The Shape of Success

Emily TopperBy Emily Topper|

Growing up, I was never considered to be a “big” person. I stayed pretty average throughout high school, relying on moderate exercise and a teenaged metabolism that I didn’t appreciate until it was gone. But by my sophomore year of college, I was obese.

Although I don’t know if I could technically classify myself as a binge eater, I know that I definitely used food as my main coping mechanism throughout my first couple semesters of college. Perhaps it was adjusting to a new schedule, starting a new job, or living away from home for the first time.

Whatever the reason, I always turned to food. I entered college at around 140 pounds, and by the end of my sophomore year I was at a peak of 194 pounds. Something needed to change, but I hadn’t realized that yet.

The weird thing is, I wasn’t fully aware of my size when I was overweight. Sure, I thought to myself “I’ve gained some weight and I can afford to lose a few pounds.” But I was happy in my own skin. It wasn’t until I began to lose weight before my junior year of college that I started to feel insecure about my size.

I decided I needed to lose the extra weight I had gained, under my doctor’s recommendation. The simple fact was that I needed to be leading a healthy lifestyle, and I wasn’t. If I continued down the same path I was going, using food to solve any and all problems, I’d face serious health issues in the future. Often, I was tired, irritable and had no real motivation to do anything. Regardless of my size, my health was making me unhappy, and only I could fix that.

An acquaintance of mine was frequently posting about his success with weight loss and fitness on Facebook. After deciding to recommit to my health, I sent him a message. He told me about a diet known as “keto,” in which the body goes into a state of ketosis and burns off fat first instead of carbohydrates.

In order for the diet to be successful, I had to limit my intake of carbohydrates to the bare minimum and eat foods like lean meats, green vegetables and dairy products. I couldn’t have anything processed or sugary, especially bread. Although I thought the diet sounded easy enough, I had major withdrawals in the first few days, and wanted to give up. But I stuck with it, and pretty soon I started to see results.

The weight started to slip off as I kept with the diet. I dropped from 194 to 188. 188 to 180. 180 to 172.

I felt immensely better, but I had (with the exception of a few cheat days) been without a regular amount of carbohydrates for nearly two months. I was worried that once I stopped the diet, the weight would instantly come right back. Before the process started I had been unconcerned about my weight or what I looked like, but now I compulsively stepped on the scale after eating almost anything. Even though I was 22 pounds smaller, I felt more insecure than ever before.

When I returned to school in August for my junior year of college, people began to instantly take note of my weight loss. They asked me what I had been doing, what I had been eating, how I felt. At first, I was excited that so many people were praising me for the way I looked. But eventually, the positive comments started to eat away at me.

I have no doubt that every comment I received was meant with genuine praise and happiness for me. I’m grateful to have so many people in my life that care about me and my well-being. That being said, the comments I received on my weight loss made me realize just how shallow we can really be.

I had lost some weight, but I hadn’t changed. Even though I was the same person, I was being made to feel that I was greater than before because I was a smaller size. I believe there’s something inherently wrong with that.

While I was trying to lose weight, I was doing a lot of other things with my life that I considered to be more important. However, many of the people that I was around seemed to consider weight loss as my most important endeavor. Although I’m grateful for the support, my weight loss—or my body in general—has never been something that I believed warranted commentary.

I felt as though my outer appearance was far more important to the people around me than anything else I was doing.

Even though I hadn’t been fully aware of how my body looked previously, everyone else had. When I dropped down to under 150 by my senior year of college and once again started to receive positive comments about my weight, I started to worry.

What if people thought I wasn’t small enough yet? What if all of that weight came creeping back? I started analyzing every little bite of food I put in my mouth and was self-conscious when I was eating around people I wasn’t comfortable with.

I was determined not to gain any of the weight back. I had dropped four dress sizes in just over a year, but it still didn’t seem to be enough. I felt like people were looking at me more, offering silent criticism. Looking at it now, hearing people tell me that I was pretty and that I was enough made me question myself even more. That’s what body image does to us.

Although I’ve reached a size that seems to be socially acceptable, I often still have trouble telling myself that I am enough. I can look in the mirror and criticize my arms, or my chin, or my lack of a thigh gap.

But my size really has nothing to do with the person I am. The success I had in other aspects of my life when I was 194 in no way differs from the success I have now at 147. Whether I’m 100 pounds or 400 pounds, I still deserve the same amount of respect as everyone else.

I hope to one day live in a society where my shape is not the most important thing about me, nor the first thing that people notice. We are all so much more than that.

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