Anyone who’s ever shed a significant amount of weight knows the look: the one you get when someone who hasn’t seen you for a while takes your new body in, a thrilled yet somehow appraising smile on their face, rushing to cover you in compliments before asking, “So…how’d you do it?”
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Right now, singer Adele is on the receiving end of the look from just about everyone after posting a birthday photo of herself to Instagram that suggested she’d lost weight. Chrissy Teigen commented, “I mean are you kidding me,” James Charles chimed in with “YOU LOOK AMAZING,” and pretty soon, the internet was alight with stories about Adele’s “dramatic” and “incredible” weight loss.
I can’t deny the possibility that the weight-loss compliments might feel good to Adele, because they used to feel good to me. When I lost 30 pounds between my senior year of college and my “freshman year of life,” I ate up the shocked and impressed reactions of my friends and family as though they were the calories I was denying myself, savoring the scanty fulfillment of fitting into single-digit jeans and plunging ever lower on the scale in an attempt to keep the positive feedback going.
When those same friends and family started to express concern that I was losing too much weight, my disordered eating-prone brain saw that as an even bigger success: I wanted, to quote Melissa Broder’s 2016 book of essays So Sad Today, “to live in a body that is so far away from being fat that it has room to gain weight and still not even rub elbows with chubbiness.” I wanted the praise—I still do—but somewhere along the line, my wires got crossed to the point where being thin was its own reward.
Like 97% of dieters, I eventually regained the weight I’d lost (and then some), and nothing surprised me more than how much the sudden taking away of approval hurt. Nobody was outright cruel or dismissive of my body, but hearing people’s silence—coupled with “You look great!” affections suddenly lavished on newly slim friends instead of me—felt like confirmation that I’d strayed too far from the way I was supposed to look.
This content was originally published here.