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The After Effects Of Weight Loss – Phantom Fat

I have spent most of my adult life overweight, grossly overweight. As a child & especially as a teenager, I thought I was fat (didn’t we all) only in hindsight, I realize that was completely ridiculous! So pretty much the bulk of my life has been spent feeling like my body was too large to be considered attractive. Feeling self conscious about being fat, even when I wasn’t. 

Then I started by banting journey and my body changed rapidly. But I’d say in the last few months, I’ve started to worry that there was something psychologically really wrong with me. I’m still 30kg’s less than what I was when I started my banting journey and yet, I’m both terrified of getting fat again, like nightmare terrified you guys and when I look at my reflection or at pictures of myself, I have reverted back to seeing a fat person. My mind interprets what my eyes are seeing as my former fat self. 

Just for reference, here are a couple of before photo’s:

phantom-fat-1

My 40th birthday.

phantom-fat-2

At age 38

phantom-fat

Age 41

The feature image was taken of me a couple of months ago. Now in reality, I know I don’t look the same as I do in the photo’s I’ve shared above, but in my mind, I do,I still look like a bloated bull frog!

Phantom Fat – It’s a Thing!

And that’s how I learned about phantom fat. I’m not completely crazy, it actually does happen and it is very common among individuals who have lost a lot of weight but who still battle with self esteem and self image.

So what are the theories behind “Phantom Fat”?

  • The excess fat is gone when people reach their goal weight, but they may have sagging skin, cellulite or a body shape that they still deem undesirable.

  • People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image perception with them,” says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist who specializes in body-image issues.

  • The above is especially true for those who were overweight for years and lost a lot of weight quickly.

  • Another contributing factor can be fear of regaining the weight, says psychologist Joshua Hrabosky. This is especially true for yo-yo dieters.

  • Hrabosky authored a study showing that many overweight and formerly overweight women showed a greater “dysfunctional appearance investment” – meaning they put a lot of stock in their appearance being part of who they are.

  • Although people who have lost a lot of weight do have improved satisfaction of appearance, it is not normally as high as those who have never been overweight.

  • A lot of it comes down to unrealistic expectations with fat loss – people expect that they will look like bikini models when all the weight comes off.

  • You have to look at retraining your brain and understanding that you have been reinforcing this negative image for probably a long time,” says Adrienne Ressler, a body-image specialist.

I really thought that when I lost the weight, all my problems would go away. But they didn’t and they haven’t. I still struggle with the same negative self image of myself that I’ve always had. I think a lot of women struggle with this. But now, instead of being just overly critical of my weight, I’m also overly critical of some of the negative effects of the weight loss.

For Example:

  • They always say you can tell a woman’s age by her neck. Well formerly I had about 5 chins, which has now been replaced with a lot of excess, wrinkly skin & protruding tendons in my neck. 
  • My body may be smaller but I still have the shape of a former fat girl. I hate my arms and thighs, they are still disproportionately large, which means that at times, clothes shopping is a struggle for me. Even though I now wear a size 14 and don’t have to shop in the plus size section, the clothing often doesn’t fit well or comfortably for me.
  • I have a lot of loose skin on my arms and above my knees
  • I have loose skin on my stomach which means I’ll never have a completely flat stomach. 

Now, let’s talk about the fear.

I’m terrified of going back to 118kg’s. Like nightmare stuff. When I wake up in the morning, instinctively, without even being conscious that I’m doing it, my hands will move over my stomach and over my ribs to make sure that I didn’t dream my weight loss, that my stomach is still flatter and not bloated like it was before. Sometimes I dream about being 118kg’s again and it scares me.

And then there’s the misjudgments.

Like going clothes shopping. It’s a ball ache let me tell you. I can’t just walk into a store and grab a pair of jeans. I have to try on about 5 pairs first. Not just because of the odd shape I talked about above, but also because I misjudge my size all the time. EVERY! SINGLE! TIME! I go shopping, I take a pair of size 18 pants into a change room and then I’m genuinely surprised when they’re too big. I land up having to try on a few pairs before finding the right pair. A couple of weeks ago, after trying on 3 pairs of jeans, I left, irritated and with a size 14. They’re actually to big and I probably should have gotten a 12, but my brain can’t comprehend this. It’s still stuck on me wearing a size 24!

I guess what it all comes down to is self esteem and body positivity, but THAT is a far harder task to conquer than the actual weight loss ever was. 

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30 Comments

  • Reply Romy Levin

    Imcouldmreoace my name with yours in the article. Every single thing apples to me.

    September 14, 2016 at 8:35 am
  • Reply Kelly

    Hi Sharon, I never comment, not for any reason except that mostly I’m on social media in traffic (*gasp, don’t crucify me now) or last thing at night before I fall asleep exhausted… but I just want you to know I always read your posts and love your honesty, sense of humour, thoughtfulness and insight. You’re a pleasure to read x

    September 14, 2016 at 7:29 pm
    • Reply Sharon

      Thanks so much for the comment Kelly! I really do appreciate it!

      September 15, 2016 at 9:52 am
  • Reply anasilvasimoes

    Loved loved this blog post.
    I can’t believe the before and after photos , you should be giving yourself gold stars every morning well done I’m in awe of you and the transformation you have worked so hard to achieve.

    September 16, 2016 at 8:31 am
  • Reply Chan

    This struggle is mine too! I even struggle to get rid of my fat clothes and buying new clothes is such a mission, even when I do it on my own. Shopping with the hubby ends in silence, resentment and my tears in the shower. He does not understand why cannot get over this and I cannot deal with explaining something to someone who will never get it, so icy silence it is for a bit and shopping alone it will be forever…

    September 19, 2016 at 11:42 am
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