There’s little more inspiring than a dramatic health transformation. But in our typical narratives surrounding weight loss, we tend to focus on the obvious: the health benefits, the boost to self-esteem, the improved sleep.
And while it’s true that losing a few extra pounds has a whole host of health benefits (stronger bones, lower diabetes and stroke risk and a longer life, to name a few), there are also often some challenges along the way that we don’t always hear much about.
Because we know it’s not easy, here are a few of those weight loss challenges no one usually mentions.
1. Your perception of your body won’t change over night.
A dramatic transformation should feel great — but what about when it doesn’t?
“I still have trouble seeing what I’ve done these past two years,” Kristin Griffin, who lost 83 pounds, told HuffPost in 2014. “The weight loss was the easy part; realizing and seeing the new me has been a daily battle.”
“Many people attribute life disappointments to the fact that they’re overweight, and they think, should they lose the weight, everything will be miraculously improved,” clinical psychologist Ed Abramson, Ph.D., author of Emotional Eating tells The Huffington Post. “But the reality is, you’re still you.”
“At first, I thought I would just have this newfound confidence,” Shannon Britton, who lost 268 pounds after having gastric bypass surgery, told CNN in 2014. “I’d be thinner and want to run around naked. OK, maybe not naked, but I had this fantasy in my head that one day I would wake up with a body that I loved and would feel comfortable putting into a bikini — that I’d have no body shame whatsoever.”
In fact, says Abramson, body image may be the very last aspect to change throughout such a transformation; much like people who have lost a limb may feel pain or tingling where it once was, so too may formerly overweight people believe they still take up more space.
But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get there, eventually. “For the first couple of years of my journey, I still had difficulty seeing myself as the new me,” Maia Sutton, who lost 90 pounds, told HuffPost in 2013. “It wasn’t until very recently when I seemed to have an unexplained epiphany and realized, I am good enough! I am worth all of this! For the first time in my entire life, I look at myself in the mirror and can say I look amazing. I find things to compliment, rather than degrade. I’m the most confident I have ever been in my life.”
2. There will likely be excess skin.
If you’ve lost a certain amount of weight, you’re likely to be faced with a very-real physical reminder of its disappearance: sagging, stretch-marked skin. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any lifestyle measures to be taken to prevent excess skin. “How loose your skin gets after losing weight depends on several factors: how much weight you’ve lost, how old you were when you lost the weight, how many times you’ve lost and gained the weight back, and how quickly you lost it (the faster you lose it, the less time your skin has to tighten naturally),” Women’s Health magazine reported.
Some opt for surgery. Brian Beck, who lost more than 300 pounds, told HuffPost in 2013 that he had surgery to remove 10 additional pounds of excess skin alone. Of course, surgery of any kind can have serious health consequences, and surgery to remove excess skin is also not typically covered by insurance. “I am happier, but I’m still stuck with a constant reminder of my past … some serious mental scar tissue,”Robbie Siron, who lost 155 pounds, told HuffPost in 2014. “For me personally, I am also left with excess skin. I’m frustrated that my insurance company would pay for me to have a triple bypass, but not to remove my excess skin.”
However, body image is also at play, says Abramson. He encourages people who feel frustrated by excess skin to be at least a little skeptical of their own reflections. “Sometimes when you look at yourself in the mirror, your brain plays tricks on you,” he says. “The brain’s representation of your body may not be entirely accurate.”
3. Some relationships might change.
Maybe your favorite new bootcamp conflicts with your old favorite TV show, which you always watched religiously with a friend over snacks. Maybe your wife feels like your new veggie-heavy dinners are silently nagging her to make changes. As your habits become healthier, you might find you have less (or more!) in common with certain people around you.
While new relationships forged at the gym or in the office weight-loss group can be extraordinarily motivating and empowering, research suggests older relationships, particularly romantic ones, may suffer if one person loses weight and the other does not. One study even found a higher divorce rate among people who undergo weight-loss surgery. Weight may serve as a sort of equilibrium in a relationship, explains Abramson. For example, he theorizes, a partner may feel more confident speaking up against the other after losing weight or more anxious about the other leaving the relationship after losing weight. Siblings may even feel more rivalry after one loses weight. “You upset the equilibrium,” he says, “and sometimes conflict emerges.”
4. Your new wardrobe might cost a pretty penny.
Once you’ve reached your goal weight, you’ll probably find yourself in need of a few new things to wear. The more dramatic your transformation, the more likely it is you’ll even need some interim duds, and you may find yourself shopping for new clothes at multiple stops along your weight-loss journey.
“Although it has been expensive, I get a big kick out of shopping for smaller clothes every month or so,” Brad Bishop, who lost 65 pounds, told HuffPost in 2014. “My waist has gone down over 7 inches. I’ve had to go to a leather shop several times to cut my belts and punch new holes in them. I needed to have links taken out of my watch.”
Thrift shopping and clothing swaps with friends can help you supplement your new wardrobe without totally cleaning out your wallet. If you can hold off, postpone buying new clothes until you really need them, and reward yourself with something that’s less dependent on size instead, like a new hair product or piece of jewelry, says Abramson.
5. Others may think they’re being supportive…
You’re probably going to encounter some people who notice you’re going through some changes. Many of those people will be perfectly supportive, compassionate and encouraging. Some may not. From unsolicited advice to guilt-inducing food pushing, not all of their attention will be welcome.
In fact, even the simple “You look great!” can feel straight-up awkward. For starters, being told how wonderful you currently look may make you question what those commenters thought of you previously. In some cases, focusing solely on the physical may be triggering to some people with difficult relationships to eating, weight loss or exercise. And in other instances, it might just seem rude. “I’m not fat, I’m not thin, I’m reasonably well-proportioned, and people ask if I’ve lost weight,” said Abramson. “[I want to tell them:] ‘Mind your own business!’ I would encourage people to change the topic.”
Try arming yourself with some smart comebacks, like these from Health.com, and know that what those folks are really trying to say, no matter how painfully, is to be proud of yourself.
Read More fabulous health articles at HuffPost