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Should I Feel Bad for Losing Weight?

A couple of things recently have made me wonder – should I feel bad about losing weight?

It’s not something I’ve really thought about before, because it seemed like an odd concept. Why would I feel bad about it? But then I listened to This American Life, and in the episode “Tell Me I’m Fat,” one of the women talked about some of the horrible things she experienced as a result of weight loss, how she felt like she’d lost herself and even burned all the pictures of herself when heavy.

And then I read this article questioning whether people should feel ashamed about wanting to lose weight, because that doesn’t promote body acceptance or the Health at Every Size idea, and because taking the focus off weight is often so important to healing one’s relationship with food.

All of this got me thinking and re-evaluating my experience, wondering if I’d missed something somewhere, if I wasn’t being honest with myself, etc. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

In truth, I did go through a period of time where I wanted to pretend I had never been heavier, that those 10+ years didn’t happen. The problem was, my body gave lie to that, and wanting to ignore my past made me feel like an imposter, that I was a fake because even if someone on the street looked at me and would never guess my past, I could never be intimate with someone – or even wear a bathing suit – without the truth being revealed.

Even when I was in that phase, though, I had no desire to burn all my “before” pictures – which is just as well, because with a photographer for a father, it would have been a nearly impossible feat. Nor did I feel like I wasn’t myself, although I have at times been more inclined to follow societal norms so I could be accepted, even if not exactly popular.

But a lot of that started changing when I began this blog and started work on my memoir, seven years ago now. I didn’t know if anyone was reading, but in a way it didn’t matter. The simple act of putting it out for the world to see, to publicly acknowledge and claim my younger self, started the process of reconciling these two parts of my life, the before and after. That’s become even more true with the publican of my memoir, something I’m so proud of. And if I’m proud of it, how can I not also be proud of my younger self, who got straight A’s, who was a very good flautist, who wrote a novel and started collecting rejection slips at age 13, who was concerned about the environment?

These days I am proud of her – of me at all stages – but back then I wasn’t. So the question is, if I had been able to accept myself as I was at the time, and not been so tormented about my weight, what would have happened?

Again, in all honesty, I don’t know. Last week I talked about letting go of “what ifs,” but here’s one I didn’t mention. If I had accepted myself, would I have been compelled to write, or would I have never found this outlet because I didn’t feel so alone? Would I have been driven to climb Katahdin? Would I have focused so much on living up to my brother’s example?

I won’t speculate. All I can say is this. At 240 pounds (not even my heaviest), it nearly killed me to get to Chimney Pond, only a small way up Mt. Katahdin. Did I have to lose as much as I did to be able to climb? Probably not – but I do firmly believe I needed to lose some. Would I have gotten there if I had focused only on hiking and not losing weight? Perhaps, but I also likely would have lost weight in the process.

So, going back to my original question, no, I don’t feel badly about losing weight, and I don’t think other people should be ashamed of that desire. I do think, though, that you need to have some reason to work towards, some goal or specific desire of your own, not just because you want the numbers on the scale to change. And I would hope that if this is your goal, you can find ways of embracing all phases of your life, and accept them as part of your whole self.

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