“I’ve gained weight and I feel disgusting” Strategies that will get you back on track

Published on May 30, 2022 by Cori Grămescu

As a gym owner and women’s nutritionist, I hear this line daily. With variations to it “I’ve gained weight and I can’t stand myself”, “I’ve gained weight and I’m desperate”, “I’ve gained weight and I hate myself”, there isn’t a single day a year somebody, somewhere, doesn’t feel bad about the change in their bodies. 

2 years of social isolation, work from home and an overall climate of anxiety, uncertainty and chronic stress have caused what is now known as Quarantine 15, or pandemic weight gain. 

Our body changes during intensely disrupting stages of our life, and this was just one of those moments. Women are facing such intervals during pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, but a significant other’s disease, a drastic career change or intensive travelling can also cause significant changes in our weight and body appearance. 

However, the intense negative feelings associated with significant weight gain are not normal, should not be encouraged nor cultivated and we should direct our energy into recovering our emotional comfort and balance, rather than talking badly about ourselves because of weight gain. 

I have started my fitness journey as a fat teen that wanted to lose weight. After I successfully reached my target weight, I became so terrified I might gain back the weight that I became a fitness trainer, just to make sure I would be tied up to a healthy lifestyle forever. I was petrified of weight and fat phobic. It took me years of self-healing and inner work to repair my relationship with weight. I learned that there is a connection between self-esteem and weight loss and was one of the lucky ones who managed to heal from this ingrained negative association with weight gain. I am now running my gym and my online community and working with more than 30.000 women for sustainable, voluntary body transformations helped me understand what are the best ways to address weight gain and make peace with yourself. 


What to know before starting a voluntary process to fight weight gain :

1.If you don’t love yourself when you’re fat, you will not love yourself when you’re thin. 

This was one of my hardest lessons, but when I finally got it, everything started making sense. Most adults who have been raised in families where they had received conditional love tend to apply the same pattern on themselves. We are trained to receive more appreciation, affection, and warmth from our caregivers when we comply with their desired behavior or results and, despite generally having negative outcomes, this is a widespread tactic in most families. [1]

We apply the same pattern to ourselves, a practice called contingent self-esteem, meaning that we feel that we are worthy of self-esteem when or if we meet a set of accomplishments. [2]

Cultivating a deep feeling of self-love and appreciation independent of what we considered to be a desirable progression of our life is crucial for the long-term success and sustainability of our voluntary change. 

Growing self-love independent of external factors ensures that we operate most of our actions from an emotional root that deeply belongs to us, we completely own it and we can naturally align our behavior to the desired outcome. [3]

Bluntly said, give yourself the unconditional love you needed to receive from your caregivers as a child. Heal your mechanisms of self-evaluation and self-appreciation, otherwise there is an increased risk for reduced satisfaction when reaching your goals, lack of consistency in pursuing your objectives and overall self-doubt in the absence of accomplishments. 

As a teenager, I was the poster child of this situation. I was a high achiever in school because my parents demanded that of me, and I was happy to meet their expectations. I was unable to see myself behind my fatness and I needed to lose weight because I craved appreciation from my social circle and family, rather than my wellbeing. I was pretty sure I would start liking myself more once I managed to lose weight, only to find myself in a much worse situation after having lost all that weight. I would view my struggles to maintain my weight loss as weaknesses of failures, and my emotional universe had deteriorated severely. 

I had to unlearn all that negative self-talk through years of therapy and self-healing, before reaching a point where I felt I was simply enough. I felt love for myself in the absence of accomplishments and simply feeling that I did my best was enough. I’m still working on feeling like I’m worthy of love regardless of my actions, and I have moments where my mere existence is enough to make me feel love and appreciation for myself. It’s a practice, and healing takes time, but it’s not the most complicated thing in the world. 

Love yourself especially when you are quite far from your ideal self because that’s when you need it the most. Love yourself through weight gain, and you might become your own supporter. It’s well worth it. 

2.Weight gain says nothing about your character.

As a negative consequence of diet culture and fatphobia, people who gain weight feel the pressure of external negative evaluation from their peers. “Overweight and obese individuals most often cite friends and parents as the source of weight stigmatization.” [4]

Another study, “Personality and obesity across the adult life span”, found that “a potential downward spiral (is possible) for those struggling with their weight.” [5] The same study notes that “BMI was mostly unrelated to change in personality traits. Personality traits contribute to health outcomes, in part through their association with major controllable risk factors, such as obesity. Body weight, in turn, reflects our behaviors and lifestyle and contributes to the way we perceive ourselves and others.” 

While some personality traits, such as high impulsivity, high neuroticism and low conscientiousness appear to correlate with higher weight fluctuations over time, one’s character is rarely influenced by a small array of personality traits. 

Character refers to the comprehensive set of values, beliefs and the mental and moral qualities unique to an individual. It cannot be limited nor influenced by body size or weight gain. 

