Struggles with Weight Gain and Body Image

There’s a huge body positivity movement right now, and I love it. Instagram accounts like @bodyposipanda are blowing up and helping women to feel empowered by things that we were always told were flaws. Having spent my whole life feeling pressured to be as ‘skinny’ as possible and at one point suffering from an eating disorder as a result, it’s wonderful to see people embracing their bodies for what they are.

The problem is, I feel like a hypocrite because 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 Weight Gain

My relationship with my body has become especially strained in the last year. In May of 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 they way I was used to, and my eating habits got out of control. This resulted in a huge 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 even liked the way my body looked with some extra weight on it, and understood that it didn’t need to look one certain way for me to look good. 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 would hate myself.

I was well aware of the changes in my body, and so were others around me. I received countless comments about how much weight I’d put on, which I usually laughed off, but there was one that I couldn’t see the humour in. I visited a massage shop to get a foot massage, and as the lady who was doing mine 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 lady next to her, who was massaging my boyfriend, reached over and jiggled the fat on 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 so 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 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 a long as I’m OK with my body, there’s no problem. The thing is, I’m not.

Body Changes

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 and end to the unsolicited comments, but it’s not that easy anymore. When I first moved to Thailand, I was 22 years old. I’m now almost 29 and 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 retired professional athletes, and how many of them end up gaining large amounts of weight, too. There’s a mixture of things that cause that to happen. 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 weight I’ve actually gained. 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 prefer to gauge how I feel 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 that too much. When I was battling an eating disorder, I was weighing myself constantly, and I make sure not to revert back to that behaviour.

I am completely in love with a podcast called Guilty Feminist. In early episodes, it featured Sofie Hagen, a Danish comedian and self-proclaimed fat activist. In an episode on self-deprecation, she spoke about how out her own negative self-talk and how just slightly adjusting how we word things can have a surprising impact. In particular, she mentioned the importance of differentiating between reality and your feelings.

I’m guilty of looking at myself and saying ‘ugh, I’m so fat‘, which is problematic on several levels. As well a the irrational self-criticism, there’s the assumption that fat is a bad thing, which I only project inwards on myself. Since listening to that episode, I’ve been making a constant effort to replace ‘I am‘ with ‘I feel‘.  ‘I feel ugly‘ carries much less weight than ‘I am ugly‘, and it’s OK to have negative feelings about yourself sometimes, as long as you understand those feelings are temporary and not definitive of how you actually are. That’s what I’m trying to do now.

I’ve recently found a new gym and am back into my routine of training, so weight is starting to come off. While losing 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 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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6 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…

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