The Stages of Weight Loss Grief on SHAPE.com

by Rachel on January 17, 2012

Yesterday I had an article I wrote for SHAPE.com published. This is really exciting for me for a couple reasons — partially because writing for a magazine is a longtime dream of mine, but mainly because I’m really proud of the content of this article.

The Stages of Getting Weight Loss Grief” is based on a blog video I made a couple years ago and it’s basically about how other people react to your weight loss. As something of a professional Before & After, I’ve been through all the stages and it’s something I hear about pretty often from my friends/family members who make healthy changes in their lives. The piece is funny, but for me, it touched on a real issue of feeling self-conscious and even guilty about your new body and all the attention you’re suddenly getting.

I was thrilled to see my post on the SHAPE website, but I was even more excited to read all the comments on their Facebook page. It was a bit sad — if unsurprising — to see how many women related to the article, but it was also really gratifying to feel like I gave them something of a defense that they could send along to unsupportive people; a lighthearted way to say, “Hey, what you’re doing really isn’t OK.”

If you haven’t read the article, I’d love for you to check it out, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on why bodies — especially changed bodies — become fair game for this kind of attention and gossip. It’s clearly something that many people who have made healthy changes in their lives have experienced, but now that I’ve talked about it as a problem, I’m really wondering about the reasons for it.

What say you?

{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Colleen K. January 17, 2012 at 5:22 pm

This is an excellent question. A part of me thinks that people have real issues with those they love changing, because so many people are afraid of change and get used to the idea that change is bad. Another part of me thinks, and this is kind of a cliche answer, that when you lose weight people get self conscious about themselves and it brings out their own securities… I don’t really buy that, because I feel self conscious all the time about my body but I don’t go around lashing out at people. So really the only thing I can think of, is it’s a competitive thing. Everyone has some sort of spark of competitive drive within, and once someone close to them is looking hotter, thinner, and so on, it’s time to bring out the claws and tear them down to get ahead themselves. I mean, I don’t know, maybe it’s a combination of all three of these things. Or, people are just awkward and have no idea how to be genuinely happy for someone else who has succeeded without focusing on his/her own flaws and imperfections (which is really sad.)

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2 Beth January 17, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I loved the article, because I’ve been through each of the stages. One of the comments on the facebook page stuck with me; one girl posted how a family member spread rumors that she got WLS when she really didn’t. That happened to me. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using surgery or diet aides to help with weight loss if thats something you need, but its amazing how different people react to your weight loss when you do. Like you’ve done something wrong. Losing weight is a great accomplishment in itself, regardless of how you did it, and people should be proud of what you’ve done. I did it the healthy way (changed what I was eating and started working out), but I had friends who have used pills or surgery, and I am just as proud of them.

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3 Dori January 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Such a great article. Congratulations! I’m all to familiar with people commenting on my weight, watching the food I eat and making obnoxious remarks, etc. It makes me so uncomfortable and it feels violating in some way. I love the humor you added to it.

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4 Jessica January 17, 2012 at 5:52 pm

Yes! This is exactly right! I lost about 55 pounds a few years back and literally dealt with every single one of the “stages” you mention. Great article!

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5 Melissa January 17, 2012 at 6:09 pm

I loved this article, and I loved it when you did the video. I’ve felt a lot of discomfort over my weight loss (around 20 lbs since HS, give or take a few), especially in the way my mother seems to value me more skinny. My sister was always the skinny one and I was the fat one, and I get really upset when my mom makes comments about my body (even if it’s positive, because it makes me feel like that’s all she cares about – not my successes or intelligence) or my diet and I have only recently been more vocal in calling it out. Just two weeks ago she kept making comments about how I’ve added so much fat to my diet (in the form of almond butter, avocados, Greek yogurt, coconut oil, etc.) while she’s eating fat-free Weight Watchers ice cream and is heavier than me, and I don’t think it’s totally out of concern for my health. She takes conventional dietary wisdom at face value and thinks I’m a crazy person for eating how I eat, and I think she’d only think it was okay if I were suddenly super skinny, and then she wouldn’t care if it were healthy or not. I think she’s always felt threatened by skinnier people, which she’s never been, and while I think she wants me to look good, suddenly having me be less fat than her is also threatening. Even now I never feel skinny enough and I feel deeply uncomfortable if she says anything one way or the other about how I look.

