You Don't Actually Care About My Health If You Congratulate Me On My Unhealthy Weight Loss

Photo: Tero Vesalainen / Shutterstock
You Don't Actually Care About My Health If You Congratulate Me On My Unhealthy Weight Loss
Contributor
Health And Wellness

It's that time of year again to be bombarded by diet plans, predictable weight loss resolutions, and the desire for the "perfect body".

45 million Americans make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight every year. Even as a child I would participate for two weeks before calling it quits, but would feel terribly about my body. But I have a good reason to never make a weight-based resolution again. 

When I began my teaching career, I knew it would be challenging. I spent the first month of the school year as a long-term substitute teacher before getting a surprise call that I had landed a permanent role at another school in the district.

Colleagues warned me about the "baptism by fire" that is the first year of teaching. Adding to my own personal fire was the fact that I had never taught high school students beyond the brief hour lesson for my required practicum time. 

Figuring out curriculum for high schoolers in a short amount of time is tough. Building relationships with students a month into the school year was also intimidating. I would often forget to eat lunch so I could make extra copies or use it as more planning time. I always felt behind and “needed” to prove myself.  

The next several months I felt tired and foggy, like a ghost floating throughout the halls. I sometimes felt dizzy, haunted by malaise. It was getting harder to eat lunch from the way my stomach churned from worry. By the time I got home from work, I was so exhausted that I fell asleep around 6pm without dinner. 

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Noticing my pants and shirts seemed baggier, I was curious enough to step on the scales. I was shocked to see I lost 30 pounds in three short months. Typically, the healthy amount of weight to lose is one to two pounds per week

I didn’t know what to feel about my unhealthy weight loss. Proud? Concerned? Both? Neither?

After all, didn't I used to count the calories in each Hershey Kiss and measure out exact cups of rice? While the amount I lost wasn’t unusual or concerning, I still had the problem of not being able to eat that much without feeling ill. 

My then-boyfriend’s family quickly pointed out my weight loss at a family wedding. I was praised by everyone at the table. When they asked about my “secret”, I was honest about not being able to eat much due to stress, pointing out my pitifully small dinner plate. 

“You need to do what she’s doing,” his aunt told him.

"You have gotten chunkier," his mother agreed, poking him in the stomach. 

I was appalled by their statements. Didn’t I just tell them the cause of my weight loss? Didn’t they see what was wrong with the way I "achieved" it? 

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I went to my doctor for my annual checkup and expressed my concerns. It didn’t take her long to notice the difference between the year prior and my recent visit.

“You’ve lost weight!” she said excitedly as she looked at my chart.

“Uh, yeah, about that,” I responded. “I’ve been having a lot of trouble eating due to stress. My first year of teaching has been hard for me—”

“But you get the summers off and you seem like you’re doing fine!” she replied just before telling me to go buy Prilosec and relax.

Neither of those recommendations got to the root of my problem. That moment in the doctor's office only highlighted how invisible I felt. Nothing else mattered except for the number on the scale. 

I tried to mask it by bragging and accepting compliments about my weight loss when people noticed. After all, didn’t I achieve the ultimate goal? If everyone else around me was happy, why couldn’t I be happy about it? 

But when I returned for a follow-up appointment with another doctor about my concerns, they decided to check my blood levels. My hemoglobin levels were disturbingly low, enough to classify me as iron-deficient anemic. When left untreated, anemia can cause heart issues.

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All of my life, I only heard of extra weight causing heart problems. But no one talked about how in certain circumstances, weight loss can as well. So what does that say about what we truly value? 

This isn’t to say if you have achieved a personal goal such as wanted weight loss that you shouldn’t celebrate it.

But what we shouldn’t be celebrating is weight loss in the face of distress or find it as a silver lining, especially with severe disregard for one’s feelings and health.

Gretchen Gales is a writer and educator with bylines in Next Avenue, Bustle, Ms., and others. She is also the executive editor of Quail Bell Magazine and loves curating stories with a spark of magic. See more of Gretchen's work at writinggales.com