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The Weight of Relationships: Losing and Gaining After Weight Loss

It’s nearly five o’clock in the morning and I should be sleeping. I’m not though. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. It’s been awhile since I actually shared what’s been going in my journey through written word. When I started my blog that’s what it was about, sharing my journey so that other people out there that might be experiencing the same sorts of things didn’t feel so alone.

That was easy when my journey included everything about food, exercise, reconstructive plastic surgery, running half marathons and following my dreams in a pursuit of a new career. It was even relatively easy when my journey got dark and included my battle with body image issues.

The point when it started getting hard was when I began to be afraid of getting judged for where my journey was taking me.

But once again I find myself in a situation where I am experiencing an issue I think many in the weight loss surgery community face – and yet we rarely talk about it.

As I lay sleepless in bed tonight, tossing and turning I’ve decided that maybe what I really need to do is stop being scared of judgment and start being brave enough to be one of the voices that speaks out and says “If this is where you are in the journey it’s okay, you’re not alone.”

Relationships after weight loss can be confusing. Let me start there. 

A few weeks ago I had to write one of the hardest letters of my life. I had to write to the man I have been married to for nearly thirteen years and explain to him that I wasn’t happy in our marriage anymore. Anyone that’s only known me since I lost my weight might be shocked to hear that I’m still married. We definitely haven’t acted like we we’re married for the better part of the last seven years. We don’t even live together anymore. 

It’s been a very long time since I went through a breakup. The last time I actually voluntarily ended a relationship with someone I was nineteen years old and it wasn’t one of my prouder moments in life. I’ve been on the other side of the equation several times though, and usually when it happens, the reason that someone is ending the relationship is because of all the things the other person did or didn’t do. 

A strange thing happened when I sat down to write that letter though. I figured out that the end of our marriage had less to do with what he had or had not done and a lot more to do with the changes that had taken place in me since I had lost weight.

As someone who has battled obesity since childhood, my experience with relationships hasn’t been easy. I’ve felt the sting of a lot of rejection because of my weight. Most the men I was attracted to didn’t reciprocate those feelings and for the better part of my life I felt unworthy of a man’s attention.

In my early twenties that constant rejection and feelings of unworthiness drew me to a lifestyle I thought would make me feel better. I got involved in relationships with men that wanted to dominate me. I thought that by being submissive to a man and by living and breathing to make him happy and being willing to do absolutely anything he wanted me to do sexually that someone would love me in the way I was longing for. It’s easy to get involved in a relationship where you are considered property when you have no self-worth. Being “owned” by someone actually gave me a sense of value that I had never felt before.

Living my life with the purpose of making someone else happy, with someone else calling the shots and making the rules was easy for me in the beginning, our relationship was full of crazy sexual escapades and to me, at the time, sex equated love. We went to parties where despite my weight or size I’d dress up in fetish wear, be put on display and the sexual encounters we had as a result made me feel wanted.

I think most of us want to feel loved and wanted, but for me it went deeper than that. As a little girl I felt unwanted, unloved and abandoned by my family. That’s the effect that finding out I was adopted had on me. That’s the feeling that finding out that my entire family knew that there was a pedophile in their midst and yet allowed a little girl in their care to be exposed to him evoked in me. That’s the impact that a life of teenage obesity where every boy who liked me or fooled around with me wanted to keep it a secret from his friends had on me. 

All I ever wanted was for someone to love me and want me. I dreamed of romance experiences like you see in movies and read in books. I never felt like I deserved them though. When was the last time you saw a movie or read a book where the leading female role was a woman affected by morbid obesity?

When I started focusing on losing weight I didn’t really think it had anything to do with wanting a different relationship. I wanted the happy and healthy life that my Father wanted for me and in the beginning of this journey I was much more focused on the healthy part than I was the happy part.

Something strange happened though. Once I got the weight off, once I started reconstructive plastic surgery and started battling my body image issues, something changed. Without me even realizing it I started to gain back some of my self-worth, some of my self-confidence and before I knew it I actually started to feel like I deserved to be happy again.

