Becoming a Weight Loss Hero: Pain Before Pleasure

​By Dr. Michael Tobin PhD

It starts with a good hard look at yourself in the mirror and recognizing your “PAIN.”

Let’s get real. Stand before a mirror and ask yourself, “Am I overweight?” No, that’s too tame – too politically correct. Ask yourself this: “Am I fat?” And don’t do what I did when I was carrying 25 lbs. of excess flesh: I’d stand before the mirror, suck up my stomach, and think, “Stud,” until my wife caught me in the act and said, “Who are you kidding? You’re fat!” It’s so easy to lie to yourself; so hard to lie to the one you love.

The weight loss journey starts with PAIN. It’s that moment when truth stares down denial and you feel that overwhelming sense of shame, fear, and guilt. It can happen in an instant when you momentarily forget that looking at photos of yourself is one of those things that you don’t do, like wearing tight fitting clothes, or walking too far and sweating. It can happen when your glucose numbers on your recent blood test are in the pre-diabetic range, or when you run into an old friend who last saw you when you were at the weight that you secretly long to be.

Or, as one weight loss hero told me, “I don’t know why it happened but I suddenly got how fat I was. I stepped out of the shower, glanced in the mirror, and started sobbing.” I got to know him at the gym after he was 110 pounds lighter and a personal trainer. He told me that it took him 11 visits to the gym before he found the courage to sign up. The first ten times he was so terrified that everyone would be staring at the fat guy that he just ran away. On the 11th time he said to himself, “This is it. If I don’t do this now, my life is over.”

I asked him, “Did that mean suicide?” He answered, “I don’t know what it meant, but at that moment it seemed worse than 10 body builders pushing me into a corner calling me a disgusting piece of shit. So I signed up and the body builders became my cheerleaders, and guess what? Most of them had a story just like mine.”

When I was researching weight loss heroes, I stumbled on a woman who fat-shamed herself into losing 120 lbs. by posting extremely unflattering photos of herself on Facebook. “I felt really bad about myself and looked bad and I felt if I could start to see the change it might help me to carry on. But in fact I was also so embarrassed about the images that it was something that made me determined to carry on.”

Whenever she felt a powerful craving for chocolate or cookies, she’d quickly access her “fat” selfies. The pain (= no denial) of seeing herself as obese gave her the strength to say, “No!” At the moment that she looked at her photo she understood that her obesity was the sum total of all of her yeses to chocolate, cookies, and fast food. And that pain was far more powerful than any junk food pseudo pleasure.

So ask yourself, “Is this the way to lose weight?” Is it shaming or is it no–denial-honesty? Would it motivate you or put you in a state of absolute despair? Would you be terrified that you would expose yourself to the most vicious abuse?

I was curious about the answer to the last question so I scrolled down to read the comments and the first big surprise was that no one fat shamed her – no nasty posts like: “Congratulations, the elephant came out of the closet.” All the posts were exceedingly positive like, “Go, girl,” and “You’re my hero,” and “Very inspiring.”

I must confess. As I was reading this woman’s story, I imagined a way to make her fat-shaming method even more powerful: She videos herself grabbing rather generous body parts and says something like, “Arms by Coke!” “Stomach by Big Mac!” “Rear by cinnamon buns!” Call it radical personal responsibility.

Cruel? Maybe. Effective? For her, or someone like her, who understands that no-denial is the first step toward solving a problem, then a very big Yes. When you let Truth speak, it may not guide you to publically share your deepest shame, but it will inform you about what you need to do. What I needed to do when my wife said I was fat was simply and honestly ask myself, “How did I get there?” (That’s after arguing and denying, and then Deborah calmly saying, “Try this. Stop sucking in your stomach and start breathing naturally, and then tell me if you see fat.”) The answer was quite simple: I ate too muc

Good to have support in work on yourself, too often, too mindlessly, and without any acknowledgment of the consequences.

That, my friends, is called denial. It may be a cliché, but “The Truth does indeed make you free,” free to choose, free to take control of your life, free to say yes to what’s healthy, and free to say no to what’s not. You can’t get there until you look at yourself in the mirror honestly and let yourself feel the pain of where you are, the pain of bad choices, the pain of knowing that the reflection staring back at you didn’t happen by accident.

Know this: If you let it, this pain is empowering. It’s motivating. It’s your friend and guide on your weight loss journey. Pain is where the journey begins, and if you accept and honor it, you might become a weight loss hero just like the woman with her “fat shaming” selfies that made her “determined to carry on.”

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