It was the last lesson on a Monday. The sun was blazing hot on the vast, barren playground. A group of 41 six-year-old girls were sweating & trying hard to run. The overly strict PTI (games teacher) was whistling and yelling to make the students pick up the pace.
While most of the students were almost near the finish line, a girl who was further behind, struggling to breathe, drenched in sweat was taking frequent breaks.
In no time, the PTI spotted her and yelled (in Hindi which loosely translates to)-
“Hey, fatso! why do you eat so much if you can’t even run like other normal girls.”
On hearing this, the entire group along with the PTI burst into laughter while the little girl who was shamed and ridiculed broke into tears.
It wasn’t the first time she was bullied and neither was it the last.
However, this particular incident stuck in her mind because when she somehow managed to narrate it to her mother, something unbelievable happened.
Her mother said, “You shouldn’t feel bad about what the teacher said. It was for your good. You should try harder to run faster next time.”
I am that girl.
I vividly remember my mother body-shaming me in various ways over the years but that day’s incident particularly stood out to me.
I re-lived the shame, the hurt I felt that day, every time she would tell me to do something about my out of shape waistline.
This nagging continued for the next thirty years.
My weight wasn’t just a number.
The fat I carried on my body wasn’t just plain body tissue.
It wasn’t just a score on the BMI chart.
To me, my weight has been –
A burden that I carried more in my heart than on my body.
A reason to feel ashamed of my body, how I looked, how much space I occupied and how slow I was.
A source of immense hurt that made me feel as if my spirit was contracting every time I was out in the world.
The reason why I always chose to stay back home on one pretext or the other.
The reason I have felt stuck in the loneliness. It felt like being in a prison, but one that I deserved because I felt something was wrong with me.
It was the feeling that made me feel like an outsider. Never belonging where I was.
It was that feeling in the pit of my stomach that is dark and hurts like hell. I couldn’t talk about it and couldn’t articulate how bad it felt because then everyone would know my “dirty little secret”.
It was my ticket to being rejected before I could prove my merit.
It was my reason for hating my body, my being and understanding why other people (my family included) hated me too.
It taught me self-loathing.
It was a feeling that went beyond my body and proclaimed me unworthy of everything I ever achieved or created in this life.
And I am confident, I am not the only woman who has experienced this.
It is a shared experience by most women who are overweight.
If you are one of them, I want you to know you aren’t alone.
I want you to feel seen, heard and felt.
Looking back at my life, I cannot even begin to count the number of occasions when I invested enormous amounts of will-power, time and energy into making sure that I met everyone’s expectations and into caring about what other people thought of me, that I was often left feeling angry, resentful and fearful.
Imagine a woman constantly struggling with unexpressed shame, anger, resentment and fear around her appearance besides juggling the many roles she plays in her personal and professional life.
She dreams of a day when she would be able to lose all her weight, feel good in her body and embrace the health she envisions for herself.
A few years ago, I was that woman who was now raising a daughter and dreaded she would somehow pass on her shame, her feelings of unworthiness and more to her daughter if she didn’t do something about her weight.
That was the point when I realised that merely losing the physical weight wasn’t going to free me of the emotional burdens I had been carrying.
I had to work hard to free myself of the shame, the hurt, the guilt, the people-pleasing, the mind-made prison I had shut myself into.
And that is what I want every woman who has been struggling with her weight to realise.
Losing weight in a way that you will effortlessly maintain for the rest of your life can’t be done without letting go of the emotional burdens that body shaming and being overweight has brought along.
I want you to stop and think for a minute –
How can a diet industry that solely, obsessively focuses on counting calories, dishing out restrictive meal plans and crazy workouts ever help solve the above problems?
But it is solely not a problem of failure of the diet industry. It is cumulative of the epidemic of shaming overweight people and nurturing the belief that shaming them might motivate them to adopt a healthier lifestyle (which is the code to lose weight).
I can personally vouch for that humiliation is the least effective way to bring about lasting change. Both in children and adults alike.
For a moment, you can sure trigger someone for swift behaviour change through submission and fear.
However, it shall be a recipe for –
Resentment in the person being humiliated.
And yes, the change will NOT last.
We, humans, are emotional beings. Not addressing the emotional and mental aspects of the weight struggle is one of the key reasons why so many people who lose all their weight, slowly regain it back.
I learned this from my weight loss struggles.
I would do well with eating healthy foods and exercising. I would even cut out all sweets and fried foods. The scale would oblige for a few kilograms but when life’s usual stresses showed up, I would cope with them in a way I knew best. By eating in a way I had all my life.
I ate because I had no other means to cope with the stress and the flurry of emotions. I had no one whom I could speak to without the fear of judgement.
And before I knew I would have regained the weight and then some.
