Struggles with Weight Gain and Body Image

There’s a huge body positivity movement right now, and I love it. Instagram accounts like Megan Jayne Crabbe’s are blowing up and helping women to embrace features that we were always told were flaws. Having spent my whole life feeling pressured to be as small as possible and at one stage suffering from an eating disorder as a result, it’s wonderful to see people celebrating their bodies for what they are.

The problem is, I feel like a hypocrite. As much as I admire these women advocating for the movement, I struggle to be body positive and still impose a lot of negative energy on my own body. I’m constantly hearing ‘love your body‘ and trying to live that, but for me, simply not hating it is hard enough at times.

When I’m not putting pressure on myself to look a certain way, I’m pressuring myself to be body positive, and neither of these extremes is helpful for me.

My Changing Body

My relationship with my body has become especially strained in the last year. In May 2016, I left my gym, which was the beginning of a break from fighting that ended up spanning a whole year. During this time, I was unable to train the way I was used to, and my eating habits began to change. This resulted in significant weight gain for me, which put me at the heaviest I’ve ever been.

During this time, I’ve swung like a pendulum between certain feelings about my body. On some days, I was happy to take a break that I knew would be beneficial to me, allowing myself to eat what I wanted and to relax a little bit without constantly putting pressure on myself. I felt as though it was well-earned, and that I owed it to myself to stop punishing myself. Sometimes, I liked the way my body looked with some extra weight on it, and understood that it didn’t need to be a certain size in order to be ‘good enough’. I made lots of jokes about enjoying having boobs for the first time in my life, too. On other days, I would look in the mirror or see a photo of myself and be horrified at how different my body was. My body had changed in ways I wasn’t prepared for, and I was unable to fit into a lot of my clothes. On those days, I hated myself.

While I was well aware of the changes in my body, others around me also felt the need to point it out. I received countless comments about how much weight I’d gained, which I usually laughed off as a defense mechanism, but there was a certain occasion I couldn’t see the humour in. I visited a massage shop to get a foot massage, and as the masseuse was about to get started, she asked me if I was pregnant. My reaction made it pretty clear that I wasn’t, and she apologised several times, but that wasn’t the end of it. Just as we were finishing up, the masseuse next to her reached over and jiggled the back of my arm, shouting ‘fat!’ in Thai. If that wasn’t enough, she then started to flap her arms at me as though they were wings, just to make sure I really got the message. The whole time, I just looked at her with my mouth agape. She didn’t see any problem with this at all. This was the most egregious of all the times my weight was pointed out to me, but it’s just one of many.

There is a cultural difference in how these comments come across. In Thailand, people often think nothing of calling each other fat. Sometimes it’s seen as cute, and sometimes it’s just an act of pointing out something that someone already knows in an inoffensive way. I’ve even met several people named Ouan (อ้วน), the Thai word for ‘fat’. It certainly took some getting used to when I first moved here, but this is why I usually let such comments go. When I had my first fight in a year and bumped into people I recognised at the venue, the first thing one of them said was that I was fat now. That being said, when re-telling the story of the massage shop to my Thai friends and colleagues, most of them were just as shocked as I was.

My general attitude towards other people’s opinions about my weight is ‘fuck them’. My weight is nobody else’s business, and as long as I’m OK with my body, there’s no problem. The problem is, I’m not.

Coping as an Athlete

My weight has always fluctuated wildly, and I have a sometimes impressive ability to put on a huge amount of weight in a short space of time. I usually take an annual trip back home, during which I enjoy being able to eat lots of things that I normally don’t have access to in Thailand, and foods that I would usually have avoided during the year of constant training. By the time I get back to Thailand, I’m always a few kilos heavier, and everyone in the gym has something to say about it. It used to be fine when I could come back, train for two weeks and lose it all and put an end to the unsolicited comments, but it’s not that easy anymore. When I first moved to Thailand, I was in my early 20s. As I head into my 30s, losing weight seems to be much more difficult than it used to be. Adjusting to that has been a challenge.

This whole experience has made me think about how many retired professional athletes end up gaining significant amounts of weight, too. Of course, it’s largely due to the reduced training regime and adjustment in diet. You take the opportunity to eat all the things that were off-limits for so long before. But even if you don’t do that, just maintaining your diet can result in weight gain when you aren’t training the way you used to. Personally, I’ve also found that a lack of training makes it easy to somehow mentally detach yourself from your body. When I keep active, I’m more aware of how I feel in my body and what it can do. When I don’t, I seemingly ignore it and simply use it as a vessel. That’s why I end up so surprised when I see a photo or reflection which forces me to see how much my body has changed. On top of that, there’s the feeling that you owe it to yourself. After spending years restricting yourself in the name of your sport, who’s to tell you that you can’t let yourself go and enjoy life a little? The trick is finding a balance that makes you happy, which is what I’ve been struggling with.

How I’m Dealing With It

I usually try not to focus on weight so much as a definitive number, whether it’s on a scale or in a dress size. Instead, I remind myself to gauge how I feel in my body and in my clothes.

Recently, I’ve had to buy new clothes altogether. I realised that there was no point in trying to squeeze into old pairs of jeans when I could just buy new, bigger ones and stop feeling bad about it. There was an initial discomfort in buying a size that I’m not used to, but once I put them on, the pressure was gone. Besides, no one knows the size I’m wearing but me, and what does it matter? The fact that I compete in a sport with weight classes means I have to take note of the number on the scale more than I would like, but I still try not to dwell on it too much. When I was battling an eating disorder, I was weighing myself constantly, and it’s a struggle not to revert back to that behaviour.

I’ve recently found a new gym and am back into my usual training routine, so my body is starting to change again. While my weight shouldn’t be definitive of my happiness, it’s something I feel good about. This is not only because I feel more comfortable and confident, but because it means I can fight again. At the moment, I have to fight at a higher weight than I’m used to, but that’s fine. Maybe I’ll get back to where I used to be, and maybe I won’t. Part of getting better at all of this is to stop striving to be a certain size or ‘get back’ to anything, as difficult as that is when you’re a fighter. I’m doing my best to enjoy and appreciate my body no matter what size it is. It’s hard, and I’m not particularly good at it, but that’s OK.

I’d originally planned to include photos of myself at varying weights in this post, but decided not to in the end. I respect people who are able to put themselves out there on the internet in that way, but doing that in this post just felt too vulnerable for me. Part of acknowledging my poor relationship with body positivity is knowing that I don’t have to share every image or detail, and that I only have to embrace it in ways that make me feel comfortable. This post has been left as text-only for that reason.

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7 thoughts on “Struggles with Weight Gain and Body Image

  1. I’m so happy for you that you found a new gym! Looking forward reading more about your journey.
    Unfortunately, I was always insecure about my weight but my stay in Thailand made it even worse. As a woman with size M-L, I got a lot of comments about my body fat from random shop owners or even strangers (!). It’s hard to ignore that talk, but I assume it’s part of their culture which is just plain rude to a westerner. It still hits me sometimes even five years later, but I’m working on my self-confidence based on my skills and power, not my looks. Be assured, you look perfectly healthy! I wish you all the best and keep believing in yourself…

    Liked by 1 person

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