don't ask.
These people I like to call "The Me Toos". I often find that these are the folks who will latch on to any aspect of your own success to take the opportunity to remind you of their own accomplishments. They usually refer to your weight loss in terms of "Congrats on your 50 pounds lost! When I was down 50 pounds...", or "You're getting small enough now that you need to watch out for this...". Some of it can be useful advice, but under no circumstance is my story anything like her story. I appreciate the heads up, but in a lot of cases, I'd prefer to find out things for myself. Especially since a lot of this is so new and wonderful for me. A Me Too might be jealous of your success. Maybe they were in the spotlight for a while and were receiving all of the office glory, but that has now faded and you are the one receiving the newest bought of accolades. Enjoy it! My response to a Me Too: Smile, give them space to talk about themselves for a bit, take the useful bits of advice if applicable, and then gently change the topic or remind them that you'd rather talk about something else.
Just today I saw a friend that I haven't seen in a while. He gave me a big hug and we had a nice long conversation about life and what was new. I could tell that he was itching to say something for the whole conversation, but it wasn't until the end that he finally came out with "OK, am I crazy, or have you lost some weight?" I laughed and said, "Yep" which he followed up with - "Well, you look awesome, but I didn't want to say anything!"
These are my favorite types of people. The ones who KNOW that it's socially bogus to talk about a person's weight, but who still acknowledge that a change has occurred. These guys are more than happy to say their piece (usually a very sweet and meaningful compliment) and then to move on with the conversation. They never pry for more information. They're just happy that you're happy. We'll call these guys "The Genuinely Friendlies" since that's exactly what they are. And they're few and far between as far as I've experienced since mostly I'm used to meeting "The Interrogators".
Interrogators pose as Genuine Friendlies at first, but the follow up conversation is usually a barrage of questions about what you're doing, how many calories you're eating, when you go to the gym, how many times a week you exercise, etc. etc. They treat you not as a person, but rather as a self-help book because obviously, YOU have the secret to success. Interrogators get mad when you brush off any explanation with sayings like "I just decided to change my life" or "I'm just eating better and exercising" since those aren't REAL answers in their mind. They want the truth! (And so sometimes you have to lie to give them what they want). Though I loathe the Storytellers, Interrogators are probably the worst type of person for me since I just don't like talking about it and they won't let you off the hook until you do. Methods for dealing with Interrogators: Smile, answer only the questions that you feel comfortable answering (which may be none), and then remember a meeting that you're late for.
So far I have been pretty successful in keeping people at bay when it comes to discussing my weight. (Spark People aside since this is my one and only outlet to blog and discuss at free will my whole journey and progress and I LOVE notes and questions and WOOHOOs from my Spark Friends). My general opinion on the matter is that it's really none of anyone's business - and I think by honestly thinking and believing that (and thus projecting that opinion and belief out to the world) people have left me alone. I know the comments are only going to get worse from here on out. What I have managed to do is highly noticeable at this point to absolutely everyone.
But the next time you encounter a person in your own life that is obviously working on themselves, be wary of which of these categories you fall into. Some people live for the positive feedback from others while losing weight, but you have to realize that at some point that's going to stop and people will stop noticing, and then you will have to get those positive kicks from other sources. Unfortunately, for a lot of us, our positive kicks tend to come from food. See the bad cycle that starts? If you set yourself up to expect comments, but take away the need for them, you're setting yourself up for a much longer and more sustainable way of life without the need for other people to notice what you are doing all the time.
I think the media's over-saturation with weight loss stories, television programs about it, magazine articles, latest fad diets, etc. have only lead to a society that is obsessed with weight gain and the subsequent loss thereof. They've made this process, which is a very complicated and meaningful thing for a lot of us, into a 30-second spot on the latest entertainment program. A blip in time - not even a millisecond of that grand idea of "15 minutes of fame" - which even in its entirety, if compared to what we're actually doing here, is just completely ridiculous. We're talking about LIFE, and they're talking about a quick entertainment fix. And if the media is talking about it, it makes it socially acceptable to make comment about it to the people it affects without any regard to the real issues at hand, the amount of hard work and dedication that it takes, or the actual PEOPLE for that matter. I don't disagree that we have a huge problem with obesity in America, and certain topics NEED to be discussed. But do yourself a favour and don't become fodder for someone else's water cooler conversation. You're worth WAY more than that!
The more we invest in ourselves and our own process, the less we need by way of other people to create our success for us. We have the power within ourselves to feel and to know when we're doing great. Sure it's nice to be acknowledged every once in a while - and the people in your life who are important and who matter will take care of doing that for you (along with a few great Spark Goodies from some wonderful Spark Friends). But ultimately, it's all YOU baby! All the way to the top. Have faith and believe in yourself and the battle is already half-won.