A couple of weeks ago, reader M. dropped me a note about a body image crisis. She’d spent years and years learning to love and accept herself, and had finally reached what she considered to be a really healthy, serene, positive place. She was doing well in school, had a marvelous new boyfriend, and felt confident and on-track. But then she’d inexplicably gained some weight, and her clothes stopped fitting, and she just plummeted. She was depressed, and she was disappointed in herself for being depressed.
Naturally, I told her that she got to choose her own next move. When negative body image creeps in, it usually drags inertia with it and, frequently, the best way to get out of that rut is to decide what needs to change, and change it. I said to M., “If you’re unhappy with your body at a certain weight, YOU get to decide how to handle that. And that encompasses upping your exercise and changing eating patterns to see if weight loss will alleviate your current distress and unhappiness, but it also encompasses deciding if there are ways to learn to accept and love your body right now at its new weight and shape.”
And then I went out on a limb and mentioned the new boyfriend. Because I know from experience that love can affect body shape and weight. When I married my husband, I gained nearly 45 pounds in the two years following our wedding. We frequently associate weight gain with depression and unhappiness, but believe me, I was happy beyond happy during that time. Sometimes weight shifts when something really good – like love – enters our lives. And that DOESN’T mean that we should shun romantic advances or dump our partners. OBVIOUSLY. But it means that we may gain weight because we’re eating out more, baking tasty desserts as part of a fun courtship, nesting, having many more marvelous nights out at the bar than usual, spending weekends in bed, or any of the other high-calorie, low-activity behaviors that often go hand-in-hand with finding a new love. It’s not the “fault” of our lovers, naturally, it’s just a part of the circumstances and activities that surround being lovestruck, And just knowing that can be beneficial. Society wants us to view weight gain as failure, no matter the cause, and we are conditioned to feel that way. But it needn’t be so. Weight gained from happy events may irritate us initially, but it is really as a hallmark of joy, excitement, acceptance, and the warm, loving feelings that come with falling hard for someone special.
Now, of course, the question becomes how to deal with happy body changes. Do you accept the new shape you’ve got, or do you try to change that shape? And that’s a question that each person must make for herself.
When M. got back to me, she said that she HAD been going out for near-nightly beers with the new flame – something that hadn’t been part of her life before. She was happy to have found an explanation for her body’s shape shift, and just as happy to make a few cutbacks.
And I hope that some of you see yourselves reflected in her story. Weight shifts as life shifts. Sometimes we gain when we’re sad, or gain when we’re happy, lose when we’re sad, or lose when we’re happy. Just as Tess points out up there, it’s much more complex than a number on a scale.