When I look back at my marriage and the relationship that my husband and I had, I can’t really say that he has changed all that much. I was the one who had changed. For a very long time I had been settling for less than what would make me completely happy because I was afraid that nobody would ever love me again.

At four hundred and twenty pounds I was so terrified of this that I was willing to participate in a relationship that was emotionally unhealthy. I was willing to tolerate the fact that he lied to me constantly. I was willing to accept that our relationship had become completely non-physical. I could hardly stand looking at myself naked in the mirror, why on earth would I expect someone else to want to look at me naked? I was willing to accept that we hardly ever did anything together anymore. I was quite certain he was as embarrassed as I was to be out with me in public. 

I felt like people looked at us and wondered why he was with me. I grew accustomed to the fact that we rarely if ever even slept in the same bed next to each other. I resolved to be okay with the fact that he never took my hand in his, that we didn’t cuddle on the couch together anymore and that the most physical attention I received was a hug or kiss in the kitchen or hallway when our paths crossed in the house.

It is astounding to me as I read my own words how much obesity held me back. It is amazing just how emotionally debilitating that disease was for me.

But as I started losing the weight I realized that I wasn’t willing to accept a relationship that didn’t make me happy anymore and once that happened, I started longing and yearning for the things that had been missing in my life for so long.

I was ready to be loved again. I wanted to be wanted again. 

Once I started losing my weight I started having relationships outside of my already estranged marriage. I started to get little glimpses of the things that I had been missing and started realizing that I missed them even more than I had realized.

One might ask why I didn’t ask for a divorce then. The answer is simple. I was terrified.

I had a history of regain. I had weighed over four hundred pounds when I met my husband. The first time I told him I was in love with him I bawled my eyes out when he told me that though he loved me dearly as a friend he just wasn’t physically attracted to me. In a desperate effort to win the heart of the man I wanted I started dieting and exercising. Atkins and exercise got me down to an all-time lowest adult weight of two hundred and twenty-five pounds and earned me my wedding day.

Those first several years of our marriage things were different. But that didn’t last long. When I gained all that weight back and the scale was showing four hundred and twenty pounds again the relationship had changed completely and in my mind the only person I had to blame for it was myself. It was my food addiction and my inability to control my weight that had caused it. But even though I weighed over four hundred pounds again he stayed with me. I still got hugs and kisses in the kitchen and I wasn’t alone.

I was petrified of regain. But more than anything I was paralyzed with the fear of being alone. 

I began seeing patterns in the relationships I was having outside of my marriage. The moment the physical attention and affection started to dwindle I started to panic. I started to wonder what was wrong with me and why they didn’t want me anymore. I started standing in front of the mirror scrutinizing my body from every angle. I started tearing myself apart emotionally in the pursuit of being perfect.

The fear I had of relapsing into obesity made it impossible for me to find the emotional courage to end any relationship. It didn’t matter whether or not I was happy. I wasn’t even really sure I deserved to be happy.

There is a lot of emotional work involved in life after weight loss.

It’s taken a very long time for me to get to a place where I could begin to move forward. It’s taken a lot of courage and a lot of emotional work for me to get to a place where I could look in the mirror and tell myself with conviction that I am not defined by how much someone else loves me but by how much I love myself and how loving I am with others.

It’s been a long uphill battle for me emotionally to get to a place where I can say that though I want to feel wanted and I want to have hot and steamy romantic experiences like we read about in guilty pleasure novels, that won’t happen  as a result of staying in unrewarding relationships and settling for less than what I truly want.  

It’s taken a lot of soul-searching to recognize that I struggle to communicate what I want and need from others without feeling insecure and uncertain about whether or not I am worthy or deserving of it.

It’s taken a lot of working on my own emotional fortitude to realize that I need to stop blaming what has transpired in my relationships on my body and what might be wrong with it.