I also think the way people have reacted have made me way more paranoid about gaining weight back because now I know what people really think. I recently attended my ten year high school reunion, after gaining about five pounds and feeling upset that I was “fat” for the me I’ve been living with for the past few years, only to realize once I got there that it didn’t matter because I was still about 15 pounds less than I was in high school: that night I got more than one comment about how I look “so much better now,” which really messed with my head. Is using the word “better” necessary? I don’t think so. And I’ve done a lot of awesome things since high school that have nothing to do with how I look, so it was both really upsetting that that seemed to be all people noticed and yet validating in having that “yeah, I’m cute now” pride.

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6 Amanda January 18, 2012 at 9:36 pm

I can really relate to your comment Melissa. I’ve had a very similar with my sister. She was used to me being the heavy one and she was the skinny one. Now that we are the same size, she feels the need to tell me her weight loss tips like drink green tea. She doesn’t work out, I do. The paranoia about gaining the weight back makes me scrutinize myself more than anyone ever has even when I was heavier. I have my 10 year high school reunion this year and I’m curious if I’ll have a similar experience that you mention.

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7 Ande January 17, 2012 at 7:51 pm

Great work Rachel! I defiantly found the new “popularity” and attention from men to be true. It’s crazy to me what a difference of ten lbs can mean for how people treat me. Skinny Ande is hilarious and cute, while not-so skinny Ande is a mean “bitch.”

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8 Ande January 17, 2012 at 7:54 pm

Whoops! Definitely. Sorry.

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9 Nicole @ Giraffelegs January 17, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Congrats on your article! It was so well written and I literally laughed out loud.
I know I am always going to get honest, refreshing material from you.

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10 Sarah January 17, 2012 at 8:57 pm

I really loved that you brought this up and to so many people’s attention. I always feel like I am the “bigger” one with my group of friends when they all think I look totally fine. When I trained for my marathon, I lost a ton of weight and probably was still slightly bigger but my friends thought I looked “un-healthy” and too skinny even though they were still skinnier than me – they’re stick-thin barbies that never workout. I don’t get it. I’ve now actually gained all the weight back and it’s even worse being around them, but I guess that means it’s time for action. One of the hardest parts of losing weight really is the pressure from those around you, which is surprising when it’s hard enough to actually put yourself in the action of doing it in the first place.

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11 chandra January 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

I read your article today and honestly, every point you made was something I went through – especially with people from back in my hometown that didn’t see me often and didn’t see the work I put in. When I’d go home they’d constantly be grilling me on what I did for workouts and what I ate everyday. Then when it would be time to eat, they would watch everything I put on my plate and criticize or question me on it. (Like when I ate a burger without a bun, but had a side of chips and had just been watched as I ate 3 cookies, I was asked why I was avoiding carbs. No joke.) And of course all of the “you’re too skinny!” comments were annoying. Then a few weeks after I went back to DSM, the rumors of my “eating disorder” started. It was ridiculous and to this day I have no idea why people acted the way they did, but I’m glad I didn’t let it get to me!

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12 Deva @ Deva by Definition January 17, 2012 at 9:14 pm

When I lost the weight I gained senior year while my metabolism was leveling out,i got so many “you’re too skinny!” “you’re afraid of getting FAT aren’t you?” (that one was when I refused a dessert, politely, because I was stuffed), and lots of “OHMYGOD HOW CAN YOU EAT SO HEALTHY????” I think some of it came from insecurity on others’ parts, some out of true concern (I struggled with eating issues in high school and college), and in the case of the dessert, I still don’t know.

