Sharon J., 28, worked at a large San Francisco corporate law firm and was fixated on her weight. At 10 to 30 pounds overweight for most of her childhood, college, law school and early professional years, Sharon eventually lost the weight though her friends were finding it increasingly uncomfortable to be around her. Not satisfied to rest on her weight loss laurels, so to speak, she spent a lot of time voicing her opinion about everyone from overweight diners in a restaurant to pudgy people in clothing stores to someone in too-tight pants (who shouldn’t be) five rows away in a movie theater.
“I was pretty bad,” she admits. “I’d eye the large Snickers bar and tub of greasy, hot buttered popcorn in their arms and shake my head—even commenting way above a whisper that the bearer had made a serious mistake and should have opted for carbonated water instead.” She also admitted that cloaked in her snippy running commentary was her own fear of gaining back the weight she had painstakingly taken off. “It was the hardest thing I’d ever done besides getting into law school,” she confessed.
For Alana M., 29, also an associate at the same San Francisco law firm, the idea of weight loss was so pervasive, she ate (no pun intended), drank and dreamt the concept. But she couldn’t find a way to do much about it. Because of that, she spent time making derogatory remarks about thin persons who happened to cross her path at the grocery store, at the playground with her toddler or even in another car at a stoplight.
“I was bad,” she also admits. “I’d sometimes mumble not so inaudible, negative things about them getting a bachelor’s of bulimia and things like that. Not very adult or kind of me.”
Overweight by just a few pounds for most of her childhood, her first year at college found Alana pulling all-nighters with her two good friends, Ben & Jerry, where the resulting weigh gain was the aptly named “freshman 15”—and then some.
The next three years only served to sweeten the pot as she focused almost exclusively on her studies and the pursuit of entry into a prestigious law school. In short, while clinging to bff’s Ben & Jerry, her circle of friends widened to include lots of handy names: Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar, Three Musketeers, Orville Redenbacher, Colonel Sanders, Papa John and lots of full strength Dr. Pepper—anything she could set beside her books and laptop without diverting too much attention from her work.
“By the time I graduated from law school I weighed 149 pounds,” said the 5’5” mother of one, noting she eventually added another 12 pounds’ worth of baby weight she’s been unable to lose for three years. Alana’s 12- to 14-hour workdays left little opportunity for stints at a gym, or even to take lunchtime walks.
“Mealtime at work was indistinguishable from the rest of the day—or evening,” she said. “And when I was finally at home, I needed to be with my husband, take care of the household with him, or interact with my toddler if he was still awake.”
Weight Loss & Mental Health
Mental health professionals say that in both cases, passing judgment and making derogatory comments about individuals who are in conditions of which you disapprove, or conversely which you may envy, creates negative energy. In fact it creates a cycle of stress and tension which feeds on itself and may run counter to the goal you are trying to achieve.
Where weight loss is concerned, running your own race and not comparing yourself to anyone—before, during or after—makes for a happier, easier time of it because of its volatile nature.
“Losing weight was the hardest thing I’d ever done besides getting into law school,” said Sharon, who admits becoming a weight martyr or “skinny snob” instead of graciously offering her services to others who may need help and incentive.
“When someone suggested I volunteer at the local boys and girls club, I found out the percentage of overweight and obese children had doubled in the past 30 years, and among adolescents it had quadrupled,” Sharon said. With some help from a licensed nutritionist, she designed a healthy living program to share with them.
For Alana, juggling her job, marriage and toddler didn’t allow much time for volunteering—or so she thought. Discovering her local YMCA needed people to work in the toddler room for four hours every other weekend, however, something she could do in exchange for membership and even bring along her son was the incentive she needed to get moving.
“I got into working out and not just every other weekend,” she said. “The fact is I was so tired after chasing toddlers for a few hours, I counted that as one workout but kept coming a few very early mornings a week, and on the alternate weekends—depositing my own child in the playroom to have his own fun while I used the free weights and machines.” She even got into spin classes.
Psychologists say channeling negative energy into positive pursuits changes our brain chemistry as well. In this way, when we see someone who has less or more than we do, we’re more inclined to extend ourselves to them, compliment them, or maybe do nothing at all—whatever seems appropriate.
For Sharon, sharing her achievement by coaching others on the road to their own success was the impetus behind sustaining her weight loss. Alana was so busy reaching her weight loss goal, there was little time left to send barbs out to the people who were much thinner than she—which she estimated at one point was just about everyone in her spin class.
“I knew I could get there,” she said, noting she began to look at things differently. “I knew my time and energy were better spent sending blessings out to everyone who’d already done that, as they really inspired me.”