Thursday, July 9, 2009

Phantom Fat

And every morning when she looks in the mirror while getting ready for the day, she sees her former, heavier self. “My brain says, ‘Yep, still fat.’”
I have been struggling a lot with body image this week, so when I found this article from MSNBC on so-called Phantom Fat, I felt a little less crazy for being so hard on myself. What is Phantom Fat, you ask? The article explains it as continuing to carry around and perceive the excess weight that is no longer there after significant weight loss. This has been something I can remember trying to figure out as far back as last year, right before reaching my goal weight. When shopping, I still grab clothes that are too large. I still get nervous about taking too much room in the back seat of a crowded vehicle.

When I look in the mirror and honestly don't see an enormous difference. I still have a belly. My cheeks are still chubby. I won't ever have a "bikini body." Sometimes I wonder if what I see is anything similar to what I look like physically. Last week, a friend exclaimed "You're so skinny!" after not seeing me for about six months and internally all I could think was She's just saying that to be nice.

When I was 270 lbs, I'd look at pictures and not recognize myself because what I saw in the mirror was actually smaller than what I saw in photos or videos. It was always shocking to me, so I avoided looking at photographs displaying my full body. (Note: I remember being thoroughly upset by the photo to the left, taken on a family trip to Gettysburg with my mom.) These days, the opposite is true. I see photographs of myself that others have taken and still don't recognize my body, but now it's because my self-perception is much larger than what I'm assuming I look like in reality.

I always feel like I'm looking in a fun-house mirror. My body is constantly changing and I still don't have a solid sense of what sort of space I'm taking up. The summer before beginning my weight loss venture, I vividly remember breaking not one, but two folding chairs while on on the beach. This was mortifying and has always been something I keep in mind when I don't think I can do another rep or run that final mile. Yet, the other day I found myself stressing out about my upcoming vacation, hoping that my family brings along beach chairs sturdy enough to hold my significantly smaller frame. This can easily be attributed to Phantom Fat. I spent about 20 years of my life being overweight and it's hard to break certain ways of thinking and feeling.

“We become numb to how mean we’re being to ourselves,” Ressler says.

I hope to learn to be a little nicer to my reflection in the future. I'm sure it'll take some work and time, but I think it can be done.


Penny Dreadful said...

Oh Jenelle,

You are speaking the truth sister. I feel exactly the same way. I"m still struggling to get to my goal weight and I'm getting so tired. And I know that when I get there, I'll still feel fat, and I'll still have the same body issues I have now. The same ones I had 70 lbs ago. But it does help to know others feel the same way. thanks.

Hannah Mia said...

I can really relate to that - I lost 50lbs a while ago & I think the disappointment of not having been completely transformed played a major role in my putting the weight back on.

But, from what I've seen, you really do look wonderful! x

Sarah said...

Hi Jenelle!

Thanks for stopping by my blog. The answer is yes! Yes it is worth it already, and I would do it again even if I knew there were going to be complications. I'm kind of complicated person anyways when it comes to healing. I knew that going into this, but still had high hopes it would go flawlessly. It didn't but that won't stop me from finishing what I started. The pain wasn't anything too intense, the first few days were very uncomfortable, but I've experienced much worse surgical pain. When the incision line broke open it burned deep inside, but after a day or so it started to heal and that passed.

I'm still amazed by what I see in the mirror, almost 6 weeks later and still covered with some gauze. I had lived for years with all that excess skin, it hung low and wider than my hips and you couldn't see my belly button. I had a hard time with the idea of surgery, especially give some past knee issues, but when I met the plastic surgeon that did this, he explained that this was very much like my knee... this was for function. I couldn't even imagine how wonderful and freeing it would be. Not to mention how much better my skin my looks.

People who have lost massive amounts of weight, 185 pounds for me, we have different tissues than those who have lost 30 or so. No matter how we lost the weight, it's still delicate. Complications like mine (well besides the infection) happen in about 30% of the people or so my plastic surgeons office tells me. They also tell me that this will still be a remarkable result and I have to agree.

I would recommend this to anyone. It's a mental mind fuck, but worth it. I spent years losing the weight, but it was hard to accept what I had left over... I'm so grateful for this life changing opportunity. Phantom fat aside, the skin was very real. It reminded me of how far I had come and I struggled with it. I had visions of just stuffing myself until it filled out again because I hated how it hung. Obviously I would have never done that, but I never felt thin. Now I do.

Congratulations on your loss and even more so on your maintenance.


Heather said...

Jenelle, I have to be honest: this post made me tear up a little. While I still have a long way to go, I identify with a lot of the distorted body image. It's hard for me to see progress because I'm too busy focusing on the parts I hate versus the parts that I can see getting thinner, stronger, leaner, etc. I suppose I'll always have body image issues. But you? You are inspiring and beautiful.

Diane, Fit to the Finish said...

I wanted to stop by and tell you that the way your see yourself in your mind will catch up to how you actually look! I lost 150 pounds twelve years ago and have kept it off. It did take me a while to reconcile what I remembered looking and feeling like, to what I actually looked like after I lost the weight.

Sometimes though, even today, I'll hold up a shirt at a store and my teenage daughters will say, "That's too big. Pick a smaller size!"

You have done an amazing thing - keep up your great attitude!!

Jenelle said...

Wow - thanks so much for the comments everyone.

Penny - It seems like a long process, but I'm in it for the long haul!

Hannah - Thanks so much. It's hard to really evaluate and appreciate our successes when there are such large goals on our minds. I find I am at my best when taking everything one day at a time.

Sarah - Thanks so much for your response. Your story is so intriguing to me and I can't stop going through your blog because I feel like I can relate to a lot of what you're saying. I hope your recovery is swift and will keep an eye on your blog.

Heather - Please! Your comments and yummy healthy food photos keep me motivated. You should be so proud of what you've accomplished. I suppose it takes some time to adjust to the new people we're all becoming.

Diane - Thanks so much for stopping by. I absolutely love your blog and find that your updates are daily reminders of why I worked so hard to get here (and why I should never let myself slip back into old ways). I hope to be able to keep it off for good like you!

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