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13 Dallas January 17, 2012 at 10:33 pm

I have experienced this SO MUCH.

“What’s your SEEEEKRIT!!”

What are you waiting for me to say? I took a pill? I stand on my head twice a day at 10:39 and 1:20? Like, what? I stopped eating all the shit I could find and started working out five days a week. Yeah, I dropped forty pounds.

I think that people want an excuse for why they’re not losing the weight – so they want to dig and scramble at your changes to prove themselves right. Bah, I say. Bah.

PS: My body is not public property. Stop commenting, ya dig?

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14 cindylu January 17, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Read the article a couple of days ago and I can definitely relate to all of your points. I had abeen overweight since being a childhood. When I decided to take off the weight in my late 20s I got a lot of attention, both good and bad. I had family members and co-workers tell me I was getting too thin and some asked if I was eating. A friend seriously asked if I was on speed. I could let the others slide, but the last really bugged me. Come on. I’m not going to take a shortcut and definitely not do speed. Once at my goal, a guy friend said something like, “you’re hot now.” It was weird, since I’m pretty sure he thought he was complimenting me. I got the random messages from female acquaintances on FB asking about my secret and what I was doing to lose the weight.

After years of trying to hide my body, it was weird to get so much attention. On the flip side, I didn’t mind when friends noticed my hard work and made private remarks. The simplest compliment was “you look great.” I used to like “you look so healthy” too, but now it’s clear to me that health isn’t all about weight.

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15 Nikki January 18, 2012 at 7:23 am

I think this is one of your best articles of late. Bravo, Rachel!

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16 Caity @ Moi Contre La Vie January 18, 2012 at 8:44 am

First – congratulations! I can’t even imagine how exciting it must have been when Shape decided to publish your piece. Bravo! Second – great insights. You’re right on with those stages, especially how “interested” the women around you become. Whether its catty remarks, begging for tips or showing concern about your eating habits – everyone wants to ‘weigh’ in. Something that you may have done for yourself, for your health, becomes Frankenstein’s Monster. I recently lost some weight AND dyed my hair from its natural blonde to dark, dark red. The amount of attention these changes have received makes me want to hide under my bed!

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17 Kat January 18, 2012 at 9:31 am

Sadly, I’ve gotten more crap for losing weight than I ever got for being unhealthy. Now, someone who gave me a hard time for being ‘too skinny’ is trying Weight Watchers (how I lost the weight.) Hmmm. Guess she wants to be ‘too skinny’ as well…

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18 Leslie January 18, 2012 at 10:40 am

Congratulations! I love your writing, and I’m happy you were able to share it on a bigger stage.

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19 Sheanna January 18, 2012 at 1:07 pm

When I moved from Illinois to South Carolina I ended up losing about 55 lbs. It needed to happen. However, when I returned to my home town two years later and saw some old friends I heard, “eat a sandwich” A LOT! I couldn’t believe how rude they were. I also had a co-worker proclaim in a meeting that she believed I was anorexic because I refused to eat a piece of cake. That was NOT okay!

I think there are many people that, for some reason or another, see one person’s successes as their own defeat. There’s no law that says that just because I lost the weight doesn’t mean you can’t lose the weight too.

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20 Rachel @ Healthy Chicks January 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm

GREAT article! It’s such a fresh perspective that often writer’s don’t touch upon when talking about weight loss. You only hear “How to stay slim” “How to Refuse Desserts” (alright already, we all know that part!) I love how you took a different angle and spoke REAL with the readers.

I can’t express how proud of you I am Rachel! Being published in a magazine is also a dream of mine, and I can’t imagine how proud of yourself you must be. Congrats! xoxo

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21 Sarah January 18, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I used to get “you work out too much” and “you know you aren’t fat?” etc. from my friends all the time. After one particularly bad conversation (a long list of reasons I should not run a marathon, while I tried to justify my decision), I finally snapped. I could have been nicer, but the just of what I said was that they don’t need to understand my choices, but I don’t have to justify them either. I’m proud of the work I’ve put in, and I’d hope that I had support.

