The Other Side of Weight Loss

Wait.  There’s another side?  I thought it was only our side.  Eating less, moving more, setting goals, intuitive eating, counting calories, eating clean, using the scale, not using the scale.  What could the other side be?  And what could it possibly have to do with us?

I spent some time catching up on magazine reading yesterday.  In the last magazine* I looked at, a  picture caught my eye.  Man, I thought.  That lady is too thin. Then  my eyes turned to the other side of the page and I read the giant words:


Never fear.  I will NEVER suffer from anorexia.  But the similarities in this woman’s struggle were all too similar to the struggles that many of us face.  And I felt like we could learn from her.

This woman is 44 years old. She is an emergency room physician.  She has three kids and a husband.  Her anorexia started in high school.  She pretty much got it under control in her 20’s.  She had therapy, and she even figured out what exactly triggered her eating disorder.

But all that work, therapy, even identifying triggers (“I know now that what triggers my eating disorder, perhaps more than anything else, is the feeling of inadequacy,”) did not stop ‘the flip from switching.’  Fifteen years later she had a disastrous bout of anorexia that almost cost her her life, and ended up taking 19 months of inpatient treatment.

Now, she hasn’t had a relapse in five years.  But listen to this paragraph.  I think there are some lessons in there for us ‘on the other side of weight loss.’

“My anorexia is not going away; I just have to live with it.  Some days, if I have a difficult shift at work, I go home and make sure I don’t have a good dinner.  And I do not look in the mirror except once, quickly, in the morning to make sure my shirt is buttoned correctly.  But I try not to restrict foods or count calories.  I weigh myself every day, but only as a reality check.  I need proof that just because I “feel” fat,this doesn’t mean I have actually gotten larger.”

I just really related to this woman’s struggles on so many levels.  Including my need to weigh myself this week because I was afraid something terrible had happened and I had gained a zillion pounds.   (Now I think it was the air from the ‘procedure.’  Weight at the gym this morning:  167.5.)  Including my fear that it could all disappear.  Including my need to have a treat because I made it through another shift at work.  Including having a clear understanding of what contributed to my overeating, and what still triggers it.

And yet, this woman’s struggle gives me hope. As Lynn has written about, it is okay to be vigilant in our maintenance. For us on the other side, it might be okay for us to restrict food or to count calories.  It might even be okay to get on the scale once in a while.

*This article was in the October 2010 issue of Real Simple Magazine.


15 thoughts on “The Other Side of Weight Loss

  1. I am surprised at how many similarities there are between me and the woman with anorexia; for example, weighing daily, not looking in mirrors, and the eating or not eating. What she does in her daily routine could be my routine, except that I have to make sure I don’t eat too much.

    So many people don’t think in terms of an eating disorder when they or someone they care about is overweight. They think it’s just a lack of willpower, and if the overweight person just “got with the program,” they could be thin. Anorexia and compulsive overeating are both chronic disorders that most likely will need to be managed for a lifetime. They both take a toll–physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

  2. Oh yes! I so identify with the thinking behind an eating disorder.

    It’s amazing how closely linked anorexia and overeating are.

    Once I could too easily have swung the other way.

    Not likely anymore but doesn’t mean there isn’t a struggle.

    And I accept that it will never completely go away. It is highly unlikely that I will wake up one day and say, “that’s it, job over.’

    That’s why this is a Forever Journey. Slip ups are a pian but I must always pick myself up and get back on track ASAP.

    Sometimes that’s a depressing thought but I am more and more accepting that it’s for as long as I live.

    Thank’s Debby for commenting on this article.

  3. Ugh! Just reading this makes me think about how we just have such a hard time accepting our bodies as they are and hold ourselves to such ideals that are impossible to attain. Funny that we classify ourselves as on one side or another of some magic number.

    How did that come about?

