What the Heck? She Lost 40 Pounds, then Gained ‘em Right Back…. Now What?

Dear Belleruth,

I sent you a note not too long ago re: my weight loss of 40 lbs with the guided imagery. I was going strong, feeling good, thought I was FINALLY addressing the core of my obesity....

I was feeling better about shedding some weight... feeling safer in the world.

Then "out of the blue" comes some inappropriate behavior from a man. I could feel the switch inside me, but felt powerless to stop it.

I am back up in the weight gain and feel defeated, because I was sure hoping the reprogramming had done its job.

Any suggestions?

M. L.

Dear M.L.,

First of all, my condolences over regaining that weight back. It happens to a lot of people, and it’s aggravating and discouraging. Sometimes it leads to a lot of self-scolding – please try not to do that!

Second of all, these setbacks, when catalyzed by inappropriate, boundary- violating behavior from Jerks (I’m thinking inappropriate sexual behavior, right?) are particularly triggering for adult or childhood survivors of sexual trauma.

So, reading between the lines, I’m thinking you, like so many other survivors, put on an extra layer or two to feel safer, and discourage sexual interest from the Jerks. (I’m capitalizing ‘jerk’ because we all know who they are – it’s a whole category that runs from annoying to terrifying people, merits a proper noun.)

And then, sure enough, you lose 40 pounds and this increases the attention on your body from the Jerks. So now you’re suddenly back in Trauma-Land and seeking the safety of more layering.

From your note, I know you know all this, and surmounted it once, which is a very big testament to your strength, courage and indomitable will. You can do it again. It’s no simple matter, but you’ve got this and you can do some extra things to help you do it even better, stronger and faster.

For one thing, I recommend you dispense with the expectation that you resolved this, ONCE AND FOR ALL. Sometimes that happens, but generally that's not how we humans learn, heal, change, advance and grow.

Rather, we tend to progress in fits and starts. The general trajectory is in the right direction, but bumpy. We regress, then move forward, then plateau out, then move back or forward again. It's messy.

And if you have a rigid idea about how things should move in a perfect line forward, it can be discouraging enough to dump you right off the wagon and keep you there. ...Because the natural consequence for that stinkin' thinkin' is, "Well, I've clearly blown it. I was fooling myself all along. I never meet this goal."

So, yes, of course your reaction to the Jerk sent you reeling. It doesn't mean you haven't progressed. Of course you have. You lost 40 freakin’ pounds! And because you have, you can do it again – more easily this time, because you did it once before – just don’t let 'ONCE AND FOR ALL" and "FINALLY" get in the way. Please toss those phrases.

So, instead, consider repeating to yourself an affirmation – for instance, “More and more, I'm feeling safer in the world, even as I shed unnecessary weight."

Or, “More and more, I know I can and will walk through this world, strong, purposeful and steady, true to my own goals”.

Or, "More and More, I am learning to be true to my own best interests."

Or, “More and more, I know that I am surrounded by invisible protection, love and support – seen and unseen.”

These sentences leave room for the inevitable vagaries of human progress, and don't set you up to feel like a failure.

So how about you just see yourself as a beautiful work in progress, not a finished product? That's what we all are.

Any therapist worth her hourly fee will tell you, this is how we roll when we're healing old wounds and learning new ways to be. We see this up-and-down stuff in our clients all the time.

I think of it like this: we're in your corner, holding your coat while you do battle with your demons, knowing that our job is to remind you that you're doing fine, making good headway, showing admirable strength and courage. And when you get clocked by a surprise sucker punch, it's okay – it’s normal.

Get back up, dust yourself off, clear your head and go the next round. You'll get there. Let me know how it goes. And here’s some guided imagery – see, feel and hear this: I'm holding your coat. Or whoever else you want in that spot. :) 

All best,