Literally from that moment, they have been nothing but supportive. One friend even went shopping with me for running clothes and left me the sweetest note on the day of my half-marathon. Sometimes calling people out is the best thing you can do.

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22 [SMASH] January 18, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Like I said in my tweet yesterday, I loved your article on Shape.com. I hope to be an “after” at some point and, because I have quite a bit of weight to lose, I know I’ll have those kind of back-handed compliments coming my way. But I’m real enough with myself to know that: YES, I needed to lose that weight… YES, even though I love myself now, it doesn’t mean I didn’t love myself before, too.

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23 Caitie January 18, 2012 at 8:03 pm

First off, congrats on having your piece published! Secondly, I have a question regarding faux-concern about weight loss: I’m wondering where people draw the line between healthy weight loss/maintenance behaviour and disordered behaviour? I find that many “health” and “weight loss” blogs promote behaviour that most people who specialize in eating disorders would consider to be “disordered” behaviour- also, if you’ve read “Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters” by Courtney E. Marin, you quickly become aware of just how “normalized” disordered eating and exercise has become, and how the line between “healthy” and “disordered” is increasingly becoming blurred. One of the reasons I like this blog is because I think you have a really healthy approach to eating, weight loss and exercise. So..where do you, as someone who’s successfully lost weight and continued to maintain a healthy weight, and who has a healthy attitude to weight loss and exercise, think the line should be drawn? And when is it okay to “step in” with a friend who you feel could be taking it too far?

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24 Meghan January 18, 2012 at 10:13 pm

First of all, congrats on your article!

Do you listen to Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me on NPR? I’m obsessed, and David Cross was their featured guest last week! Thought you might want to listen to it: http://www.npr.org/2012/01/14/145168494/comedian-david-cross-plays-not-my-job

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25 Ellie January 18, 2012 at 11:40 pm

Great article!

One of the “You might also likes” was your post, Rule #16: Maybe It’s Your Personality which is obviously related to this topic. I just re-read it and was pretty struck. I was about 15 lbs overweight during my sophomore and junior years of college then took it off in the first half of my senior year and have even lost more since then so this is probably my heretofore “peak” as an adult. I realize that the contrast between how much I used to hate how I looked (I spent hours, weeks, months mired in hatred of my appearance! So terrible and unproductive!) and how much I like how I look now is so great that I’ve become over-confident and it’s really not an appealing or useful quality at all. Like, I just got turned down by a guy I had seen a couple times when things seemed to be going great, and I could not get my head around it AT ALL, like I just couldn’t understand how someone could possibly not be into me. I’m not saying I should have a bad body image in order to be humble, just that your post really struck a chord because, just because I’m happier with the way I look doesn’t mean everything else in my life would automatically fall into place! I think that even after losing weight people can still fall into the “being thin will fix everything else in your life!” mindset and then it becomes even more of a reality shock when it clearly doesn’t. Life still goes on, weight and appearance aren’t the most important things.

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26 Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans January 19, 2012 at 9:26 am

I lost a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time a few years ago and suddenly it felt like everyone who ever knew me wanted to talk about it! For some people I think it was a sudden change and they were just curious as to how I was able to drop 30lbs period, let alone in a few months. Many wanted tips and secrets and I didn’t fault them for that, although I couldn’t assist them because my loss was not done in a healthy way that I wanted to share. The constant attention and body-centric conversation eventually started to get to me (I didn’t feel as thin as they were making it seem like I was anyway) and I became somewhat obsessed with keeping my weight down. Luckily it (the attention and my anxiety about it) tapered off but to this day it still shocks me how weight loss gave people the comfort to talk in detail about my body.

