I hung up the phone the other day having listened and loved my way through a conversation with my client, Cindy, who felt like a failure because she hadn’t lost to goal.
“I still have 30 pounds to lose before I reach my goal,” she lamented.
“It’s embarrassing,” she continued. “I heard the woman in the next cubicle say to someone on the phone, ‘Yes, she had that stomach surgery. She’s still fat!'”
Cindy sniffed and I could tell she was crying.
“The people at work are beginning to say things to me. At lunch, a friend told me she was surprised I was eating so much. I hate that feeling of being watched and judged. It’s so embarrassing.”
I have to admit, when I was early out from my gastric bypass I set my sights on my goal and tried to follow my program perfectly – as if that was what would make me worthy of love, and respect. As if thinness would make me “successful.”
I know now that my pursuit of thinness did not cure my feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing. I continued to despise my weight, my bat wings, and the folds of skin on my stomach. I analyzed my food choices and criticized myself for any wayward bites.
Little did I know my obsession with food, body size, and attractiveness were an effective distraction from my unhealed emotional wounds.
Once I reached my weight goal, I thought I was “successful.” I thought I had found myself, achieved my potential, and created a life of wellness and vibrancy.
It took a major illness to make me realize how emotionally wounded I was when I arrived into my bariatric life – and that goal weight hadn’t healed me.
Turns out I had never healed my old wounds. While I thought I had conquered my weight woes, my medical trauma brought up feelings and fears that had been buried by food for most of my life.
Of course, his traumatic experience lead to regain. And so, a cycle of regain and re-loss began. But I persisted. I learned a skill that has allowed me to find more peace in my life than I’ve ever had before. It’s a peace that is grounded in self-compassion and self-acceptance, rather than thinness.
I began to practice getting up every time I fall, being kind to myself, and not judging myself.
To me, success is all about practice … and getting up when I fall, just like a baby who is learning to walk. When a baby falls, we don’t say, “Stupid baby! You should be walking by now!” We say, “Oopsie!” and help them get up.
Instead of criticizing myself, I practice telling myself, “Everyone falls down sometimes. Success is falling down, getting up, and trying again.”
In working with Cindy, I can tell it may take a while for her to adopt a kinder and more encouraging view of herself, and to value her own opinion of herself more than the opinions of others. But she’s getting there.
Last week she told me, “I went to a drive through on the way home yesterday, and I didn’t feel guilty. I felt concerned and did a self-check-in. It helped me admit to myself that I wanted the cheeseburger because I didn’t want to think about how lonely I am right now. I didn’t kick myself. I enjoyed my cheeseburger thoroughly. Then I got up off the couch and cooked a healthier (and tastier) meal for next night, instead of visiting the drive-through again.”
Over the past 16 years, I have grown in my commitment to be healthy and love myself no matter what the scale, or other people, have to say. It’s not that I don’t value being at a realistic goal weight. I do. But I can’t let my weight dictate my worthiness or how I feel about myself.
What I can do is get up when I fall as soon as I’m able to. Success is loving myself no matter how messy, real, and gloriously imperfect I am.