How Do You Know When You’re Done with Weight Loss?

Artist Julia Kozerski recently published her photography project, “Half” which examines the result of losing half her body weight. Click here to view Julia’s work and be advised it’s NSFW. She took the photos while she was a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of her age but I think it’s safe to say she’s in her twenties during the timeframe of the project.

Julia’s work challenges the fantasy of weight loss that you end up with a perfect body. I discussed this in the final chapter of my book which you can read here. Julia’s project attracted a fair amount of media attention with the usual comments posted to online articles. Many of them focused on congratulating her for such a great weight loss—completely missing the point of her project. The results of her significant weight loss were unexpected and left her feeling conflicted. Despite her youth, she ended up with loose, hanging skin streaked with stretch marks. In her artist’s statement, Julia writes:

While I genuinely believed that my hard work and dedication would transform me into that “perfect” person of my dreams, the reality of what has resulted is quite the opposite. My experience contradicts what the media tends to portray. While it is easy to celebrate and appreciate the dramatic physical results of such an endeavor, underneath the layers of clothing and behind closed doors, quite a different reality exists.

Weight loss promises that are supposed to motivate and inspire us will raise various expectations by getting us pumped up for exciting results. They also serve to intensify the sense of failure we feel if we’re not doing what they urge us to do. It’s particularly difficult to feel we’re being compared with what someone else has accomplished. How do you feel when you see some story in the media of a person who is succeeding at something in spite of greater obstacles than you face? If I can do it, you can do it… 

I recently wrote about how goal setting can actually hold us back. Long-term expectations can distort what we think we want to achieve from weight loss, making us feel like there’s something in particular we have to accomplish before we believe we are successful and we feel like we’re done with weight loss. For myself and many, many other people I’ve talked with through the years, being “done” is not something you can plan for. I accepted a long time ago that my body would decide what it’s willing to do and what’s not going to be possible. Trying to shoot for a particular number on the scale is not going to happen! Just the bit of flab and loose skin I have might be enough to keep me above a certain level unless I truly starved myself.

Those of us who ultimately lose a hundred pounds or more have put our bodies through a tumultuous ordeal. That is true for both surgical and non-surgical high weight loss. Science has proven that our bodies will not be the same at the new lower weight as the body of a person who has been at that same weight naturally. I think of myself as having put my body through the mixmaster and it eventually got really tired of all the change! My body has made it clear that it would take an extreme effort from me to drop below the 170s. I have decided I am not willing to reduce my calorie intake any further than my usual and I exercise as much as I enjoy and can maintain so the 170s look like they will be the minimum for me for the forthcoming future.

When do you decide that you feel you are “done”? It may be when you realize your physical ability no longer feels limited, especially if you exercise and you continue to take on challenges in whatever activity you enjoy. Maybe you can simply stand or walk for as long as you ever need or want to. Maybe you’ll feel “done” when your health level is extremely good. Perhaps you had health conditions that have cleared up and you’re in normal range for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. You got off prescriptions you used to have to rely on. Nothing hurts anymore; you feel generally good all day and you sleep well. You’re comfortable with the clothes you wear and you can shop generally anywhere; you’re not a specialty size anymore even if you have to accommodate some loose skin.

Perhaps the most significant indicator of being “done” is when you eat a daily diet that you could maintain indefinitely. Sure you still do a bit of celebration eating and take some indulgences now and then, but your new normal is pretty well-established and you’re comfortable with it. Combined with some regular exercise, your weight remains generally stable and maybe even creeps down over time. But be warned—that food brain of yours that loves to think about food will continue to play its favorite games. You just learn how to manage them. And your body? It will never forget being larger and it will want to go back. If your diet or exercise routines change, you will find out fairly quickly that your body has been waiting for an opportunity to add a few pounds. If you are very tuned in to your body, you will notice! Reset your eating and exercise habits but also re-evaluate the priorities in your life. Are you devoting time to something you are passionate about? Has your life fallen out of balance? Are you dealing with some situation or life change? Look at the big picture, not just what you’re eating.

Taking control of your weight is about understanding yourself deeply and working with what you know. You don’t fight it, deny it, or try to be something you’re not. Your mind and body will make it clear what the game is but you get to pick the rules and you decide how you play.


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    • JoAnn on November 21, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    The fantasy of the transformed body is a hard one to give up, yet other than our ages that is pretty much my body. Sagging, deflated breasts, puckered abdomen that can be lifted and moved, and thigh skin that moves back and forth–yup, it looks a whole lot better all buttoned up. Since I’m not yet “done” I know a part of my brain holds on to the fantasy. I know a part of me will be dissatisfied–I worked this hard and this long and I ended up”.

    I feel that my mind and emotions have been through even more than my body. The constant second guessing “did I do enough”, “is there anything else I can do, try, eat, eliminate?” , “why didn’t the scale move?” “why did it move so much and how can I replicate that?” It’s exhausting and makes me question my sanity. It’s emotionally draining to want something so much for so long.

    I can check everything off of the list of “done” including being able to eat this way forever. I just don’t think I am. To get that mental stability back, I’m not looking at the scale after tomorrow for at least a month. That will be a different form of mental torture, but I think it will help.

    1. Just telling yourself you’re going to leave the scale alone for awhile is a good step. If it’s a digital scale, take the batteries out. That’s what I do. I’ve been trying to think of something that might be beneficial for you. I feel like I’ve gotten to know you a bit! What do you think of making some big change to your exercise routine? I’m wondering if FEELING a change instead of looking for it on the scale would help you think in a different direction. You seem like you’ve gotten seriously enough into working out and weightlifting too, right? Try something different that would be a bit of a jolt. Give it a month and see how you feel.

      I have been doing a kicked-up kettlebell routine and I noticed a change in some clothes I hadn’t worn in awhile. I’m not going to get on the scale…

      If you ever want to have a little nip n’ tuck, I have a WONDERFUL surgeon. She did my upper arms. She works with you on the cost but mostly she LISTENS. I hope to get my stomach flab taken care of one of these days because it won’t be going anywhere any other way!

    • ida on November 27, 2013 at 7:10 am

    it’s more important to control your emotions and thoughts — better yet — release those emotions and thoughts — by trying to control them you’re sending yourself right into the arms of food and food cravings.

    becoming a ‘perfect’ person has more to do with being kind, decent, and positive.

    1. The shame and blame of “emotional eating” convinces fat people they’re so screwed up they can’t even think right while thin people are held up as paragons of good judgment, self-discipline, and mental toughness.

      Body weight as a reflection of personal values is the single most viciously wielded fat shaming paradigm our culture uses against overweight people. You might call that a monopoly of ignorance I work to expose.

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