Naturally, we focus on the wonderful benefits of losing weight (fat) – the health boost, the self-confidence, the ability to move around with more ease and less discomfort. For many however, the self-image that accompanied being fat lingers long after the weight is gone.
While at first glance this sort of phenomenon may be surprising, when we uncover the layers of body image and self-esteem, the issue makes more and more sense. There are physical and emotional issues that linger when large amounts of weight are lost.
Here are some of the theories of “phantom fat”
- The excess fat is gone when people reach their goal weight, but they may have sagging skin, cellulite or a body shape that they still deem undesirable.
- “People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image perception with them,” says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist who specializes in body-image issues.
- The above is especially true for those who were overweight for years and lost a lot of weight quickly.
- Another contributing factor can be fear of regaining the weight, says psychologist Joshua Hrabosky. This is especially true for yo-yo dieters.
- Hrabosky authored a study showing that many overweight and formerly overweight women showed a greater “dysfunctional appearance investment” – meaning they put a lot of stock in their appearance being part of who they are.
- Although people who have lost a lot of weight do have improved satisfaction of appearance, it is not normally as high as those who have never been overweight.
- A lot of it comes down to unrealistic expectations with fat loss – people expect that they will look like bikini models when all the weight comes off.
- You have to look at retraining your brain and understanding that you have been reinforcing this negative image for probably a long time,” says Adrienne Ressler, a body-image specialist.
Fat Loss doesn’t make everything right
While losing a lot of body fat has a myriad of physical and psychological benefits, it is important to realize that when people lose weight they may not lose the reasons that caused them to be overweight in the first place.
The “hedonic treadmill” plays a prominent role here. So, as a person achieves a goal or gets something new, expectations and desires rise in tandem, which results in no permanent gain in happiness.
Whether you are on your way towards a fat loss goal or thinking about endeavoring to do so, here is some food for thought:
- Losing fat won’t change who you are as a person
- Fat loss is every bit as much about eliminating self-defeatist thinking and emotional roadblocks, as it is about the scale weight.
- Be realistic and clear about your reasons and expectations of losing fat. Try and wire your brain to achieve these goals for yourself – your physical and mental health. If you find yourself in a mentality that you need to lose weight and need to look better, try and draw upon some more intrinsic goals, such as adapting an enjoyment for healthy eating and physical activity. This kind of mindset will not only help you with your fat loss goal long-term, it will also prepare you for the emotional complacency and “phantom fat” that often ensues.
Has anyone experienced “phantom fat”?