Why Your Comments About My Recent Weight Loss Are Hard to Hear

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Last weekend I attended a family party for the first time in 10 months. With the help of makeup to give me some color, a lovely dress to help me feel good, and a glass of wine to take the edge off my mood, I ventured into the crowd of family and old friends for my mother. Only for my mother. My mother, who has supported me so much through a major depressive episode, who was celebrating her 70th birthday and who really wanted me and my family to be there.

It was tough. Tough to make small talk. Tough to smile. Tough to hug and be hugged. Tough to bullshit about how marvelous life is for five long hours.

The hardest part, however, was hearing the endless comments about my figure.

“I know you’re having a hard time at the moment, sis, but your figure is amazing.”

“What’s your secret? I wish I could be that thin at 40!”

“Wow, you look fantastic! I am so jealous of that waistline!”

Positive comments, I know. Yet my sudden weight loss in just one month, which removed every trace of my post holiday chubbiness, told another story. That was why those comments were so hard to hear.

After eight months off work, I finally returned full-time in September to my job as a primary school teacher. My heart glowed. It was so good to have a purpose again; so good to have an important part of my identity back; so good to be leaving the house in the morning along with my children and husband.

That was, until the pressure started to build. Pressure. Tension. Desperation to prove myself. The demands of 24 students in their new class. Long hours. Family life. Plus, just in case it wasn’t enough, my husband went away for work and my antidepressant changed. The perfect storm. Easy to spot, looking back.

Well that perfect storm caused my stomach to twist, to burn, to cramp. Eating became a duty. My appetite was lost.

The change in medication led to extreme nausea. Eating was no longer a duty. It felt impossible.

The stress made adrenalin surge relentlessly through my body. Intense exercise was the only way to calm the chemicals that rushed through my veins.

Excessive exercise and lack of food meant lack of energy. That, in turn, meant light-headedness that I strangely welcomed. Feeling faint, I could lie down and rest without my head bursting with a stream of destructive thoughts.

And then, as I lay on the sofa and put my hand on my flat belly, I felt a great sense of satisfaction. I had failed at work. I was on long-term sick leave once again. Due to concerns about my safety, my life was once again dominated by concerned looks, probing questions and others making decisions for me. Whether that be a company doctor about when I could return to work or a psychiatrist about what I should be taking every day — that lack of control frightened me. Touching my flat belly, on the other hand, was reassuring. Reassuring because my weight was the one thing I could have complete control over. The buzz that gave me was huge. The incentive to push myself to eat properly was even more limited.

So whether it was — nerves or nausea, exercise or a need to control — there were so many hidden reasons. That’s why the weight fell off my body with seemingly little effort. That’s why I had a waistline “to be admired.”

So next time you see someone who has lost a lot of weight in a short period of time, please think before commenting. There’s bound to be a story behind it. If it’s a good one, the person you are admiring will be quick to share. If it’s not so good, perhaps it’s wise to look beyond the thin waistline, the excessive blush, the lovely dress and the wine induced positivity and simply ask: “How are you?”

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via g_muradin

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