When You Stop Being Invisible: Weight Loss & Recovery

I’m honored to have Ms Jackie Conn from Sooner or Lighter guest blogging here today. I can’t recommend her writing highly enough!

Some people who never battled weight think they know why people can’t lose or gain back the lost weight. It’s because folks have no willpower. Even people who struggle with their weight blame a lack of willpower for their apparent failure. The common belief is overweight people are simply lazy, undisciplined or in other words, don’t have the necessary willpower to change their eating and exercising habits.

Lack of willpower is not the reason why people don’t lose weight or maintain their goal. It’s quite the contrary. Losing weight by denying yourself the pleasure of eating food you enjoy the most, barely tolerating meals that leave you unsatisfied, and never eating enough to feel full at the end of a meal takes superhuman willpower even to do it for a little while. Many have the willpower to keep it up for a lifetime, but when they fall back into old habits, loss of willpower has nothing to do with it.

Believe me, it’s not about lack of willpower. It’s far more complex than that. There are multiple underlying factors that result in giving into overeating. One of them is becoming visible. As a fat woman, I endured scornful looks and whispers about my weight. These people saw a fat woman, but they didn’t see me. My weight kept me invisible.

I was an overweight body and that was all. People didn’t see who I was. I was just another fat lady. In a very real way that kept me safe. Expectations of me were low. Nobody expected much from me. My size allowed me to keep a low profile. I thought I wanted to be seen, but I wasn’t aware that becoming visible wasn’t always going to be a positive experience.

Losing weight made me visible. I liked the compliments from friends and family. That kind of visibility was okay, but the changes in my body brought uncomfortable moments especially when I first got to goal.

The night I became a Lifetime Member of Weight Watchers my leader asked if I wanted to come up in front of the group to receive my Lifetime Member recognition. I was not the type of person who liked to stand up in front of a group of people, but I agreed. This group was safe. It was all the people who had been there supporting me, and I them through our weight loss journeys.

I not only stood up in front of them, but I twirled around to show off the results of all of my hard work. I’d lost 35 pounds since I joined Weight Watchers plus another 30 previously. Altogether I was about 65 pounds lighter. The leader asked the group if they had any questions for me.

There was a new member that night. Unlike most of the group who were women, this was a man who appeared to be the kind of guy who should be sitting in a biker bar, not in a Weight Watchers meeting. He was the only person with a question for me.

He looked me up and down in a way that felt as though he was checking me out. Then he grumbled, “How does your old man like your new bod?”

My old man accepted me at any weight. I wasn’t particularly comfortable having this guy whom I hadn’t even gotten to know as part of our group, making it obvious he was ogling me in a way I didn’t want.

Welcome to visibility! Now, how do you like it?

I panicked. I stood there and was overcome with a need to stop at Friendly’s for a hot fudge sundae on my way home. I rationalized it by telling myself I deserved it. I worked hard; I was now a Weight Watchers lifetime member. It would be a little celebration – that’s all.

I didn’t want a sundae because I lacked willpower. I wanted it to deal with an uncomfortable emotion. I was visible and it scared me. The sundae would help to calm me and although I didn’t realize it at the time, it would also help to take me back to safety. Eat enough of them and I’d be invisible again.

It wasn’t willpower that prevented me from getting my sundae after the meeting. I had time to think about what I really wanted. I didn’t want a sundae. I didn’t even want to return to being invisible. I just wanted to get comfortable with myself. I needed to get used to being visible.

There were more moments when I would have preferred to be invisible, but more than retreating into the shadows I wanted to stay at goal. The strategies I used to cope with emotions without turning to food were how I got used to and eventually became to prefer visibility.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.