I was always a heavy child. My mom made sure I knew, throughout my childhood, that my weight was unacceptable. She’d make snide comments about how much I was eating at meals, but never made any effort to provide healthier options or model more appropriate portion sizes. She was also quite heavy, so you can imagine the confusion of young me trying to understand why being fat was okay for my mom, but not okay for me. For most of my childhood, I simply ignored her comments, kept eating, and kept getting fatter. It’s not that I didn’t care what she thought; I really did. So much of my childhood was spent trying to impress her, trying to get her to show the love and affection that seemed to come so naturally to other parents. It never worked. I got excellent grades; she barely noticed. I was always extremely well-behaved; I was ignored in favor of my trouble-making brothers. I don’t think she ever truly complimented me on anything. There was always something to nitpick about, some reason to criticize. When she wasn’t complaining about my weight, or my hair, or my clothes, she just ignored me. There were times when I thought she would probably like me better if I were thinner, but that wasn’t enough to make me stop eating…until I got depressed enough to starve myself for a couple of years.
When I started high school, I was hit with the worst bout of depression of my life, which is saying a lot. I was so miserable and I hated myself so much, that I simply stopped eating. I couldn’t talk to my mom about my depression since she had made it clear that my feelings didn’t matter. One night, my younger brother overheard me crying. Perhaps in an attempt to help me, he told our mother. My mom reacted much as I expected she would, which was why I tried to hide the crying in the first place. If I ever hear about you crying for no reason again, I’m going to beat you. So that was that. I couldn’t safely express my feelings, so I internalized them. I punished myself for being such a worthless person by not eating. It’s like those old stories where parents sent their kids to bed without dinner as a punishment. Nowadays, we know not feeding a child isn’t a punishment; it’s abuse. Well, I abused myself. And I liked it. The feeling I got when I hadn’t eaten anything all day and my stomach felt like it was digesting itself…I relished that feeling. And it worked. I lost 50 pounds that year. We didn’t have a scale at home, so I didn’t know I had lost weight until I had my annual physical in the school nurse’s office. Did I automatically like myself? Of course not. Did my mom like me more? Nope. Predictably, I gained the weight back once I got thin enough to stop feeling the need to punish myself so much.
A few days ago, a friend I haven’t seen in about six months came to visit. The first thing she said was, “You look amazing! You’ve lost weight; you look so good!” Up to that point, I had lost about 26 pounds. I’m still twice the size I should be, so I haven’t noticed any difference and I didn’t expect anyone else to see anything for a long time. So, how did it feel when she complimented my weight loss? I felt like glitter was exploding inside me! I felt rejuvenated and ready to continue this journey. I felt that, no matter the difficulties to come, I could succeed. She reminded me that I had already succeeded! How did I feel a few minutes later? Anxious about whether the meal we were about to have would disrupt my progress. The positive feedback didn’t boost my mood for long, but it was wonderful while it lasted.
I love compliments, probably because I never got any from the person I most wanted to impress. But the compliments you get when you’ve lost weight and other people can finally see it…those are special. For a few glorious seconds, you can see the positives in yourself the way other people do and appreciate the progress you’ve made. That brief, fleeting break in the self-loathing is a beautiful thing.
Look, I’m 30 years old; I know I shouldn’t care what other people think. I know I’m losing weight for myself, for my health. I’m already married so it’s not like I’m trying to impress anyone romantically. But I still have 132 pounds to lose, so I’m going to take whatever motivation I can get. Every time I get on the scale (which is still multiple times a day), I imagine the next time someone else will notice my changing body and compliment me on the part of myself I’ve never been able to appreciate. I fantasize about those conversations. It means so much to know that someone can see the changes and appreciate the hard work that went into them because, when I hear those praises, for a few sweet moments, I can imagine what it would be like to truly love myself.