What not to say to someone who's lost weight

KATHLEEN LONG
Last updated 09:38 12/06/2014
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Twitter/KathELong

KATHLEEN OUT FOR A RUN: 'Losing weight has put me on centre stage, the performance is my shrinking body and I have well-meaning hecklers.'

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When you're overweight, as I have been much of my life, or obese, as I have been for the last 15 years, if you start to drop dress sizes, you can expect people to notice. And when people notice, they have a range of reactions about the fact that I've lost 35 kilograms, 30 of them in the last nine months. It's like my slimmer appearance temporarily freezes the impulse control and speech centres in their bewildered frontal lobes, and consequently they blurt out whatever inane thing first occurs to them when they see me.

"Wow, you look like a completely different person. I didn't even recognise you." This feels awkward. Is it a compliment? I usually respond with thank you, to which the person heartily replies "You're welcome!"

"You must be so happy now that you've lost all this weight." Well, to tell you the truth, I wasn't unhappy before I started losing weight.

"I really hope you're not losing weight too fast; you look too skinny." Not at all, I'm still 18 kilograms overweight.

"I guess there is a difference between eating healthy and losing weight." This comment often comes after my interlocutor discovers I'm not vegan/paleo/juicing/gluten free/etc. I'm under a doctor's care and my health is being carefully monitored, and I say so, but usually, my reply is drowned out by the statistics of whatever diet it is that ensures optimal health.

"Well... what I do is..." Usually, someone will first ask how I am "doing it," then will argue with my answer despite the obvious fact that what I am currently doing is working for me.

"I guess you won't be able to eat any of this." This is something people generally say anytime I'm anywhere in the vicinity of a dessert.

"You've lost like a whole person, if not more. How much weight is it at this point?" For many, weight is an uncomfortable subject, especially admitting the exact amount of "before" weight. It has been for me for many years.

"Well, good for you, but I'd rather live well. Life is short." I'd understand the defensive response if I was proselytising, but this is usually offered spontaneously, as if my mere presence is an argument for restrictive eating.

"You're disappearing." Not true; you're paying more attention to me than ever!

I've never been a person who blends into the background; I'm loud and I have an energetic and effusive personality. But losing weight has put me on centre stage, the performance is my shrinking body and I have well-meaning hecklers. People currently introduce me to other people by letting them know I used to be more overweight. They tell me how proud they are of me "now." They ask me what happened, how I let myself go for that long. They confide in the "new me" that they were worried about the "old me," usually in a whisper, lest the "old me" should overhear. At first, I found this all rather embarrassing and disconcerting. But I knew if I wanted to continue my success, this was another thing I'd need to figure out to keep moving forward.

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I started by admitting I was obese and sharing my "before" and current weight throughout my journey. I've posted it on social media and I will answer anyone who asks. I loved myself at my heaviest weight of 115 kilograms and I love all 80 kilos of me currently writing this blog. Yes, it still stings to announce that I used to weigh more than most professional linebackers, but it is the truth and it gets easier every time I say it.

I'll tell anyone who asks what I'm doing, but I won't try to enroll or enlist anyone in it unless they want me to. Just in case you want to know, I eat moderate amounts of mostly lean protein (with the occasional piece of red meat), vegetables and limited amounts of carbohydrates, mostly fruit and sometimes beans or potatoes. I drink lots of water. I weigh in regularly and get B-12 and chromium shots. I get advice and support from doctors and staff at JumpstartMD, which is the programme I attend once a week.

I've learned to be patient with my body and the process and my appearance. Losing a lot of weight means that I get surges of hormones resulting in acne and mood swings like an angst-ridden 16-year-old. I get dry-mouthed. I have hot and cold flashes. It's like puberty and menopause all at once. I have loose skin because it hasn't been able to shrink as fast as the fat underneath. At times, I lose weight disproportionately and feel awkward and gawky because my parts don't seem to fit together. It's not always easy, but it's not always difficult, either. Finding what works for me has allowed me to lose weight during what has been one of the most stressful periods of my adult life, even when I'm not specifically focusing on it.

I'm also learning to appreciate and be (mostly) patient with the people who were in my life before I started losing weight as they adjust to the changes I'm making. I'm observing their reactions, asking questions and being curious about how they're relating to me as a physical being. I'm recognising when someone makes me uncomfortable and using that as a tool to examine hidden feelings of shame or inadequacy. It is a process for them as much as it is for me, and if nothing else, I think the plethora of diet book authors, doctors and nutritionists can all agree that losing weight is ultimately about being self-aware and present.

Thank you, you sometimes insensitive but loving verbal bunglers, for giving me the practice I need to be my best self.

This post first appeared at SheByShe, a new women's opinion site dedicated to sharing women's voices.

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