It’s been a rough journey to a place of understanding that unless I stand for something I will fall for anything – even things hurt me and don’t give me the happiness that I want.

But I am standing at the top of that emotional mountain right now and I’ve gotten to a place where I have the emotional determination and self-respect to start fighting for the things I really want out of life.

The struggle against obesity doesn’t end when you lose the weight. In many ways, it’s really just the beginning. 

I’ve talked to so many people lately who are struggling with ending unhappy relationships as they progress in their weight loss journey. It’s not an easy phase of life after weight loss by any means. It’s impossible to give someone advice at that phase of their journey because you don’t want to give them the wrong advice or lead them to make a decision they will regret later.

The one thing I can do though is share my own story and my own experience and a promise with you. If my story resonates with you and if you are finding yourself stuck somewhere in this dark part of your journey, wondering where life takes you when you finally start finding yourself again, you are not alone. There are other people who have found themselves standing exactly where you are, walking the same path and battling the same demons.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.

Accepting The Perfectly Imperfect Me

slenderThe concept of being your “perfectly imperfect” self was first introduced to me by one of my heroes Heidi Powell. [ You can read her original article: I am (still) Perfect here]

One of the biggest things I have struggled with post-weight loss is body image issues. The picture to the right is one of my favorite photos of myself. I feel like I look fierce, strong, happy and proud of what I have accomplished. But there are days I don’t feel like any of those things.

At my darkest moment, I was having a nervous breakdown after reconstructive plastic surgery #4 in Dallas, Texas when things still were not looking perfect and the numbers on the scale were reflecting my swollen body weight and not the numbers I was used to seeing in weight maintenance.

It took Chris Powell telling me to get off the scale for me to stop obsessing and start trying to get back to me again. [ See related Facebook post here: July 22, 2013 ]

The truth is the hardest thing you will ever tell someone. The truth is really scary. It makes you vulnerable, because once you put it out there, no mater what anyone has to say, it is your truth.

But the truth is what I have promised you from the very beginning. So the truth is, there are still things that I don’t love about my body. There are still flaws that I pick out and can beat myself up emotionally over.

The excess skin on my hips and lower buttocks area still causes me skin and rash irritations.

The skin that hangs right above my bra line and pooches out over my tank top dives me insane. It makes me super self-conscious about wearing tank tops in public. But I force myself to do it because it’s a fear of something that I know is really only noticeable to people who are looking for it. Though I just told you all where to find it. So that ends that.

My arms still bother me. Two brachioplasty surgeries and two touch up surgeries later, I still dislike my arms. They just don’t look right and that little indentation that they keep telling me is a genetic traits that is unrelated to obesity or weight loss, absolutely drives me nuts. Every time I look at my arm I see a little fat roll. This makes me really self-conscious about wearing tank tops. But I force myself to do it as part of my acceptance of my imperfect body.

Shorts are an entirely different manner.  The skin I see hanging off my thighs if I do a plank in front of one of my group training sessions in the gym is so embarrassing to me that I refuse to wear anything but capri pants unless it’s cool enough outside to wear pantyhose underneath to help shape them and hold the skin in place.

My hair is never quite the way I want it. Coloring it myself rarely comes out the way I intended. But who the heck can afford paying a stylist constantly these days? If I can’t do it myself it’s not achievable.

My eyebrows, no matter how well-groomed I keep them do this wonky thing when I’ve rubbed my face nervously.

My boobs look great in a bra. Outside of one and naked in front of the mirror I obsess over how slightly differently my nipples were placed and how I can see the ripple in one of the implants. These I am told were normal things to expect after getting implants. I’m still not 100% convinced I made the right decision on that. Lord knows after being told at a weight loss surgery convention that one of the main reasons a group of women disliked me was because I was too skinny and my boobs were too big, I really second guessed that decision. [ Read related article here: The Teeter Totter of Weight Bias ]

My stomach still has more skin than I think it should have after three different abdominal surgeries to fix it. I’m sure I have defined abdominal muscles under there, somewhere.

