physical fitness

New Year’s reflections: Losing weight is overrated

Amanda T. Lago
New Year’s reflections: Losing weight is overrated
There are so much more satisfying ways to measure our health than the number on that scale

Weight loss. For some of us who were genetically predisposed to carrying a few pounds more than your average Instagram model, it’s a lifelong goal, renewed every New Year’s day with fresh vigor, and then on every birthday, beginning of summer and health scare after that.

Every year we think, “This is definitely the year I get skinny.” We buy jeans a couple of sizes down and look at them longingly, thinking, “I will fit into this in the next few months.” We post promises on social media to hold ourselves accountable, sign contracts with our friends, make weight loss wagers with our family members who share the same genetic predisposition to fatness.

As someone who’s been clinically overweight for most of her adult life, I know what it’s like to be a slave to the scale, being afraid of the number it shows but also obsessing over it, and believing in my bones that if I just lost this amount of weight, all my problems would be solved.

At my heaviest, I was deeply insecure, but I masked it with a false sense of confidence and a lot of alcohol, always just feeling a little less pretty, a little less worthy than my clinically normal-sized friends.

And then, a surprising thing happened: I lost a ton of weight. It was just before I turned 30. My lower back pain was getting worse, and I was drunk and consequently hungover for most days of the week. I couldn’t go up a flight of stairs without feeling like my heart was about to give out. And I was being mistaken as pregnant all the freaking time. At some point I decided that something had to change, and so I quit drinking and signed up for a gym. 

I don’t know what my goal was when I started. Maybe I told the trainer at the gym that I wanted to lose weight by default, but inside, all I knew was that I wanted to feel better in my body. 

Eventually, I did. Week after week, I looked in the mirror and my belly had barely budged, but I felt stronger and bouncier. I could reach my toes when I bent over, and could take the stairs without feeling like dying. I slept longer and deeper. 

It was only after a few months that the scale reflected any change worth measuring, and when it did, it only showed me what I had already felt in my body weeks beforehand: I was getting healthier.

When people began to take notice of my weight loss, the compliments came in. “You’re so thin! Good job! What did you do? What’s your secret? “ Suddenly I was accomplished. Suddenly I was an expert in something. I drank it all in.

This only made me believe that weight loss was everything I had dreamt it to be. People liked me more now! They paid more attention! I was now considered attractive! They aren’t looking at me like a clumsy oaf who didn’t know how to do things! I rode the high for as long as I could, posting before-and-after “progress pics” on social media for even more validation.

Then the lockdown happened. Stuck alone in a shoebox apartment, I began to obsess over losing even more weight. It was, in my COVID-anxiety-filled brain, one good thing that could happen in the middle of all the bad things that were happening. So I weighed myself everyday. I did yoga morning, noon, and night. I obsessed over my food, and if the scale went up one day, I made sure to eat less the next day.

At the height of lockdown, I hit the lowest weight I had ever been, but that didn’t stop me from critiquing myself. In my eyes, my back wasn’t toned enough, my belly wasn’t flat enough, my butt wasn’t perky enough, etc, etc. Without the outside world flooding me with compliments, all I could see were flaws. 

As the world slowly opened up again, my weight crept back on. The gain went very slowly that I didn’t notice at first, but when I got to 10 pounds heavier, my confidence was shot. 

I was so terrified of being fat again that I was constantly anxious and stressed, beating myself up if I didn’t work out, and restricting food only to binge it back later. I had resorted to familiar habits of fat old me – making weight loss contracts and posting endless “Day 1s” on social media “for accountability.” I ate a lot of sundaes and cookies in secret, and not without a lot of guilt.

Fast forward to today and I had gained back all the weight I had lost and then some, thanks to a combination of binge eating, sporadic workouts, and going on medication that is notorious for weight gain. 

I cried a lot when I weighed myself recently and realized I was the heaviest I had ever been and nothing in my closet fit me anymore. When I got tired of moping, I bought new clothes and got back into a regular workout routine, and now I think I’ve come to terms with being heavy again. 

All of this is just to say that weight loss isn’t as great as society hypes it up to be. Yes, there are many health benefits that come with trimming down. Mobility improves, body pain goes away. We become less at risk for a bunch of diseases the closer our weight is to the normal range. 

But, contrary to what people tend to believe, losing weight doesn’t magically zap your problems away. In fact, it sometimes causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. Among a few people I know, their drastic weight loss was born out of grief and even depression.

And that “confidence” that supposedly comes with losing weight? It’s often just a high from people complimenting you all the time – a high that disappears once the compliments stop.

I don’t know what true confidence is or where it comes from. I just know I’ve been feeling closer to it lately – the more I go to the gym and am able to lift heavier or do more reps than I did the day before. I haven’t lost much weight – just a couple of kilos – but my strength and endurance have improved by a mile.

Losing weight shouldn’t be the ultimate goal – just a recognized byproduct of living a healthy life. In most cases, the numbers on the scale will go down if you eat right and move more. 

But pursuing that downward trend isn’t half as satisfying as working towards other signs of health: increased strength, more flexibility, higher energy, lower resting heart rate, better sleep, a better relationship with food, and, perhaps most overlooked, not being anxious over a silly little number on a scale. – Rappler.com

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Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.