Gaining Weight? How to Handle Fear of Judgment

gaining weight article- pic of lisette's dad with 80 birthday cake

For years I worried about gaining weight. I was paralyzed by fear that everyone I know was judging my body. Desperately wanting to hide my shape-shifting body behind baggy clothes, thoughts of my body constantly swirled in my head

As I pushed myself to let go of restricting and dieting, those worries grew larger. “What is everyone going to think when they see me?”  “The first thing they will notice is how much I’ve been gaining weight.” 

Before starting my recovery journey, my mind constantly obsessed about calories, food measurements, and minutes exercised. Recovery is supposed to be about freedom. But as I continued gaining weight, the chaos in my mind transformed from counting to fearing what others were thinking about me. 

The fear of gaining weight can keep us stuck

So many people get stuck in the early and middle stages of recovery because of this common fear. As they begin gaining weight, panic sets in. Focusing on and controlling our food and body is a way we’ve all been brainwashed into coping with anxiety. Literally the only way to get past this fear is by doing the thing you’re afraid of.

If you wait until you’re not scared, you will never experience true recovery.

Turning back to dieting and disordered eating only reinforces the neural pathways in your brain that believe food is scary and eating should be avoided. 

Of course when you let go of restrictions and allow all foods, your body is able to find his/her natural set point weight. For me, this meant gaining a significant amount of weight. I began restricting as a teenager, so I’d never allowed my body to grow and develop the way genetics intended. My body’s set point weight was significantly higher than it had ever been before. (Including during three pregnancies). 

The letting go of dieting and restricting

So how was I able to let go fully and allow the process? Despite my panic about gaining weight? People ask me this question often. I wish there was a simple easy answer. A how to list for anyone terrified of gaining weight. But recovery is never linear. Nor is it perfect. Quite the opposite- it’s messy, chaotic, and full of highs and lows. (Kind of like life). 

The thing about letting go is- it’s not something you do once and then you’re done. It’s a practice. Something you come back to, again and again. 

Every time I found myself anxious about eating, worried about gaining weight, or terrified to let go- it was another opportunity for me to practice surrendering. 

And because we live in a diet obsessed culture, this is something I’ll get practice doing for the rest of my life.

Gaining weight is not easy

Of course this work is tremendously hard for multiple reasons. You can’t see quick tangible results of your efforts. Instead of being praised and rewarded by society for choosing to care for and nourish your body, we’re hit with fatphobia from every angle. 

And fear of judgment from others is a valid fear. In a world where social power is doled out to those who are thin, young, male, white, and fit the beauty standard, there are real consequences of living in a larger body that can’t be denied. If you have never lived in a fat body, you do not know the experience of being shamed for existing while caring for yourself. 

The good news is- if you do this work long enough, if you keep coming back to letting go of controlling your food, eventually you will notice a shift. It won’t be a dramatic change you see the minute it happens. It’s more subtle. More gradual. Like embarking on a 13 hour drive, you don’t notice every single mile as it passes by. After a while, though, you see how far you’ve come. And eventually you’re at your destination. 

I recently noticed one of these shifts

November is a special time for my family, and this year was exceptionally important. My father celebrated his 80th birthday. Or as he likes to say- he became an octo-generian. My mother organized a beautiful family dinner and all of my parents’ siblings along with some cousins traveled to see us. I hadn’t seen many of them in ten years. 

As excited as I was to see my family, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t quite nervous too. What would they think about my body since gaining so much weight? What if they judge me? What if they think I’ve let myself go? 

The words of my mentor Isabel Foxen Duke rang in my ear challenging me to say, “Go ahead and judge me. Bring it on.” Her reminders that I can handle it if they judge me helped build my resolve. Thinking about how my values today no longer align with dieting and restricting helped solidified my strength. Because I value connection with others, being present, and respecting all humans regardless of their shape, size, gender, or color. (This includes myself). 

Gaining weight doesn’t have to destroy you

So, before the event I did NOT spend days trying on outfits scrutinizing my body under the fluorescent lights of dressing rooms. Instead, I found a dress in my closet and dressed it up with jewelry I love. I bought a cute jacket to go over it and went on with my day. I went on with my life. 

Staring at my reflection, I found freedom in the realization that the woman standing in front of me is is OK. Right here, right now, in this moment, this is what my body looks like. And like it or hate it, I’m no longer willing to have an eating disorder just so that others will think positively about me or my body. 

Because here’s the truth about fear of judgment after gaining weight. Some people may judge you. Especially if you end up in a larger body. But,

Living in food and body hell is much worse than facing judgment. 

Because you are strong enough to handle the judgment. And here’s the thing, people judge us all the time for all different things. Recovery and freedom is about coming back to ourselves. And remembering who we are. More than our pants size or our body shape. Who we are underneath all of the outside stuff. Our hearts, our souls, our beings. And being ok with that. Regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Sometimes Gaining Weight = Gaining Freedom

During the dinner for my dad, I marveled at all the different personalities in one room. All of us tied together by blood or marriage. Yet each of us so uniquely ourselves. I laughed with my sister and nieces and nephew. I connected with my aunts and uncles. My children played with their cousins. I enjoyed the chicken and the cake and the cannolis. And I didn’t care what anyone may think about the size of my belly. 

Because as I have let go of the desire to control my body over the past few years, I have gone on with my life. Which by the way is so much fuller now that I’m no longer focusing on shrinking my size to please others. I am present to feel the ups and downs of life. 

Free to eat and laugh and connect, I was able to be at home as my authentic self. Goofy, loving, clumsy, witty, and sometimes socially awkward. And it felt amazing 

Where does gaining weight rank in the grand scheme of things?

The celebration of my dad’s birthday gave me time for introspection. Everyone at the party stood to share ways my dad has made a difference in their lives. They described lessons he’s taught them, memories he’s made with them, ways he’s helped them, and how he’s made them feel special. The described all of the quirky and endearing qualities about my dad they love and admire. Everyone shared something different and together they painted a picture of the man I’ve admired my entire life. 

And you know what? Not a single person said they loved him because he ran a certain number of miles every day. Because he weighed XX amount of pounds, or because he wore Y size pants. Because when it comes down to it, those things don’t really matter. They don’t define who he is as a person. Or the soul that resides within his body. 

And the same is true for you.

A challenge

So now I challenge you- to dig deep and consider the kind of life you wish to live. At the end of your life, what do you want others to remember about you? Consider all of the moments of your life you wish to be present for.

Imagine how your life would be different if you just decided, today, that gaining weight is not the worst thing that could happen to you. If you owned the truth that you are strong enough to tolerate judgment from others.

What if you let go of the fear of what others were thinking. And instead just got on with your life? 

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