Amy’s Corner:
Self-Loathing is a
Learned Behavior

In regard to my relationship with food, weight and body image, I’ve always secretly felt like I was more broken than most people, and that if anyone knew the real me, they would be horrified. The irony is that the real me I was so ashamed of and desperate to hide, became increasingly more visible carrying around 200+ pounds of armor to protect myself from being seen.

 

When I began what would be the last “Day One” of my weight loss journey, my goal was simple: to be a regular fat person, to fit more easily into the world. I didn’t want to be spectacular or special, and in fact, I wanted to be the exact opposite: to not stand out, to not be seen, to not be broken – or at least to not show my brokenness so openly to the outside world. I dreamed of being…normal.

 

But now that I have lost weight, my emotions betray a different story, and are made more complicated by the unexpected and unsettling side-effect of frequently not recognizing my own image in the mirror and still hating what is reflected back at me.

 

The enormity of what I have accomplished often gets lost in a never-ending quest for perfection – something I intellectually know is not possible but leaves me emotionally feeling exactly as broken as I used to, only in smaller clothing. I am also older and left with the scars of obesity and wrinkles of time. So, every time the scale bumps up? I am back in my old body and brain. Every time a pair of pants feels snug, or I eat something I’m not proud of? I fall back into the same old mental traps.

 

The 415-pound former version of me would roll her eyes so far back in her head to hear my current thinking. For decades, she longed to be where I am now: healthy, fit, able to move freely through space and living unencumbered in a “regular” world.

 

But during my journey down the scale, I didn’t do some of the important emotional work necessary to stay here, and many days now, the vestiges of my past body and life are all I can see, with the resulting shame frequently leaving me barreling at breakneck speeds towards food and self-hatred. How did I get here? And how do I get out?

 

In all the reading and studying I have done on diets, diet culture, body image and intuitive eating over the years, I have come to know this: Self-loathing is a learned behavior.

 

We wouldn’t know how to hate ourselves if someone hadn’t taught us: before we are old enough to consent, society, diet culture, modern medicine, government guidelines, and the media teach us that we are unworthy and broken, and it is all our fault. We are taught flaws are something to be shrouded in shame so that eventually self-loathing becomes our default.

 

How do we get out of this matrix and restore ourselves back to “factory settings”?

 

I recently came across an art exhibit that celebrated an ancient form of Japanese stoneware called Kintsugi which is a method of repairing broken pottery by fixing the cracks with gold lacquer. As a philosophy, it serves to treat the breakage as part of the rich history of an object rather than something to be disguised. Kintsugi sees the brokenness as a beautiful part of a bigger story – flaws are to be admired, not hidden away.

 

What if we viewed our imperfect bodies, minds, and battle scars as evidence of a life that has been lived, in the fullest sense of the word. What if we viewed our perceived defects as something to be honored and respected?

 

What if we didn’t view the number on the scale as a weapon, as evidence of self-worth or a condemnation of who we are?

 

What if we acknowledged and fully embraced the idea that self-loathing and the definition of ourselves as merely a number on the scale are a trap? And what if we recognized the patterns we have seen play out repeatedly: that shame and self-hatred are a not-so-thinly veiled way for our disordered and difficult relationships with food to weaponize fear and vulnerability, and keep us stuck in an endless cycle of dietbingerinse, and repeat?

 

Losing weight, when you walk in morbidly obese shoes for years, means that your body is no longer a public battlefield, but that ceasefire is often superficial. It takes daily work to remember that a smaller body is merely a conduit to a more fulfilling life, not the purpose or definition of one.

 

Do yourself a favor and avoid the mistakes I made: Don’t buy into the notion that a perfect life exists when you hit a certain number on the scale. This is a lie, built on quicksand.

 

The person in every Before picture is not necessarily any less broken than the person in the After. Losing weight will only fix what is externally impacting your psyche. If you’re struggling with your weight, frustrated by this process, thinking your journey will never lead where you want it to go or that when you get “there” all your problems will fade away, here’s my best advice:

 

Love yourself. Now. Work on your relationship with food and body image. Now. Embrace the imperfections of your journey and that your body may not transform into exactly what you had envisioned. Appreciate what it can do, not what it looks like doing it. Practice that now.

 

Thank the person in those pictures for helping you get here, because if you’re looking for a miracle? It is already happening – in plain sight.

 

While you are busy dreaming about some “one day” vista on the horizon, you end up missing the amazingness happening before your very eyes – that you have not yet given up, you are still here. Despite all you have faced, you are still showing up for yourself!

 

Love yourself. Now. Learn to love the Before, while you are chasing the After.

 

The person in that picture you hate is the one who will do all the hard work and walk you safely through the flames to get you to the other side. Appreciate and celebrate that person. Now.

 

If you don’t learn to love yourself along the way, when you do get to the other side, the new you will not get a hero’s welcome, or a parade thrown in their honor. No, their memory will serve as a source of trauma and fear, a cautionary tale. And that fear will do its best to try and protect you by taking you right back to a familiar place – one surrounded by the protective armor that your extra pounds may be providing.

 

When you get to another version of yourself who wears smaller clothing and walks a little easier (not to the finish line, because, spoiler alert, there isn’t one), grace and love will not magically show up and you will be left both hating who you were but not yet fully recognizing who you are.

 

You are worth loving. Now. Because you’ve walked through every fire, survived every setback, and despite it all, still….still…keep going.

 

If you’re interested in reading more articles, both cited and anecdotal lived experiences from our care team at Doctor Tro’s Medical Weight Loss, download the Toward Health app today. Plus, join a community that’s ready to stand in your corner and cheer you on every step of the way!

 

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