Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Thoughts on understanding weight loss

An honest account of the process
(Tanvir Alam/Creative Commons/Flickr)

I’ve spent the better part of my life overweight or obese. It’s been a formative insecurity, and it’s been an accepted reality. During my time here at the University of Massachusetts, it’s been an obstacle to overcome. I’ve learned some things along the way that I think are worthy of consideration for anyone seeking to lose weight or seeking to understand those struggling to do so.

First of all, it can be counterproductive to indulge in inspirational weight loss stories: using other people’s successes as a means of motivating yourself to set positive goals only gets you a short-term dose of inspiration without actually requiring you to see those goals through. You feel good for having set them, and that good feeling satisfies you enough that you don’t ultimately pursue the better feeling of meeting them. It doesn’t get you to the gym, and it doesn’t stop you from overeating.

Second, motivational stories often omit the negative details. Losing weight isn’t an exclusively positive process with exclusively positive outcomes. There are negative aspects and consequences that get omitted from the familiar stories – the ones full of sunshine and rainbows that include airbrushed before-and-after pictures filled with quotes from professional athletes and celebrity fitness gurus. The fact of the matter is that losing weight is an individual process. So, this article is intended to be honest, not inspirational.

We’ll start with this: losing weight isn’t necessarily a simple, linear progression of a pound or two lost every week. In my experience, weight loss doesn’t really work like that. The progress can be frustratingly slow and those momentary lapses in self-control may become months of regression: Lose 20, gain 10, lose 10, gain 10, lose 15. You get caught up in a fluctuating cycle of successes and failures, but sustained weight loss requires consistent and concurrent successes. That’s the dirty secret: it isn’t a game of diet and exercise. It’s a game of diet, exercise and time. Anyone can hold themselves to a caloric deficit for a day, but what about a week? A month? Years? It’s a daunting task.

Consider that food addiction is unique in that you are naturally required to indulge in your vices. Nicotine-addicted smokers never actually need to light up a cigarette; it plays no role in the survival process. But you can’t go cold turkey on eating food. It’s just the matter of stopping oneself from overeating that complicates things. Once you take that first bite, self-control can give way to satiating your gluttonous impulses, to poor portion control or snacking. Just like a smoker will have many “last cigarettes,” the diet can always “start tomorrow.” Even if you reach your goal, you might never stop struggling with indulgence. Weight lost over the course of years could be gained back over the course of months.

Without a doubt, people treat me better now because they think I’ve become relatively better looking. You don’t have to work as hard to get people to like you and making a good first impression is less effortful. I wish it hadn’t taken the weight loss to yield that result, but this is the real world. Exclusion from social circles due to being perceived as diminishing to the group’s collective attractiveness is par for the obese course.

So, it’s important to recognize that we should foster an environment of body positivity. Being fat doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t inform your value and should not preclude you from any opportunities, save for those explicitly requiring fitness. Some people don’t regard their weight as an obstacle to overcome and feel comfortable in their own skin, just as everyone ought to feel. Fat-shaming disguised as weight-loss encouragement is just bullying.

Further, I don’t think I can offer any insight into body dysmorphia, but it’s also important to recognize that some people may lose weight but struggle to see themselves as anything other than obese, potentially leading to dangerous eating behavior. Finally, if you bizarrely misinterpreted anything I’ve written here as me demanding you feign attraction to people you don’t find attractive, then you might need to look inward for ugliness before you start ascribing it to others. Just be nice to people, please.

I do feel better now: healthier, more energetic and more comfortable in my own skin. I’m not winded after climbing up a flight of stairs anymore. However, this is the most important thing: I don’t know what the question is, but weight loss wasn’t the answer. It wasn’t a silver bullet on the path to happiness or confidence, but it was a step in the right direction. You can’t build up your obesity as the source of all your problems and shortcomings, nor can you build up losing weight as the panacea for all your struggles. If you do, then the day will come when you reach your goal and feel disappointed instead of triumphant.

Like I wrote at the beginning, this article is intended to be an honest account of the weight loss process, not an inspiring call to action. However, if anyone reading this article plans on engaging in that process, I hope you come to find I’ve exaggerated the negative and understated the positive.

Dan Riley is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected].

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