Some of you may know this, others may not, but I am exceptionally good at gaining weight.
I cook delicious food, and I often over-work and over-stress myself in ways that make the balance of my life tip.
And, so, it happens. But over the years (and facing down the big 4-0 in a couple of weeks), I've learned a lot from losing the same 10 pounds over and over again.
All of these are things I wish I could have told my 20-something and even early 30-something year-old self. There were far too many hours and days (probably weeks and months) spent fussing over a little weight here or there. No one ever cared, yet, it likely stole away too much precious time and head space that could have been spent on far more valuable pursuits or creative endeavors.
And there are far more valuable pursuits in the world. I promise you this.
1. That it is *almost* never about the food.
The very first time I ever “gained weight” beyond a normal/healthy range for my height was through college when I had abandoned myself as an athlete (I played sports my entire life and was even co-captain of my volleyball team in high school, maybe soccer, too, but I honestly forget).
I'll never forget the gynecologist appointment when the nurse weighed me, then promptly asked if anyone had ever talked to me about portion control.
Um, what? No. I weighed in at 165#. I am 5'4″.
That college-gain was more than the 10 pounds I'm talking about here that I would go on to gain and lose more times than I can count.
And that was the first time I ever closely considered the food I was eating, how much, and what it could be doing to me. Mind you, I had no idea what to eat besides what I was eating, but I was now made aware that it mattered.
At this stage, it was partly about the food. For most of you reading this, you're well beyond this stage. Still, while the food I was eating was not healthy or well balanced, that I ate too much of it and that I gained weight to the degree that I did, was not about the food.
I wrote more about what I mean by “it was never about the food” in this post.
2. The people who truly care about you don't care about that 10 pounds.
They may care that you're not taking care of yourself. They may also care that you are inactive or not “yourself” if you've gained weight, but they don't care about the vanity of it. They see it, but they love and respect you enough to know that you see it, too. You aren't blind. And you know how your own clothes fit. But they aren't judging you for it. If you are judging others for it, stop doing that.
I'm not saying there won't be people in your life who have something to say about the weight gain, but you'll soon learn that those people's opinions have no place in your world. This video from Brené Brown's work on critics. will change your life if this is a struggle for you.
Sit with that one for a bit…
3. You may never truly know what's going on with someone when they gain or lose weight.
You don't know if someone who you thought looked “great” when they were thinner was truly unhealthy at that weight.
I couldn't begin to count how many women have told me at workshops I used to teach around the country or through various social channels that they've stopped menstruating while they looked what the Internet deems “amazing” or had visible abs.
So, especially if someone hasn't publicly stated a goal to do anything about their weight, to commend them for either losing or gaining is often a very touchy subject and something I recommend avoiding.
This is HARD to do.
We want to recognize people's efforts.
And, if you are talking privately to a friend who opens up about the intricacies of their own process, then that may be a good place for it. But be careful with this at large.
Even commending someone for their leanness, honestly, is very possibly feeding into a negative body image issue they've had for a long time, and that additional praise is only going to solidify that issue.
While on a book tour a couple of years ago, I received lots of positive comments about my arms. And, while undeniably well-intended and meant as compliments, I'm not sure the longer-term impact on me was positive. This may also be simply my own stuff to sort out – taking compliments and not being attached to your view of me in that moment. Still, I think it's worth raising all of our awareness around this issue. And recognizing when we may be doing this without realizing the potential outcome.
By the same token, the reason or reasons why someone gains weight are likely far more complex than you'll ever know. It's not as simple as “eating too much.” Yes, that can be a cause, obviously, but again, this isn't about the food.
It can be a hormonal issue they're desperately trying to resolve. Or a recently (or un) diagnosed hypothyroid situation. Or what if someone had been pregnant for a time and no longer is due to medical complications, but they never shared about that with anyone? Again, more reasons why it's not your place to comment, ya know?
What's going on in someone's life – stress, trauma, emotional strain – those all impact why we eat, when we eat it, and how much we eat. Or don't.
While many women (and men) are viewed as weak-willed or lazy when they gain weight, there are just as many women who will lose weight for the same reasons others gain. And neither is better, but societal norms today lead people to praise the leanness you see on Instagram, for example, when in reality it may be more natural or easier for one person to be lean versus not.
And, you actually don't know if that person is even healthy at that weight, even if you *think* you know or they “seem super healthy.”
I've been there, too. When I was 29 I was as low as around 18% body fat with a visible 6-pack (and again when I was 32 or 33 years old) as a result of over-training, yet I had lost my period for two months, and also suffered from massive adrenal fatigue as well as several injuries. At just under 130 pounds at 5'4″ and 18% body fat I was amenorrheic. That was a problem.
(Side note on the Instagram stuff here: vote with your engagement – and steer clear of body-focused (in favor of education and inspiration-focused) content if it's triggering to you. I do.)