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27 Samantha @ Health, Happiness & Skinny Jeans January 19, 2012 at 9:39 am

By the way, love the article and congratulations!!! :)

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28 Kavi @ Lab to Fab! January 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

Congratulations on getting published in SHAPE! As one of the earlier posters mentioned, people get used to seeing others in roles, as in “the skinny girl” or the “heavy girl.” So when that changes, I think it throws people for a loop, and feelings of insecurity and jealousy creep in.

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29 JordanBailor January 19, 2012 at 2:09 pm

I think these are all very true. However, the “Faux Concern” is not always so faux. I developed an eating disorder, and I didn’t believe anyone when they told me I was “too thin.” I thought- genuinely believed- I was on my way to a healthy weight, and having others criticize my idea of that just allowed me to push them away and delve further into anorexia. However, for most people, this isn’t an issue so it’s a good point.
There’s also the same process with weight gain post-recovery.
Congrats on being posted on Shape!

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30 Bridget January 19, 2012 at 9:31 pm

Another one of my least favorite- “You’re so lucky!” The day I reached Goal at Weight Watchers some lady told me this. And I have heard it many times since from people trying to lose weight. No, no I’m not lucky. It’s not pure luck I dropped 50 pounds-it’s the exercise and healthy eating!

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31 Jodi @ Jodeexi Writes January 20, 2012 at 11:50 pm

It seems like I’ve been dealing with all of these things lately! I’ve dropped 60 pounds in the last year and suddenly girls from high school who I barely talked to are messaging me on facebook to know what I’m doing. The compliments get really tiring after a while. I have a hard time knowing what to say to people who say things like they are jealous of your willpower or motivation. It was not something that was just given to me…I’ve worked hard! Thanks for putting this out there. Losing weight is not just about battling food…it can also be a huge internal struggle!

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32 Morgan @ Morganshines January 22, 2012 at 9:28 am

Rachel you are spot-on in that article!!! It is funny because people do not give people grief at all when they gorge on crazy amounts of fast food and put on a ton of weight… but for some reason, they save all that grief for the weight ‘losers’. Awesome article!!

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33 Don Sullivan January 24, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I don’t know how to have a reaction to your article, without being a tremendously ungrateful person. I think I’m one a handful of your male readers, so my weight loss hasn’t come with any offers of ‘tapping that’ (maybe something to look forward to?) but the rest of the points I found myself nodding along with.

See, I’m so happy that I lost weight, so happy that people noticed, and so happy that they say nice things. But those backhanded compliments, that painful “what’s your secret” conversation, and the “do you worry you might get too skinny” concern leaves me in that awful place of resentment.

So I’ve tried, rather than resenting excited friends and well-meaning acquaintances, to just take some advice I saw from you earlier. Be gracious, be grateful, say thank you. Sure, some of these folks may be tearing me down in their heads, but the fact that they even have anything to say at all is a huge compliment to my progress.

Thanks for the food for thought, Rachel!

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34 Rachel January 25, 2012 at 10:24 am

I wish I could just click a LIKE button on this comment!

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35 Leslie January 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

I just found your blog through HOW SWEET…and read your article. I definitely am with you on the weight-loss grief. I’m in the “losing the last 10 lbs” struggle after losing 70 over the past 2 years and I think the backhanded compliments are the hardest for me.

Example: when your boss says, “yeah when I first met you I kept thinking ‘oh such a pretty face but she’s so young to be so large!’ and now look at you!” I mean REALLY?

Thanks for sharing and definitely adding you to my Google reader :)

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36 Lisa February 23, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I enjoyed the article and I’ve gone through a lot of those “stages” as I lost 110 pounds. There was the positive support, the encouragement…the astounding attention I got. It really boosted my ego. I felt happy and confident. Then I lost the weight and kind of wondered “what now?” I didn’t really have a big goal to focus on and I felt lost. After maintaining the weight loss for 4 years now I now meet people who never knew me as the 250+ pound girl. It’s a weird place to be, honestly!

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