Losing weight has afforded me a second chance at a life filled with a healthy body. During the pre-op phase, I dreamt of what life would be like in a year. I’m 13 months post-op and this is how to change a negative self-image after weight loss.
Weight Loss Assumptions
You lose a lot of weight and you assume your self-esteem is going to skyrocket, right? Well not exactly. I also thought that everyone would congratulate me and tell me how wonderful I looked. People I saw all the time barely noticed. Friends and Family, whom I only see a few times a year, certainly noticed and made a big deal about it. Yes, the compliments from family were nice but the comments seemed to be over the top. Then came the rapid-fire questions on how I lost the weight, what did I do, can I help them and treating me like my self-worth was currency and insisting I won the happiness lottery. I mean ok, fair enough. But damn, why do people keeping telling me how beautiful I am now? I was beautiful fat and fat doesn’t mean ugly. For me, my weight was associated with being unhealthy. It’s just a weird juxtaposition I didn’t expect.
What Is Self-Image?
I think we all know what this means. But Merriam Webster defines Self Image as a conception of oneself or one’s role. In other words, it’s how you perceive yourself.
Self-Image determines how we feel about ourselves and how we present ourselves to others. Positive self-image is what we all strive for, but a lot of us view ourselves negatively even after making self-improvements like weight loss.
Positive self-image improves your mood and emotional wellbeing. And the reverse is also true a negative self-image can adversely impact the way you see yourself and hurt your emotional wellbeing.
Mirror Distortion and Self-Image
Maybe you’re like me. After losing the first 50lbs I still wore the same clothes, because I assumed smaller clothes wouldn’t fit. The scale showed 50lbs lighter, but my eyes told me nothing changed. I looked in the mirror and didn’t see a change. I mean, I was still overweight, just less fat than before. Even as leggings starting to sag, I didn’t believe much had changed. It wasn’t until my husband said, your clothes are way too big for you that I tried on a smaller size. The jeans fit and buttoned. Not only did it fit over my body, there were no marks from the band digging into my muffin top. I stood at the mirror baffled for a full five minutes.
Body distortion can go both ways. I lost a lot of weight but my body still looks overweight and unhealthy to me. My doctors run blood work and stress tests and I’m in great health. I’ve turned my body and health all the way around. I got what I wanted, but I still feel unhealthy. My inner saboteur constantly telling me I’m still a mess, but I’m not. I saw myself as unhappy and fat instead of recognizing all the positive things I’ve gained. I look in the mirror and see a chubby lady with loose skin, a muffin top and cellulite.
She’s like the little angel that sits on your shoulder, except instead of telling you to do bad things, she tells you you’ll never be good enough. This is also known as anxiety. I work with a therapist who continues to help dim my inner saboteur. How to focus on the positive and keep working on myself until I see the changes I wanted.
Identifying your Negative Self Image
Let’s get real, and dig deep. First, identify the things your inner saboteur thinks about yourself or your body. Be honest with yourself, are you unfairly comparing yourself to other people? Can you admit to yourself that you might be over exaggerating your flaws?
Here are some things people who have a negative self-image, do you do any of these:
- Comparing your body and body parts to others
- Hiding parts of your body you don’t like with clothes, makeup or baggy clothes
- Avoiding the mirror
- Changing several times before going out, because you feel all your clothes look like trash
- Feeling like a failure when clothes don’t look good on you
- Thinking you are undesirable, unattractive or generally unhappy with your body
It’s important to address negative self-image, this can lead to depression and regaining lost weight if you aren’t careful.
How to Improve your Self Image
Now that your know about positive and negative self image, let’s walk through some ways to address your negative self-image and improve it.
Surround Yourself with Supportive People
This one is not as easy as it sounds, especially if you live with energy-sucking vampires. Try your best to identify people that stress you out and avoid them. More specifically, identify people who are food pushers. You know the type, telling you to eat more, or that you are wasting away and try and force unhealthy foods on you. People that don’t support your journey and always tease you about your diet.
Another type of non-supportive people are the opposite, constantly asking if you should eat something and commenting on everything that you put in your body. Often it’s a parent or spouse who oversteps.
If you can’t avoid these people in your life, it’s time to have a conversation with them on things that make you uncomfortable. Chances are it won’t go over well at first, but keep your narrative and reinforce boundaries to hammer your point in, until it’s understood. Repetition will be key.
Find a supportive group of people. This can go beyond your friends and family. Find a bariatric support group or start seeing a therapist to talk through your food issues.
List things you Love About Yourself
That’s right, its time to be positive. Look at your body, really look at yourself, now write things down that you like about yourself. Maybe you have beautiful eyes or a perfect smile. Maybe you have great calf muscles or perky breasts. Take note and write down what you like.
Now compliment yourself in front of your friends at family. For example, say I love this dress it really shows off my toned legs. You don’t have to wait for other people to compliment you, you need to be your own champion.
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If you are always negative around your friends, it stresses them out. Showing friends and family you are confident will change the way others perceive you. Try and go a day without any self-deprecating behavior and you’ll notice a change in how you perceive yourself.
List the Goals you Accomplished
You’ve lost a lot of weight now jot down all the things you accomplished to get there. Changed eating behaviors, increasing water intake, less napping, hitting step goals, hitting a normal BMI. Write it down, be proud of what you accomplished.
When you hit major milestones reward yourself with a non-food item. Schedule a massage at a spa, buy yourself a new pair of leggings, or plan a vacation. My whole life I celebrated everything with food or drinks. Change your mindset, change your reward system.
Silence Your Inner Saboteur
Basically, you’ll need to tell your inner voice of negativity to shut up. Work with a therapist on how to cope with anxiety. When you are feeling anxious, you’ll need techniques on how to calm your racing mind. Smart phone apps for anxiety are a great way to help calm you on the go, search for one that can help.
When you are feeling negative thoughts about your body, pull out that list you wrote of all the goals you accomplished, and the list of things you love about your body and read them.
Find yourself a go-to outfit that makes you feel fabulous. When you are stressing about what to wear, put that on. Find your own little tips and tricks to change the narrative.
Don’t go overboard, try and get in 30-60 minutes of exercise every single day. I like lifting weights because it gives me a sense of strength and power. I also love to do Beachbody Cardio workouts in before dinner. Even a thirty-minute walk, with a kick-ass playlist, is a great way to elevate your mood and keep you healthy.
Final Thoughts on Self-Image
Growth and Self-Image don’t come overnight. Just because you lost weight doesn’t mean your mind has caught up to your body. Retrain your brain, the way you reshaped your body. Weight Loss is a journey of the mind and body but in the end, it’s absolutely worth the trip.