How much will your life improve if you lose weight? It depends....
Will your life really soar once you lose weight? You know….you’ll meet the special someone, or you’ll travel more, or you’ll find a better job….once you lose those pounds. It’s fairly common for women to link these kinds of hopes with dieting. Elements of magical thinking reside here, to be sure. However, improve your eating, and your life can indeed improve. It’s just that it may not work in the way you’d think.
Let’s start with how it doesn’t work to link life goals to the scale. First, if you’re postponing dating--or travelling or job-searching, for that matter—until you lose, you may hold an unrealistic view of how much your weight will change things. The truth is that women of all sizes find mates, and jobs, and enjoy their lives. To a certain extent, confidence and happiness grow independently of size and shape.
People on the extreme end of the obesity spectrum, of course, do face unique prejudices and hardships. And these can affect dating as well as other opportunities. But many who put goals “on hold” aren’t in this category. And they may well overestimate what a better figure can change.
Furthermore, losing weight, as many a dieter knows, isn’t all that easy. The pounds don’t always peel off. And dieting itself can lead to quicker , greater regains. It’s important, therefore, to consider whether you’re setting yourself up for future frustration when you consider a diet. Feeling frustrated and demoralized don’t help the overall cause
There’s a difference, though, between a diet that’s likely to rebound, on the one hand, and real change that lasts, on the other. Real change, from sensible eating and exercise habits, developed to last, supports much more than a good figure. It can strengthen us in ways not always at first imagined.
This kind of change can take some time, though. It’s more of a project than a magical solution. However, it’s the kind of project that doesn’t rule out other goals being tackled along the way. In other words, you can seek a mate or otherwise move toward your dreams, as you work to make the changes in self-care. You don’t have to wait or put your life “on hold” until you get it right. In fact, the confidence built as you progress can only help.
Consider Scenario One: Here’s Caren, who dieted for six weeks in order to fit a bridesmaid’s dress. She’d been thinking of a diet for months but didn’t act until she pictured that wedding. She hadn’t been dating—she’d felt self-conscious and unappealing (something her friends disputed—she was a wonderful person and looked fine, in their opinions). She felt great in the dress. She did then in fact meet someone, that very day at the reception. They began to see each other. When things got a bit rocky a few weeks in, though, she began overeating at night, again. Feeling awful about herself, she began to withdraw. This led to increasingly bad feelings, and then more overeating. She didn’t confront the problems she detected in this relationship. It eventually fizzled.
In Scenario Two, alternatively, Caren decides something needs to change. She knows she’s heavier than is good for her. She realizes that she’s blown diets repeatedly in the past, though, mostly due to that nighttime eating. Determined to keep the weight off this time, she consults with a therapist and explores how the eating connects to her emotions. She sets out to make some food changes that she can imagine sticking with. She consults with a nutritionist to fine-tune her plan. Over the next year or so, she learns how to deal with cravings, with urges to eat when stressed, with a lack of assertiveness that plays into it all. She teams with a friend who also struggles.
Caren has dated on and off in this time. She eventually meets someone she’s excited about. Her weight is not quite where she’d like it. It’s down, though. She registers in the “normal” range on her doctor’s chart. Her boyfriend likes how she looks. Their sex life has been good, even when her weight was higher than it is now. She knows she may continue to struggle here and there with food, but she feels confident now about her ability to handle the ups and downs—she’s internalized some new tools and has support. She’s more likely to confront problems than to withdraw.
These are condensed versions of scenes that happen, in one variation or another, all the time. And pretty much without exception, people who learn to manage their eating report strength and confidence that reach all parts of life. So, objectively speaking, it seems unrealistic, even silly, to think “if I get into that swimsuit…life will be better” . But if you shift your focus to how you relate to food overall, and how you care for yourself overall, it really can prove true.
I’m happy to start contributing to YourTango! I’ll be addressing eating and weight issues—and how they affect your life and relationships—every other week. You can connect with more of my work at my website, www.eatsanely.com , where my workbook and other “sane eating” tools appear, and at “Thin From Within”, a blog at http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thin-within