It was a never-ending merry-go-round of losing weight and regaining it and feeling ashamed about it. The more ashamed and stressed I felt, the more I overate and the heavier I got.
Every failure further dented my self-esteem.
The shame I had hidden within me would grow a little more.
My inner critic would offer harsher blows and I felt miserable for days only to seek comfort in food.
This painful, cycle continued till I started unpacking the emotional pain, processing my hurt and shame and learnt to be kinder to myself.
One reason we fail to see the connections between our personal struggles and larger cultural issues is because of the SILENCE that prevails around these issues.
Nobody wants to talk about topics that feel like a dirty secret.
We do not talk about the shame that we women feel around being overweight.
And no, it is not because we are not capable of it, it is mainly because of the culture where women are taught to never talk openly about their bodies or their feelings. So we all suffer in isolation.
We sometimes live with it for an entire lifetime, but we do not talk about it.
I want you to take a moment and answer-
When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation about body shame in person? If you’re like the most people I have met, the answer is never.
This is despite the openness offered by the social media platforms that have hashtags and movements for body positivity, body neutrality and more.
There is a surge in the willingness of people to openly talk about other emotions like fear and anger, though there is still a huge fraction of the society that is yet to feel free enough to open up about their mental and emotional weights and how those burdens are keeping them stuck in their lives.
I have experienced these emotions, over and over and over again. And I’d be brutally honest, even though I have gotten good at processing these I still have moments when my old thoughts of unworthiness, low self-esteem visit me, envelope me and overwhelm me.
The feeling that we are flawed, unworthy of a healthy, fit body runs so deep within our systems that labelling overweight people as someone who lacks self-discipline or as lazy is almost misdiagnosing the real issues.
I am not trying to make a blanket statement that everyone’s weight struggle is alike or that there aren’t various aspects of the multilayered problem of obesity.
I intend to shine a light on the aspects that affect so many of us and despite our deep desire for freedom from the shame and pain we never do anything about it.
The real question is-
How do we even confront a situation that is founded on the experiences that by very virtue of its nature we don’t talk about?
The curse of social media and its perfected, air-brushed version of story-telling has been that we see only perfect bodies everywhere. Ones that say they have lost lots of weight but have no signs of sagging loose folds of skin, stretch marks, wrinkles and other flaws normal overweight people have.
It amplifies the feeling that we are alone in this struggle. We have nowhere to go. No one will understand our struggles.
It is a very suffocating feeling.
One that gave me restless, sleepless nights for a very long time.
That’s why, when I finally figured out weight loss, I made it a mission to make room for connection, compassion and courage for other women who might be going through similar life experiences.
For years, I felt as if no one else could understand my pain, especially all those around me who were fit and lean.
I felt as if something is wrong with me or that I am somehow being punished for something I’ve done wrong. I wondered in the back of my mind if this is somehow in the “plan” because I am an undisciplined, lazy person.
This was despite my success in many areas of my life. I believe this feeling is because we do not let our suffering out in the open.
But what if we chose to take ownership of our healing?
What if we decided to talk openly about our shame and hurtful experiences?
What if we women with shared experiences, connected and brainstormed our way out of the weight struggle in a compassionate, courageous way?
This is the idea behind my introducing a one-on-one weight loss coaching program for women who are ready to end their emotional and physical struggle with weight.
In the sea of fitness challenges and weight loss programs that are constantly reinforcing the feeling that you are not eating healthy foods or are too lazy to work out, I am choosing to be different.
In my one-on-one weight loss coaching program, I offer the exact strategies, frameworks, real-world examples, mindsets, daily unlimited support, real-life weekly one-on-one coaching, and hard-won breakthroughs to start and grow your health of the mind, body and spirit.
To me, your weight loss success isn’t limited to you reaching a number on the scale.
To me, weight loss success is you learning to feel AMAZING in your body, build a loving, caring relationship with yourself and develop a lifestyle that frees you from the weight loss struggle for the rest of your life.
If you can relate to any aspect of my story because it’s an issue that you face, I want you to know that you aren’t the only one in this.
That there is a way to break free and reclaim your freedom.
There is a way to connect and talk in person to someone who has walked the walk and is ready to walk with you to a place you have only been in your dreams yet.
Weight loss is much more than simply knowing what to do. It’s about being able to implement the knowledge for healthy outcomes.
Inside the Be Healthy Be You program, we discuss the three pillars of our existence – mind, body and spirit. Here we strive to accomplish the health of them all with knowledge, systems, support, and emotions while learning to be ourselves in a more compassionate, caring way.
All parts of you are welcome here.
If you’re at the start of your weight loss journey, begin with the strategies that have helped lose 60 pounds and that I teach my coaching clients to achieve sustainable results. Take the FREE Weight Loss Ownership Course.