Self Image, True Image

IMG_20140808_075551This week was a full one. If I hadn’t lost weight, I wouldn’t have really been surprised. Still, I stepped on the scale this morning for my official weekly weigh-in time. I weighed 281 pounds. You’ll notice on this and past weigh-in reports that I ignore the decimal (.6 in this case). I do this because it is easier to simply round down to the nearest whole pound. Worrying about fractions of a pound would just be even more anal than I can already be (I have a maddening touch of OCD). I do use these however through the week. It can be helpful when weighing the same over several days. This would easily be a worry, but then looking at the decimal helps (for example), “Oh! I did lose weight. I lost 8/10ths of a pound.” It can be a great assurance that the program is still working and a reminder not to worry too much about the numbers on the scale.

I am finding something interesting about my mental state. I still see myself as being that fat guy I was at the beginning of this diet. (I know many will be offended by the use of the word “fat.” I wasn’t hefty! I wasn’t big-boned! I was fat and saying anything else is a hurtful lie, meant to make the one speaking it feel better. A lie helps no one but the liar!) People often ask me what I currently weigh and out of habit I keep accidentally adding an extra 100 lbs. to it. It is hard to think of myself as being under 300 because I was above that number for over a decade.

This is helpful though. For a long time I never could lose any weight. Actually, I didn’t try very hard. Mental self-image can be very powerful. Eating disorders are closely tied to self-image. We hear often of those suffering from anorexia, though little more than skin and bone, who still see themselves as fat. They may look at the same image we see and they will see that image very differently. If you don’t think self-image is fragile and yet very powerful just try telling a pregnant wife that she is getting heavy. Get ready for water-works, and then be prepared to spend the rest of that pregnancy apologizing and complimenting her. I was lucky because in my wife’s culture heaviness in a woman, especially when pregnant, was seen as a good thing. She was pregnant and I would tell her, “Look how fat you are getting,” and she would break out a huge beaming smile. It would just make her day, because her cultural self-image completely changed the way she felt about herself in this regard. Of course, Western media has changed that even in her homeland.

Self-image can have powerful effect. All the time I was so heavy, I only saw it when looking in the mirror. When I walked away from the mirror, my mental self-image was the young trooper I once was. I didn’t see myself as fat. It wasn’t until I finally developed a more realistic self-image that I was able to come to term with my need to lose weight. A false self-image can be quite destructive. If you see yourself as worse than you are then you are handicapped. If you see yourself as better than you are then you simply have a different handicap.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not espousing the modern self-image (“You’re OK; I’m OK; we’re all OK”) garbage. The self-image that is needed is not a false bad image or a false good image. What is needed is a truthful self-image—one that sees the self truthfully and without distortion. “The truth will set you free” includes the truth about yourself, good or bad.

A few years ago, my self-image finally changed to what I actually saw in the mirror. It was a crushing blow. I looked at myself one day and said, “What the hell did you do to yourself!” I was ashamed. Before you do what many others have done and say, “Oh, don’t be ashamed. Don’t be so hard on yourself,” understand that shame is a very powerful and necessary force in human interaction. There is a place for it. I am not one of those people who try to spare everyone from ever feeling bad. Some people should feel bad and doing so is the only way a change will happen. I am not saying that others should heap shame on another (thought there is a time for that), but am saying that it is important for an individual to be able to look at themselves and experience shame when appropriate. Imagine if a young man willfully hurt someone and felt no shame about his actions. Such a child would be monstrous. Shame is helpful and useful. To deny that is just another lie.

I had to get to where I was ashamed by what I saw in the mirror before I would change my eating habits. If you have a friend or family member who has an eating problem, I would never recommend you try to shame them into changing—that can be very cruel. However, if they are developing their own sense of shame over what they have done to themselves, do not be the nice guy who says, “It’s OK. You don’t look that bad. But you have such a nice personality.” Let them experience the shame and ask them, “OK, you feel this way about yourself. Now what are you going to do about it?”

I simply wallowed in my shame for a long time. I felt I couldn’t do anything about my weight or my health because it was just too far IMG_20140807_203728619gone. I had problem on problem and felt all I could do was live a miserable existence until God mercifully ended my life. To be honest I even wondered if it was better to end it myself. What I needed was to find a way to turn my shame into action. Wallowing in shame is no better than pretending it isn’t there. Encourage the person to turn their shame into a course of action. I had to find a program that would work and work quickly enough to give me hope. I thank God I found that. Interestingly I found it through a friend who was himself on it.

You can help your loved ones who struggle with weight, not by shaming them into it, or by pretending they don’t have a problem. You help them by being honest with them, and by offering solutions.

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