Fear of gaining weight

I know that my weight and body size do not determine my self-worth. My inherent value does not fluctuate with a number on the scale. The size of my pants cannot define my character.  But I’m still human, and I still fear weight gain from time to time. However, I now come to expect it and am even open to it because it’s a chance for self-reflection and growth.

“What is underneath the fear of weight gain? In other words, when I’m fearing weight gain, what am I really fearing?”

I want to share with you these two coaching sessions that I had with myself (yes, you read that right) where I work through the questions above. It might seem a bit strange, but truly, the questions below were able to flow freely from my coaching voice, or caregiver voice, which allowed me to answer honestly and openly.

Conversation Number One

Lisa: What’s underneath my fear of weight gain? I fear that others will be talking about me behind my back.

Coaching Voice: What might they be saying?

L: Look at her. Her thighs are so big and she has a double chin. She doesn’t look like us.

CV: For argument's sake, let's say that other people are having these thoughts. Why are their thoughts about you bothersome?

L: If I don’t fit in because my body is too big, or I don’t look beautiful enough, then they might not want to talk to me or be friends with me.

CV: And if they don’t want to be friends with you, what happens?

L: I feel lonely and I feel sad. I’m reminded of an experience in middle school. I was a new student in a new school, and I feared eating lunch alone because doing so felt scary and isolating. I also believed that if others noticed that I was alone one day, then I would be “the girl who doesn’t have any friends” and I knew that it would be hard to get friends after receiving this label. I noticed that all of the traditionally pretty girls always had someone to sit with. So this told me that as long as I could be pretty enough (which included being thin enough), I would never have to eat lunch by myself and experience loneliness.

CV: So perhaps you fear weight gain because you believe it could bring about loneliness, lack of human connection, and sadness.

L: Yes.

CV: Those are pretty powerful and valid fears. But they are also fears that we can start to untangle or pull apart from thoughts of weight gain. How can you talk back to your belief that weight gain leads to being alone? Do you have any proof that this is NOT true?

L: Well, I have friends of all sizes and I love all of them unconditionally. I would never consider excluding anyone. 

CV: Why do you love them?

L: Because of how they make me feel, which is special, included, and loved. They bring joy to a room. Their laugh is contagious. We have great conversation. They are constantly serving others who are in need, and I admire that.  

CV: So when fear of weight gain creeps in, what can you tell yourself?

L: I make my friends feel loved and cared for. My friends value me because I am inclusive, I make them laugh, we have great conversation, and I inspire them through my actions. As a friend, I have so much to offer. I don’t have to worry about loneliness if I continue to be me, no matter what I weight.

Conversation Number Two

Lisa: I fear that I won’t get to shop in the stores that I love because the clothing will be too small and uncomfortable.

Coaching Voice: When you try on small and uncomfortable clothing, how does that make you feel?

L: I feel like a failure.

CV: Feeling like a failure is emotionally uncomfortable and even scary because it means that you've been working towards something, but your current behaviors haven’t been able to get you there. So I can see how you would feel like you’re simply not good enough or failing. It makes sense.

How about right now? What is your experience like when you go clothes shopping?

L: It varies. Sometimes the clothes are too small no matter what size I try on. Other times they are too big. And then sometimes they fit great and I love the way that I feel in them. I’m not as bothered as I used to be when the clothes are too small because I don’t feel like it’s my fault that I cannot fit into them.

CV: I love this. So two things that I’m hearing. 1) You’re starting to see that it’s the clothing’s responsibility to fit your body. And if something doesn’t fit, it’s the clothing’s problem, not yours. 2) When you try on clothes that fit, you said that you love how you feel in them. What I see here is a deeper desire to feel good. Period. What do you think?

L: Yes! What I really want is to to feel good. You nailed it. And to me, feeling good means that I feel proud; I’m feeling at ease and relaxed. I will also feel connected to other people. I won’t feel like I’m in a constant state of struggle or anxiety. Life will seem to flow.

CV: That’s beautiful. I love that. I want to come back to this. But first I want to go to point number one. Why do you think that you’re not as bothered now when clothes don’t fit you? How is it that you’re able to brush it off and move on with your day?

L: I think it’s because my daily habits and behaviors are no longer destructive. I’m eating in a way that supports my values, which include freedom and kindness. So I’m more able to accept my body and be happy with its shape and size because I know it’s a result of treating myself well and respecting my values. When my eating habits were more disordered I felt like a failure because of course I didn’t want to be behaving that way. So when I tried on clothes that didn’t fit, it was just another reminder that I was failing.

CV: This makes sense. Because you feel proud of your eating habits and behaviors now, you’re more comfortable in your own skin. You see that you’re doing the best that you can, and your body is a reflection of that, which means that it’s hard to get mad at your body for not fitting into a mass produced piece of clothing. Does that sound right to you? If so, as long as you continue to eat in a way that promotes self-compassion and self-care, is it possible that potential fluctuations in body size won’t seem like that big of a deal? In other words, a change in weight might not seem that scary after all? I’d encourage you to think over this possibility if you’re open to it.

And I don’t want to forget about what you said in point number two. It’s SO significant. You’re spot on. As humans, we just want to feel good. Let me say that again. We’re constantly searching for ways to feel good in life. You mentioned a few of your own methods: feeling proud, feeling relaxed and free from anxiety, and being connected to other people. And when you’re able to achieve these states of being, you feel like you’re in flow. Which means you are feeling good! Sure, having a positive experience in the fitting room allows you to feel good, but there are so many other ways to achieve feeling good in life. And I think you can use your values that I just repeated here as a guide. What do you think? What makes you feel proud (or relaxed, etc.), and how will this lead to feeling good?

L: Like I said before, I feel proud when my eating habits are kind; when they allow me to feel free. So, as long as I continue to practice intuitive eating, I'll be creating a multitude of opportunities in life to feel good. Which, as we discovered, is actually my deepest desire. 

When I start to fear weight gain and future body changes because of potential fitting room challenges, I'll be able to remind myself that the shopping experience is only one small slice of the "feel good" pie.   

So there you have it; two honest and real conversations that I had with my inner caretaker voice.

Why did I share these chats with you?

1) I want you to know that my thoughts, desires, and wishes are not perfect, and I don’t think that they need to be. YOURS DON’T EITHER. We are all human beings living this life together. We have the same struggles; we are not alone. And I am certain that we can all receive comfort in knowing this.

2) We can use our moments of discomfort and fear as an opportunity to dig deeper. What are the underlying fears that you carry; the big ones that get masked by the more obvious ones?

3) If you have a hard time unearthing the big fears like I did in my examples above, I invite you to consider reaching out to me or another health professional. Once you are aware of your BIG FEARS, you can respond in a way that will make a BIG DIFFERENCE. Staying focused on weight loss or appearance alone keeps your responses small. You won’t grow and you won’t feel better long term. That is not what I want for you. I want you to feel in flow. I want you to feel good.

Click here if you are ready to feel good. I’d love to hear from you.