It’s time to get vulnerable and share my weight journey over the past eight years.
2009: Freshman 15
In 2009, I gained the freshman 15 and hit my highest weight at the time: 145 lbs. For 3 years I stayed at this weight. Until years of self-hate and seeing nothing but a fat person in the mirror made me decide I needed to force my body to shed the extra weight. I didn’t want to shift my weight quickly. I slowly incorporated running, strength training, and intermittent fasting (avoiding food past 7:30/8 PM). As a result, I lost 15 pounds over the course of a year.
Although I was back at my high school weight of ~130 lbs, my health was going downhill. I had horrible digestion (severe constipation and bloating); my hair and nail health and growth was abysmal. I was cold all the time! My toes would turn purple in the winter – I couldn’t wear enough socks. The bones in my fingers ached and hurt from the cold. I wore thick hijabs + a hat as soon as fall hit, even in the house with the heat on. Not to mention that my PMS and menstrual cycle symptoms were off the charts.
At the time, I was not aware that these were all signs of reduced metabolic rate and poor energy production on a cellular level. I wish I had known then that any attempts to shift weight through a stress response was a recipe for metabolic disaster. All current methods of weight loss are induced through a stress response – by increasing restriction and energy needs (exercise).
Stress Induced Weight Loss
Within two months of my wedding (April 2015), I regained the 15 lbs I had lost and an extra 10 lbs. I was eating without restriction and had also stopped exercising on a daily basis. I know some would say, “well duh!” Yes, if you induce weight loss through a stress response (as explained above), it must be sustained with a continued stress response.
Otherwise, your body will compensate for the weight loss and cushion itself to prepare for the next “famine” (attempt of weight loss). The body does not understand our logical obsession with weight reduction. It only understands these patterns in our diet as either restriction/famine or abundance/enough access.
I firmly believe that any attempts to reduce weight leads us into a cyclical pattern of loss and regain. Not attempting to lose weight to begin with is the best answer I have for excess weight, at the moment. An objective understanding of your weight is a good place to start. Is your body actually carrying around excess fat? Weight loss is a question that I have been researching and trying to understand for years. So far, no one has an answer for sustainable weight loss that doesn’t require restriction or excessive exercising.
Ketogenic Diet & High Intensity Interval Training
To continue, I did nothing about my weight for almost a year and half. I ate normally and since I’m in the nutrition field, I ate foods generally regarded as healthy – whole grains, vegetables, nuts, plant-based proteins, etc. But I was still bombarded with messages of disgust towards body fat. Now I was actually overweight. I consistently heard negative messages about my body from family members, who were projecting their insecurities about their own bodies and fatphobia.
In 2016, I decided to once again try to lose weight. I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I hadn’t found the right tool to shed the weight and keep it off. This time I tried the ketogenic diet with high intensity interval training (HIIT). Needless to say, the symptoms of cold intolerance, digestive issues, constipation, hair loss quickly set in. But this time, I didn’t even lose that much weight. After an entire month of doing keto and HIIT, I lost 7 lbs. I think three of those were water weight.
I stopped the ketogenic diet because Ramadan had started – a month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. After this episode in my life, I gained back the weight + 10 lbs. Now I was at 165 lbs. The highest weight I had ever been. Still, I did not connect the dots and understand that I was hurting my metabolism and increasing my risk for being at a higher weight later in life.
In late 2016, I started reading about the set-point theory. I started “refeeding” – essentially eating everything and anything. The general idea is to overshoot with caloric intake in order to push the body out of “starvation mode,” which then pushes it to return to its set point. I didn’t complete this experiment or get to my set-point. I gained 20 lbs during this attempt, and I couldn’t fathom being any bigger than I already was. I still believe the set-point theory is real. How to stimulate the body to reach set-point is not clear yet and has not been studied thoroughly.
No more attempts
Which leads us to the last photo: me at my master’s graduation last year in Michigan – at my highest weight and BMI.
Being fat is not easy. When I moved back to Maryland to be closer to my family, I continued to hear the same negative feedback about my body that I did when I was at a smaller size and acceptable BMI. I realized that I had to shut that negativity down. I would no longer let other peoples’ perception of my body and their own insecurities dictate how I lived, the kind of relationship I had with food, and with my own body.
It is a daily struggle to wake up and focus on something more than the excess fat on my body. But I do it because I know if I had done this eight years sooner, I wouldn’t be at this weight. And I would have spent all those years a happier person.
I know if I try one more time to shift the fat on my body through a stress response, I’m only going to make it worse. I had to go through all this cyclical hatred towards my body to recognize that I should have loved it in the first place and saw it as a means to do the things I loved, enjoyed and was passionate about. As opposed to an object to be messed with.
Every time I see an old photo, it makes me sad and it hurts to know that I wasted so much of my life simply hating my body and forcing it through stressful episodes to make it look different. Yet still, it didn’t just give up and let me die. It compromised functions that weren’t important to my survival. It fought really freaking hard to keep me alive. It may sound crazy to think about our bodies in this way, but it’s important to recognize that there is a phenomena happening inside of us 24/7 that literally keeps us going.
Self-Love All Day, Everyday
This is why I advocate for self-love. I encourage people to let go of their obsession with weight loss. Love who you are, appreciate your body for all the things it does for you every day. Feed it and move it enough to nourish it, but not so much that you induce stress and push it into survival mode. Honor the phenomena happening inside of you. Trust that the biology that dictates our thoughts, movements, and life are worth more than being reduced to the logical calculations our mind makes up.