3. Weight gain is more than overeating.

You must have heard about the calories in, calories out theory. And, in part, it is true. Weight gain is caused by constant, extended disparity between the ingested calories and total daily energy expenditure. But that’s only a part of the equation. 

Unfortunately, the more weight we gain, the more our body and personality adjusts to the weight gain. “those who gained weight (…) become more impulsive, undisciplined, and less thoughtful because high impulsiveness, low self-discipline and low deliberation have been associated with higher BMI and weight gain”. [6]

A second possibility is that physiological mechanisms associated with weight gain could contribute to the relation between weight gain and changes in personality. For example, overweight and obese individuals tend to have higher levels of inflammation, and chronic inflammation may reduce the ability to effectively regulate emotions and control behavior. [8]

Simply put, the implications of weight gain reach far beyond the simplistic “overeating theory” and you should not reduce your intervention to “eat less, exercise more”. 

What you absolutely shouldn’t do if you have gained weight!

They are common reactions to increased body size, but they are unhealthy, ineffective and, above all, will negatively affect your mental health more than you can imagine. There is another article extensively covering some of the most unhealthy ways to lose weight and what to do to avoid them that we recommend reading, as well. Here’s a good starting point with what to avoid doing. 

1. Don’t skip meals to lose weight. 

Surprisingly, 16% of American adults skip meals for intended weight loss. This approach became increasingly popular with intermittent fasting, despite the fact that “The regular omission of meals, particularly the breakfast meal, has been associated with poorer diet quality”. [9]

2. Don’t mentally punish yourself because of your weighteating.

I often see in my gym’s locker room some clients who are overweight, and they prefer to wait for all the clients to leave before changing. Or I hear during nutrition coaching sessions clients say, “I will buy new clothes only if I lose weight”. 

These are all forms of emotional punishment – refusing to participate in everyday activities because of weight gain or conditioning one’s pleasure by the decrease in body weight. 

We often internalize weight-related stigma, and we start evaluating ourselves through that lens. Just as in everyday life emotional abuse causes shame, confusion, and isolation [10], internalizing such voices can lead to self-inflicted negative emotions. 

3. Don’t follow or take fitness advice from fitness models 

This one may not be obvious. Fitness models and/or influencers do not share your lifestyle, genes or fitness goals. Someone who makes a living from their looks will be far more likely to restrict themselves in ways that are unrealistic for the general population. 

You should follow for inspiration social media accounts that depict characters similar to you in terms of age, goals and lifestyle. Learn from real people what their workouts, diets and struggles look like, and find the ones that inspire you.

Take fitness advice from professional trainers and coaches, during individual sessions. Randomly advice over the internet may not be suitable for you and sometimes it may even be incorrect. 

Simply put, avoid following or taking advice from fitness models, because they may negatively influence you into comparison, discouragement, and health problems. 

4. Don’t focus on what you can’t eat 

Most people focus extensively on what they think they cannot eat, increasing their frustration levels. It’s unnecessary and it creates negative emotions regarding food. Instead, focus on overall improvement in food choices, prioritize vegetables and fruit, as well as good quality lean protein and keep an eye on portion sizes. As long as you maintain your caloric requirements for your goal, occasional treats with foods of your choice have no negative effects on overall body composition or intentional weight loss. 

5. Don’t obsess over the scale 

During nutrition coaching sessions I recommend that my clients only weigh and measure themselves once a week. I have found that more frequent weigh-ins create unnecessary tension and tend to negatively affect clients results, especially during weeks when expected results are not met. 

One study found that “Weighing everyday led to greater adoption of weight control behaviors and produced greater weight loss compared to weighing most days of the week. This further indicates daily weighing as an effective weight loss tool.” [11], but the results came in the context of daily weighing AND weekly lessons and tailored feedback, so it’s really hard to say that it was the weighing alone that contributed. 

The idea that daily self-weighing negatively affects us is further found in several meta-analysis studies: “With regard to affect, self-esteem and body evaluation, and eating-related behaviors and cognitions, in total, most studies provided evidence of a harmful impact of self-weighing on these outcomes; fewer studies found a positive impact.” [12]

Strategies that are effective when you have gained weight. 

Either for voluntary weight loss or improved health and self-perception alike, they will help you find a way for inner peace and self-appreciation, regardless of your weight. 

Prioritize self-care and wellbeing. 

This strategy alone reduces the stress and negative affect of weight gain. When you focus on self-care, you start to reframe the relationship between yourself and your body appearance. Self-care means offering yourself those behaviors and rituals that promote health and wellbeing. You start taking care of yourself and this might improve the way you perceive yourself. Remember, love yourself first. Self-care and wellbeing are simply 2 alternative sides of self-love. 

Taking care of the quality, taste and appearance of your food is self-care before it can be dietary intervention. Taking care of the quality and duration of your sleep is wellbeing before it is hormonal balance. Taking care of your daily exercise and physical activity is self-care, before it is a caloric deficit. 

