Losing weight can lead to an identity crisis.
I know, I know, that sounds a tad dramatic. But think about how you define your sense of self. Your identity is a constellation made up of your values, preferences, career, hobbies, family, and a bunch of other things. You take all of these parts and craft them into a narrative to make one coherent piece. And it’s this story that you tell yourself and the people around you to explain both who you are and why you are that way.
Want an example? See if this sounds familiar: “Hi, my name is Janine! I’m a lead aerospace engineer at NASA. Engineering was an obvious choice for me because I always loved math when I was in school. Plus, I was the oldest of five siblings, so I guess I’m a natural leader. I want to be the Chief Engineer of NASA one day. Oh, you like my posters of the national parks? Yeah, I decorate with those because I love backpacking.”
You can see how Janine connects her personality traits and preferences with a story of what she liked when she was little or what her family was like when she grew up. Her past is integrated with her present and even her future in a single narrative that defines her identity.
Changing How You See Yourself
Change is hard because it breaks the narrative.
If you tie your identity with what size you wear, what your body looks like, what activities you do, or what foods you eat, losing weight is going to require a shift in how you think about yourself. Do you identify as plus size? Having curves in all the right places? A couch potato? Do you ever make jokes about being fat or about how much you love food? Do you ever say you could never look like that fitness model? You have to be willing to let go of any of these if you want to grow.
Maybe you love baking. Really love it. Everyone knows your reputation as an awesome baker, you get cake pans for Christmas, and your co-workers expect your famous homemade brownies on their birthday. What would you do if you realized that your baking habit was keeping you from losing weight? It would feel so embarrassing to tell people that you’re going to bake less because you’re trying to eat fewer sweets. And you like baking. You’ve put a lot of work into curating favorite recipes, and you’ve put hundreds of hours into practicing.
Deciding to put that part of you aside, or even doing less of it, will be really, really hard. If you don’t bake anymore, then who are you? Sometimes we shy away from change because it “isn’t me” or “doesn’t feel right.” We want to be authentic, and this feels inauthentic. But there’s a difference between being authentic and keeping ourselves stuck in our old ways.
Authenticity in the Midst of Change
So, in the interest of letting go of old habits, figure out what will fill the hole left by a changed hobby or way of thinking about yourself. Instead of thinking of yourself as curvy, maybe think about how strong your body is and how much it can do. If you loved baking because you love feeding people delicious food, then make a pivot. Still feed them delicious food, but make that food something more in line with what you want to start eating. Or bake only for really special occasions. You’ll still be you, but you’ll be expressing your values in a new way.
The transition will not be easy. And if that wasn’t hard enough, you’ll also have some awkward conversations to look forward to. Your parents won’t know what to buy you for Christmas anymore. Your co-workers are going to miss their birthday brownies. Your best friend might get upset when you don’t want to go out for cheesecake on Fridays with them anymore. It’ll take some negotiating, but you’ll eventually establish a new rhythm.
It’s hard to see yourself differently at first. It will feel a little like getting to know a stranger. But if you keep at it, you’ll soon fold this new aspect of yourself into your existing narrative and take your life in a whole new direction.