There are areas of my body right under my arms and along the sides of my breasts where the skin is so damaged from obesity that I get these little pockets in the skin that if I’m not watching carefully can get infected. I truly believe that we need to work on getting doctors and insurance companies to realize that the disease of obesity damages the skin and that removing that damaged skin is a part of treating the disease.

My feet are funky. I think I have a hammertoe or something. My little baby toe is pretty much deformed. Even the people at the nail salon snicker at its appearance when I get a pedicure.

When I lay on my back on a bench doing a chest press I have weird excess skin on my back right around my shoulder blades where my muscles move. Dislike.

On any given day, I can look at all of these things in the mirror and I can fixate on and pick myself apart over how something should have looked had I never weighed 420 lbs.

I try hard not to do that. I try to accept that weighing 420 lbs. was part of my story. It is part of what makes me a good weight loss coach, it is part of what makes me good at helping other people fight obesity. It’s all part of who I am, part of the imperfect life that led me to being the perfectly imperfect version of myself that I am today.

Who knows where I would be if my story had been different? Each one of us has a past; we can either allow that past to haunt us or we can decide to define our future. My story has brought me to where I am today. To a career that feeds my passion to help other’s fight obesity and find the fun and potential emotional outlet in fitness as a Weight Loss and Wellness Coach and Fitness Instructor.

During one of my major moments of  body image issues, at time where I was upset that my body wasn’t perfect, a woman who I admire greatly asked me if I wanted to be an example of what most of my clients could never achieve, or if I wanted to be an example of what is attainable. This message hit home for me.

Each time that I catch myself standing in front of the mirror picking myself a part I remind myself that I am an example to my clients and my community of what can be achievable after 260 lbs. of weight loss. I am not perfect. Nobody is. But I am myself perfectly. I stay true to who I am and I am an example of my own story. That, my friends, makes me perfect at being my imperfect self. That make me perfectly imperfect.

Learning to accept your flaws and loving yourself in spite of them, and muting those internal negative voices that put your emotional well-being in jeopardy is an integral part of your weight loss journey. If you don’t learn to do that and love yourself success will exponentially be more difficult

So what is my biggest tip for battling the barriers of body image issue that can sometimes present themselves in my life after weight loss? In some of my worst moments, when my body image issues are getting the best of me and my internal voices are being unkind when I look in the mirror, I pull out some old pictures. I look back at the photos of when I actually weighed 420 lbs and would have given anything to lose the weight. I look back and the photos of all the skin that hung on my body afterward and remind myself how miserable I was and how good of a job my surgeons did with what they had to work with.

I stop and remind myself that while what I wanted was to have the body of a porn star, that wasn’t a realistic expectation.  Given my story, where I have been and what I have done, the body I have today, though imperfect for all the reasons I mentioned above, is still my body. I eat healthy, I work out on a regular basis and I do the best I can at making my body a reflection of who I am today.

Never let anyone including yourself fool you. Losing all that extra weight won’t make life perfect and it won’t make you perfect. Losing the weight is the big physical part of the journey but the emotional part just begins there.  From there you’ll face issues like regain, battling with the numbers you see on the scale, how you handle life without food as form of comfort and maybe the biggest of all, the body image issues that surface when you realize what your body should have or would have looked like had you never been affected by obesity.

From there, it is time to appreciate the journey. Be proud of what you have accomplished and understand that you’re exactly where you are supposed to be in your journey right now. Don’t focus on should, could or would, focus on being your imperfect self and understand that you are perfectly imperfect and that my friends, is exactly what we should be.

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Pandora Williams author of Desperately Seeking Slender is a  Cooper Approved Wellness Coach Trained in Weight Management Strategies, a Motivational Speaker and Exercise Instructor at a women’s only fitness facility in Wilmington North Carolina.
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Author: Pandora Williams

Author of Desperately Seeking Slender

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