It’s easier to operate all these behaviors from a place of self-love, rather than external coercitions for the sake of voluntary weight loss.

Make a plan for 4-6 weeks

Our mind cannot function with massive planning. You will face analysis paralysis and there are increased chances to feel overwhelmed or unmotivated by the amplitude of effort you need to do. Instead, you should focus on the next 4-6 weeks and start with a plan to modify 5-10% of your current status. Be it weight, physical activity minutes, food choices or habits, aim for a 5-10% improvement over the next 4-6 weeks. 

Every week, evaluate your journey and adjust the next week to your actions, not your desired results 

Just like building a P&L for a business, you should keep track of your plan and actions. Verify how far are your accomplishments compared to your planned scenario and for the next week, adjust the plan accordingly.  

In other words, “You are what you do, not what you say you’ll do.” 

Work with a professional that understands your goals 

I cannot state this enough. Having a professional coach to assist you in this process is often an invaluable asset. 

The way we ourselves evaluate our weight varies greatly with age, culture, race, sex and a vast array of body-image or self-esteem related factors. 

A professional coach, trainer or nutritionist will create an objective intervention that is (ideally) science based and adapted to one’s individual journey. 

This makes the process easier to follow and the results may last longer. 

Add healthy habits to your current routine.  

Instead of trying to eliminate unwanted/unhealthy behavior, it is easier to add more healthy habits to everyday life. 

This focuses you on action and a learn-by-doing mentality that helps you manage weight gain more effectively, in accordance with your goals. 

After you have implemented the positive habits and they started feeling more and more natural, it is easier to correct certain behaviors that you have identified as disfunctional or unhealthy. 

Conclusion

We often correlate changes in body shape and size with negative self attributes. We are conditioned to believe that we should have absolute control over our bodies and a smaller size is desirable. However, under certain conditions, our bodies do change and variations in body size can be dramatic, and that is absolutely normal. Weight gain is not a permanent condition, nor does it say anything in particular about us. 

While weight gain can trigger some changes in some of our personality traits and it can be caused by a part of our personality and ingrained coping mechanisms, it can also be managed through a mindful, holistic approach if that is the desired outcome. 

Feeling like you are less of a person because of body size is a regrettable loss of energy, that rips away your joy, self-confidence and energy. Focus on dismissing such thoughts or associations because they are dysfunctional, tiring and painful. Focus on understanding that you did the best you could under particular circumstances and that the outcome of the process is under your control. 

Sources:

1.Roth, Guy & Assor, Avi & Niemiec, Christopher & Deci, Edward & Ryan, Richard. (2009). The Emotional and Academic Consequences of Parental Conditional Regard: Comparing Conditional Positive Regard, Conditional Negative Regard, and Autonomy Support as Parenting Practices. Developmental psychology. 45. 1119-42. 10.1037/a0015272.

2.Schwinger, M., Schöne, C., & Otterpohl, N. (2017). Structure of contingent self-esteem: Global, domain-specific, or hierarchical construct? European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 33(5), 388–397.

3. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The ‘‘what’’ and ‘‘why’’ of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227–268.

4.Puhl, Rebecca M et al. “Weight stigmatization and bias reduction: perspectives of overweight and obese adults.” Health education research vol. 23,2 (2008): 347-58. doi:10.1093/her/cym052.

5 & 6. Sutin, Angelina R et al. “Personality and obesity across the adult life span.” Journal of personality and social psychology vol. 101,3 (2011): 579-92. doi:10.1037/a0024286

7. Visser M, Bouter LM, McQuillan GM, Wener MH, Harris TB. Elevated C-reactive protein levels in overweight and obese adults. Journal of the American Medical Association. 1999;282:2131–2135. doi:10.1001/jama.282.22.2131

8. Miller AH, Capuron L, Raison CL. Immunologic influences on emotion regulation. Clinical Neuroscience Research. 2005;4:325–333. doi: 10.1016/j.cnr.2005.03.010.

9.Timlin MT, Pereira MA. Breakfast frequency and quality in the etiology of adult obesity and chronic diseases. Nutr Rev. 2007; 65(6):268–281. doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2007.tb00304.x

10. Karakurt, Günnur, and Kristin E Silver. “Emotional abuse in intimate relationships: the role of gender and age.” Violence and victims vol. 28,5 (2013): 804-21. doi:10.1891/0886-6708.vv-d-12-00041

11. Steinberg, Dori M et al. “Weighing every day matters: daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors.” Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics vol. 115,4 (2015): 511-8. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2014.12.011

12. Pacanowski, C R et al. “Self-Weighing: Helpful or Harmful for Psychological Well-Being? A Review of Literature.” Current obesity reports vol. 4,1 (2015): 65-72. doi:10.1007/s13679-015-0142-2

Share