While some people believe that their weight doesn’t impede them in the slight- est, some go to the other extreme and blame their weight exclusively for every problem in their lives.
No partner? Of course, it’s because I’m fat so no one wants me. Unhappy at work? Of course, it’s because no one sees past the weight and appreciates me for the work I do. If I were thin, my boss would see me differently.
No fulfilling hobbies? Of course not, I could never join a yoga class with this fat butt — everyone would laugh at me. I made this mistake in my twenties, when I starved myself down to a normal weight within a few months, and then realised that I was still the same person, only thinner. Neither my life nor my personality suddenly became better. I guess that was one of the reasons I thought being fat was a rational decision and being thin just wasn’t worth it. I didn’t realise that a healthy body is just a means to make the most out of your life, but it doesn’t bring automatic fulfil- ment. Being thin isn’t the meaning of life. It doesn’t make you happy.
It’s a little like money in that way. If you’re poor and don’t have money, your lifestyle is limited, and there are a lot of things you can’t do. But just having money in the bank doesn’t make you happy if you don’t enjoy it by using it to do something that benefits you in some way.
On the one hand, losing weight per se hasn’t changed much for me, but on the other, the consequences of that weight loss have led to many changes.
The fact that I now take pleasure in sport and exercise has opened up an entire spec- trum of new interests to me that would have been out of the question before.
A few months ago, my husband and I went on a cycling holiday by Lake Con- stance. I’ve discovered climbing as a new hobby — and pilates, too. My physio- therapist has become my gym buddy, and we now meet once a week for coffee and weight training. The amazing thing about all this is that these activities are now fun for me.
Through this, I’ve come to realise that I have gained so much, and that being thin doesn’t mean a life of constant deprivation, as I used to be- lieve because of my previous experiences. So, what was the difference between my disappointing date with thinness in my twenties and my new relationship with being thin now? It probably comes down to expectations.
Before I lost weight in my twenties, my expectations were, firstly, that my life would change completely when I was thin, and secondly, that I would be able to revert to my previous eating behaviour because as a thin person, I would be able to ‘eat whatever I wanted’. Because I starved myself down to a normal weight without a real plan in mind, I also had no concept of how my long-term eating and exercising behav- iour should look subsequently. So for a while, I swung between overeating and fasting, with my weight fluctuating between 68 and 73 kg. But I never settled into a stable pattern of eating behaviour. In addition, things like stress at univer- sity and dissatisfaction with my social life didn’t start to improve automatically. In fact, concentrating so hard on my weight made it difficult for me to change anything in other areas of my life. It then felt liberating to change my priorities and concentrate on my studies and my doctorate, start a relationship, and build a life, and I dismissed the issue of weight, even though that meant that it once again got out of hand.
My previous experience had reinforced the idea in my mind that maintaining nor- mal weight would be a constant battle for me and would leave no space for any- thing else in my life. Instead, my experience now is that being physically fit and healthy gives me space, opens up more opportunities, and makes my day-to-day life easier, be- cause I have more energy and am less limited in what I can do.
One crucial fac- tor is that my knowledge of bodily processes, nutrition, and fitness means that I’m able to plan my nutrition more sensibly. It no longer includes panicky counter-regulation measures but is more uniform, and it doesn’t occupy as much space in my life. I still count calories and weigh out my food, but I’m also able to leave that routine at home when we go out to eat, or when we’re invited to friends’ dinner parties.
Food is no longer associated in my mind with worry or fear, and, for my part, I find it helpful to have clear guiding principles.
Another difference is probably exercise. Throughout my life, I’ve made several attempts to engage with sport, including the period in my twenties when I was of normal weight, but I never managed to throw off the idea that sport was ‘just not for me’. I never got to the point where sportiness became part of my
self-image. I always saw it as something alien, which I could do if I forced my- self with a great deal of discipline, but which could never be enjoyable.
For a while, I thought jogging and cycling were ‘okay’, but I never had the experience people talked about of really wanting to exercise. Weight training was a great help for me in this. Training with weights pro- duces rapid results in the form of muscles, while endurance training hardly makes any visible difference (although it improves your fitness, it’s not as vis- ibly obvious). It’s much easier to think of yourself as athletic when you can see your muscles.
I guess this difference is purely psychological, but for me, train- ing with weights was a great help. Another contributing factor is that when all the muscles in your body are strong, new sports are much easier right from the start, and that, in turn, allows you to develop an ‘athletic self-image’ more quickly.