4. It's actually okay to gain and lose weight over and over again.
Now, there may be a lot more damage done when the amount of weight gets into larger numbers, and I'm not an expert on the topic of massive weight gain and loss, so that's not what I'm talking about here.
But, I am talking about anywhere from say 5 to 20 pounds. Seasonally, our weight can fluctuate, and that's okay. In fact, it's likely more natural for it to happen than not. That said, for many of us, the gaining is quite easy, and the losing, not so much.
And, I'm not really talking about “yo-yo dieting” in this case. Where you go from eating healthy foods to throwing caution to the wind and eating crap for months on end. I'm talking about gaining weight while eating healthfully. Because that's a thing, you know… though some people may not understand it. I know you do.
The hard part is that the process of losing weight seems to take an extreme emotional toll on many of us because we feel bad, or wrong, or as if we have made a mistake when the time comes to lose the weight (if that's what we choose to do).
If you find yourself going through this process, identify what goes on for you when you gain weight.
Is it that you don't want to think about what or how much you're eating all the time? You want to eat balanced meals of real, whole foods, and what you then naturally end up eating is probably a bit more calorically dense than you need?
When I eat freely of healthy (and even some not-so-healthy foods like gluten-free treats at the holidays) foods, and don't put any special attention on portion sizes other than not snacking for no reason or not having too many treats all the time, I gain weight.
My body is SO good at gaining weight.
I'm sure there's probably one person out there reading this who is jealous of that statement, while most of you are probably nodding along as if to say, “YES, DIANE, MINE TOO.”
I'm not here to write a hall pass for weight gain ad infinitum.
And I'm not entirely sure I'm getting my point across.
What I mean to say is this: so what if you lose and gain the weight over and over? It doesn't make you a bad person.
It's probably seasonally appropriate. And it's no one's business but your own. Don't beat yourself up about it, just do what you need to do in a healthy way to find yourself where you want to be again, then move on.
Do your best not to dig an emotional hole about it. Look back at the past bit of time when the gain happened with an objective lens. What was going on at the time that led to the gain? Okay, you got that now. Identify that, own it, observe where you emotionally weren't taking care of yourself, then change it and move on.
I think I just saved you at least $1,000 in therapy right there. You're welcome.
5. Empathy and judgement cannot coexist.
You know that expression “if you wouldn't say that to your best friend, then why say it to yourself?” It rings true in this sentiment about empathy and judgement.
Because when we talk to a close friend, we work hard to empathize with them, and not judge them for the hard things they're dealing with, right?
What if we stopped judging ourselves?
What if we stopped judging ourselves and stepped back to, as I said before, observe the situation for what it is? What if we empathized with our own journey and showed a bit more compassion for what we've been through?
The minute you drop the judgement, conversely, is the minute you will allow the empathy to flow.
When I step back and look at my life during any period where I've gained that 10 pounds back, it's been a time when I've been in extreme service to others.
And while, no, I don't want to use that as an excuse – and do think there is a way to balance being in extreme service to others while caring for ourselves, it was the situation at hand. I didn't balance it well. I just didn't. I have struck that balance before, but this time, I didn't. And I think I resented that time of extreme service a bit and then rebelled against the idea of more restrictions, and, so, the weight came on.
I do feel lucky that my personality is such at this point that I won't spiral into negative self-talk or a depressed state as I did in my early 30s around some of this stuff.
It's hard to explain in a single blog post all that comes with this topic. But, I'll say this: I've come to a place where I'm able to observe these things objectively, even in my own life, and simply make a plan to make changes and not attach myself to – or beat myself up for – what I did in the past.
I did the best I could. I am always doing the best I can. And so are you, my friend.
And, on that note…
6. Some people will judge you with or without the extra weight.
True story: several years ago, someone called me fat on the Internet.
The above is a photo from an event the month before the name-calling/internet fat-shaming.
It was an interesting experience. I stated that I didn't like or recommend their food products, nor did I trust their labeling after some scandals about it had been shared.
Admittedly, I don't think I truly realized the weight of my own endorsement (or disapproval) at that time, and in hindsight perhaps I'd never have said anything, but people asked me about this product often back then, and so I said what I thought of it. I did not, however, lay a personal attack simply because I didn't like the product.
Now, had I been a less self-confident person, I think this experience would have broken me. Honestly, the character of those involved in the attempted fat-shaming was not at a level that I respected anyway, so I found it hard to take the name-calling seriously. (File this again under: who deserves a say in your life and life choices – aka: “Your Kitchen Cabinet” via Brené Brown's work on critics.)
And, shoot, if anyone hasn't been teased in their life by the time they're in their mid-thirties (which I was at the time), then I can see how that might be hard and perhaps cause someone to shut it all down and close up shop.
For many, those experiences are not worth even putting yourself out there in the first place.
But, I was taken right back to the grade-school playground, that's how childish the whole thing was.
Funny, because the name-calling happened after a time when I had just lost weight. And, by all normal standards, I wasn't overweight at all.