  4. It is interesting isn’t it how closely related ALL eating disorders are (spectrum of anorexia to obesity), how there is what I term a causal correlative between them, how entrenched they truly are in lives and how sometimes they don’t go away, entirely. It seems easier to change patterns of eating than it is to change patterns of thought.

  5. It took me a long time to realize that ALL the so-called disorders, substance abuses, etc have similiar roots to them: it’s how we cope, a way to make ourself feel better or lessen pain, or handle stress, or just “deal” with stuff… whatever terminology you prefer.

    Jane mentioned people who say “just eat less” to us. Well, I used to think “just eat more” to the one who was too thin. I thought surely that can’t be so hard. Uh huh… now I know better. It has nothing to do with the food… and everything to do with our thinking.

    Now, I hope I have more compassion for anyone struggling with ANY kind of distorted thought processes… cuz I AM one of them.

    Thanks for sharing that story.

  6. In my early years of starting the therapy process for my eating disorder I was in group therapy with both bulimics and anorexics. I remember saying once that I felt I was their ‘worst nightmare’. I was a compulsive overeater / binger but not a purger. I restricted myself from a lot of happiness and self esteem and self confidence. I learned from them and they from me that we are the same — just twisted a bit in how we used with food. I feel I am much healthier in my attitude with food and health now. But I find myself covering up my body without realize it like I saw anorexics sometimes do. Just today, I was at at the gym and realize how really huge my clothes were and that just because they fit on my body doesn’t mean I shouldl wear them. It’s a form of hiding the real me, just like the eating disorder is .

  7. sorry, did a bad job on editing that one. And also meant to say, gonna buy some new gym clothes again and wash those clothes I wore today and throw them in the “Donate” box for Goodwill.

  8. That’s a really interesting. I’m not sure I’ll ever be at a point where I don’t have to be vigilant. And if there’s a lot of stress in my life I know I’ll have to be even more careful. My WW leader reached her goal 35 years ago and is quite slim, yet she says she still counts her points and has to plan for eating out and cross questions waiters about added fats and sugars when she’s at a restaurant. She says it’s just a way of life for her. After 35 years.

  9. I’ve asked the same question as Lori on many occasions. When did the whole magic number start? I know a few women with very healthy body images, but not many. Seems all of us have issues, from one of the scale to the other. Thanks for the mention, too. I appreciate it.

  10. Vickie said exactly what I was going to say – two sides of the same coin.

    ED is ED no matter the outcome. Fat or thin, it all starts in the head. What really sucks is that our pain can be visibly seen by everyone – too much fat or too little fat. Ugh.

  11. I’ve been on both sides – anorexic and obese. And the scale has done a number on me no matter what. It IS mental. I know it. But that still doesn’t mean it won’t get to me from time to time.

  12. Wow, that’s a powerful observation, Debby! I think that’s why I’m drawn to some blogs that cover the opposite end of the eating disorder spectrum, such as Charlotte Hilton Andersen’s “The Great Fitness Experiment.” I feel like I can learn a lot from them, and not just for myself; I feel like my kids are at higher risk for eating disorders (either end of the spectrum – my mom had anorexia), and I want to know all I can to help in case that happens to them.

    And as for plans and tools like the scale and the like, they’re like any tool: they can be used effectively or not, depending on the user. For me, I think the trick is maintaining vigilance in a way that is not crazy-makingly complex, and as Lynn observed, that will vary for everyone. I don’t think there’s any one particular way, but I like reading about other people’s ways, because that can help me fine-tune my own path, if that makes any sense. (That, and imagining Mad-eye Moody from the Harry Potter stories roaring “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” is always good for a chuckle, when vigilance starts to feel like the old Sisyphus story, as Lori observed over in Lynn’s comments.)

  13. I’m reading a book called “thin within” and its directed at people who have eating disorders as well as people who need to lose a few pounds. I’m almost through the book, and in only 1 place has she made a distinction between those on the weight loss journey and those who are recovering from an eating disorder. that was regarding goal weight.

    ps – race report is up 🙂

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