7 life lessons learned from losing 120 pounds

I was overweight my entire childhood. I tipped the scale at near 300 pounds during high school and first-year. Throughout university, however, I lost over 130 pounds, and more importantly, started a whole new life. In so many ways I feel like my life began just five years ago, and below are some of the lessons I've learned while going from super fat, to near anorexic, to the healthy normal I maintain today.

1. People don't care as much as you think

All too often we believe that the people around us are judging us and allow it to keep us from doing things we'd love to do. I remember being afraid to go to the gym because I thought everyone around me would judge the fat kid. I was scared to show anyone my writing, feeling ashamed to have them read my words, and know my thoughts. The truth of the matter, however, is that no one fucking cares.

We're all too busy worrying about how others are judging us to give more than a passing notice of others' apparently weird behaviour. We're all extremely self-centered; it's been proven that people automatically lock onto themselves when they see group photos. Sure, we judge others, and we do it a lot, but it's brief and always overshadowed by self-centered thoughts. Consider how often you think about other's lives versus your own. Yeah, we're all doing the same thing.

2. The only thing holding you back is you

People's reactions to your behaviour and you as a person is very dependent on your presentation of it. If you're boldly confident and show you don't care what they think, then their opinion of you will be higher than if you are apologetic for it. Own who you are and don't be afraid to show it.

If you're overweight, plain, nerdy -- whatever -- you can still attract others like mad by presenting yourself as a confident person who is happy with who they are. In high school, I let my weight bother me and hold me back, and I paid the social consequences. Others, who were even heavier than me, were madly popular and loved because they used it as an identity and wore it with pride. Don't listen to other people's bull shit, you don't have to be a size 4 to be beautiful.

3. Fill your life with positive people

There are almost 7 billion people in this world, so if those around you are negative, then move on and find others that are positive. Friends are not hard to come by, everyone is seeking and craving acceptance from others, but great friends are and should be cherished. I've cycled through many friends as I've gone through the different stages/locations of my life. I've wasted my time with convenient friends that add very little or detract from my life, and have suffered for it.

Now, however, I try to prioritize and surround myself primarily with people whom I learn something from every single time I see them. Perhaps it's their outlook and insights on life, perhaps they challenge how you view the world, or maybe they just fill your day with gut bursting laughter and mind melting discussions. Do yourself a favour, find these people and do your absolute best to keep them involved in your life, even if they live on opposite sides of the globe. Never hold onto them so tightly, however, that they can't grow and see their full potential.

4. Eating disorders are a thing

Shaming people with eating disorders, or any mental/emotional disorder for that matter, is ridiculous. We don't shame people for being beaten as a child, yet it all seems okay to do it to people who were emotionally bullied. Constant emotional flogging either forces them to take refuge in video games and pizzas (been there), or to starve themselves in an attempt to achieve some bullshit ideal of beauty (close to been there). Do they have a choice? Yes, of course, we all do. But when you go years and years being told by the world around you that you're undesirable, it is extremely hard to not start agreeing. Some people cope by shoveling more food down their throats, and others cope by shoving fingers down their throats. Don't make it worse by telling them it's all in their heads, or by calling them skinny bitches.

I wasn't always super heavy, and it started slowly enough. I was always a little overweight, my diet sucked, I loved video games and, well, that seems to be my body type. It got worse each year as the kids around me, as kids will do, berated me for it. It all went completely sideways after my father died from a heart attack/diabetes. It's sadly ironic that my coping mechanism for dealing with a death caused by a terrible lifestyle was by adopting a terrible lifestyle myself. I was able to break out of this after many years, but eventually it lead to complete disatisfication with my body, and neared anorexia. I've been fine now for years, but I guarantee that I put more of a focus on my diet than you do. I don't think I deserve to be shamed for this, do you?

5. There's no rush

There's no need to lose it all in the next few weeks in a mad attempt to try and get that amazing beach body. Don't do water fasts, lemonade diets, or various other kinds of purges. Don't eat only grapefruit and coffee 3 times a day. And don't run 5-10 mi/km a day either. By going to the extremes, you are only setting yourself up for failure. You'll injure yourself, you'll ruin your health, and you'll discourage yourself due to the extreme difficulty to maintain motivation. You'll eventually give up and end up worse than when you started off -- both in terms of weight, and self-confidence.

Say you're 50 pounds overweight. You can quite easily remove 1-2 pounds per week just by cutting out sugars, junk food, and super starchy, low fibre foods. Throw in lots of vegetables. Eat some fruit for dessert. Eat whole wheat/brown grains. Get chicken/turkey/fish instead of pork and beef. Start using avocadoes, olives, nuts, and seeds as fat sources. Hit the gym a few times a week and lift some weights. You don't need to bust your ass on a treadmill for 45 mins, just concentrate on building some muscle. It isn't complicated, and it isn't difficult.

6. You're changing your life and your identity

You may just think you're trying to cut down the fat so you can fit into them apple bottom jeans, but what you're really doing is changing your life and your identity. People will perceive you differently, and you will perceive yourself differently. Your perception of the world will also likely change, possibly leading you to lose touch with your current friends. Generally, overweight people have overweight friends, or maybe your friends just perceive you as the overweight person and label you as such. The moment you begin to shatter this perception, they may resist it and push back, telling you that you're getting too skinny, being too unhealthy, and discourage you. See lesson 3.

Very often when new people discover that I used to weigh 120+ pounds more than I do now, they say how they can't picture it and would never have guessed it. I've always wondered what they meant by that -- what exactly does an ex-fat person look like? People have difficulty seeing you in a different light after having labeled you as something. Anything that doesn't prescribe to that label surprises them. I used to ride a motorbike everyday, I used to play World of Warcraft many hours per day, I was 300 pounds, I go to raves, I don't drink, etc. None of these things jive with the joke-cracking web developer that people now meet, and it shocks them. Lose the weight, and people will see and treat you differently.

7. It only makes so nuch of a difference

Losing weight will increase your confidence and you will get more sexual attention from others. Guaranteed. Sliding into a pair of jeans a size or two smaller is an amazing feeling that can't help but invigorate you. But it only goes so far. I've been in a normal weight range for several years now, and my levels of social and sexual confidence continue to increase with each passing year, and are still lacking compared to their potential. The boosts are significant, because going from nothing to anything is always a huge improvement, but in the end it has little to do with your body, and everything to do with your mind and your perception of yourself.

I probably still see myself as the fat kid, especially when it comes to relationships. Growing up obese leads to you learning to be ashamed of your interest in others, because if people find out you have a crush on X, everyone makes fun of both you and your crush. As a result, I have found it very difficult to show sexual/romantic interest and have learned to either avoid those that intrigue me, or to suppress my emotions. I know this is all ridiculous, but it takes years to overcome.

And many more

These are just some of the life lessons I've learned over the last few years as I've went through the process of restructuring my life, and in no way am I done. I'd love to hear your thoughts/stories either below, or via email. Thanks reading, if you enjoyed it then check out my other posts, up vote it on Hacker News, or even share them with others.

Neal O'Grady

Founder and CTO of DemandCurve.com and BellCurve.com.
Read his tweets at twitter.com/NealOGrady

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