So, it was a perfectly hilarious situation to me because the words were said, but since I didn't believe them myself, they didn't stick or hurt. It was more of an “I can't believe the immaturity and nerve of these people” to take that type of action, not an “oh my gosh I'm so hurt or offended” moment – if that makes sense.
My point is that if someone is going to judge your appearance, you certainly have no say over it. You can be rail thin, ripped, or soft or overweight – and no matter what, someone will judge it.
You already know what I think about their opinions.
7. You are losing out when you say no to socializing because of your weight.
I'm still learning this lesson. Actively.
Even within the past year I've said no to several social engagements because I didn't feel like dealing with being in a bathing suit in front of others.
And, if you're a mom, you're denying your kids your laughter and presence if you're saying no to things in this way. I am not judging you for this, simply pointing it out. Because your kids don't care what you look like, they care what you love like, ya know?
I've learned this one, but it doesn't mean I've mastered it yet.
In recent experiences with this, I've been in a place where I am happy in my own body, but not yet feeling somehow “safe” enough to parade it around for a mostly-naked viewing party. Still, I've simply opted out of settings where anyone else is given a chance to make their judgment about it.
But, this is where I need to take my own advice and remember point 6. Because the judgement will likely happen no matter what I look like. So I can either show up and be present for my life, or I say no because of the size of my arms or thighs?!
Do we all realize how insane that sounds? That we miss out on life because of this?
I am working on it.
This is one where I also feel a responsibility to show up for life because I'm not serving anyone when I don't. More on this later.
8. As a rebel, I know that when my identity as an athlete slips away, maintaining my weight does, too.
Clearly not exercising would make gaining weight easy, however, it's not as simple as that for me. For me, including exercise into my almost-daily routine is part of who I am, and part of my own self-care and very decidedly an effort at putting my own needs first.
So, when I talked earlier about being in a time of extreme service when I did have more balance in my life, I was exercising very early in the morning before anything else hit my plate for the day. Downside there was that my sleep was pretty much in the tank. Sigh.
Balance is hard.
Again, I never claim to have it all figured out, but I am actively working on it.
Consider what your tendency is and how that might work for or against your own goals.
9. Simply wanting things to change doesn't make anything happen. Taking action does. (And, it's easier to maintain action than it is to re-start.)
I've learned this through my own experience, but also through all of you who've completed The 21-Day Sugar Detox, or followed a meal plan in Practical Paleo. It's very easy to want things to change, but taking action (duh) is the only way to effect that change.
Each time I've gone through gaining weight, it's been on the heels of an injury that had me out of the gym for either a week, two weeks, or even up to a month (several years ago). Injuries are difficult for all of us, and as someone who holds my identity partly in the fact that I'm an athlete, it's especially hard if I can't live out that part of myself.
We all know what happens when one healthy habit is broken, right? Others are much more easily broken as well. So, while, again, it's not like not working out means it's all Twinkies and Ho Hos over here, it can sometimes mean a gluten-free pizza more often than is necessary.
My lesson and reminder here is that when and if I'm injured again, I'll do my best to return to activity that I can do as quickly as possible while being safe and out of pain. The longer I wait, the harder it becomes to start again.
10. Your offering and service to the world is not weight-dependent.
Any time I hear Oprah talk about her weight, I want to give her a big hug and say, “girl, we don't care about your weight.” And, at the same time, I feel like the fact that it's a struggle she's had for all of her life makes her that much more human, relatable, and clearly just plain real. We all know she's been through some really hard times, and that she lives a wonderful life today. But, none of that removes any of us from this type of struggle. Still, we need to show up.
Can you imagine if she hadn't shown up to work during those years on the Oprah show when her weight was at a high? Now, you may not be an Oprah fan, but this woman seriously touched a lot of lives. Mine included. I think a lot of who I am and the confidence I have came from watching her show, day after day, my entire life.
I watched and learned about more things that I'll ever identify, not the least of which was that if there was something I wanted to do or become, that I could do it.
My point here is this: I recognize that I have things to do and say in this world that require that I am in front of people on a regular basis. If I don't show up for them, I cannot serve my life's purpose. And what good would any of this be if I didn't show up?
I've been in front of thousands of people both feeling more and less confident about the way I looked, and I observed their responses to me during both times – no change. And I can't imagine missing out on hearing all of your stories, exchanging hugs, and feeling your energy and vibes at each of those events. I am so, so grateful to do this work, and I can't imagine not showing that in return over something as trivial as some extra weight.
Through it all, I am no different than anyone else.
I'm a work in progress in many ways, and while these are lessons I've learned and am still learning, I guess I wanted to share this because I needed you all to know that I hear you, I see you, and I've been there. I am there. Here. With you.
And I'm committing to showing up. I hope you will, too.
The above photo is from Oprah's “Life You Want Weekend” a few years ago to which I purchased a VIP ticket for the opportunity to meet (and get a hug from – the best hug ever, by the way) and thank in this moment.