Thursday morning. I should have been at work but instead I was sitting in a room full of braless women in pink scrubs, fighting the urge to jump up and run away…except that I was braless and wearing pink scrubs too, and jumping or running without a bra in my world is absolutely out of the question. Hell, I wasn’t even about to stand up or move unless I had to. Besides, if I were to cut and run, the lump in my breast would come with me – best to just stay where I was and go through with getting it checked.
I found the lump a couple of months ago. I tried to ignore it at first – sticking my head in the sand seemed like a good solution at the time – plus, you know, I thought it was only fair to give it a chance to go away on its own. Besides, I know the statistics: 9 times out of 10 breast lumps are nothing to worry about, so I tried really hard not to stress over it. Still, there was that niggly little whisper of doubt in the back of my mind: what if it IS something to worry about? Finally, after one panicked and sleepless night I went and saw my family doctor, and a week later here I was in the breast centre, wearing pink scrubs.
I spent the morning getting squashed in various directions (and holy crap can my boobs ever cover a shocking amount of surface area when they are squashed to roughly 2cm thick; it took half of my willpower to not cry from the pain and indignity of it all, and the other half of my willpower not giggle hysterically at how ridiculous they looked), and then laying on a table staring up at the Thomas Kincade poster on the ceiling, trying to pretend I was somewhere else while the doctor poked and prodded and ultrasounded. Finally she spoke. “Have you lost a significant amount of weight recently? Like, more than twenty pounds?” I answered yes, I had lost thirty or so pounds in the last six(ish) months. She went on to explain that women who lose a significant amount of fat have a tendency to develop lumps in their breast tissue – fat loss doesn’t happen in a uniform kind of way and the tissue can bunch up. “But it’s always the right thing to come get it checked out,” she said. “We don’t need to do a biopsy. You’re free to get dressed and go.”
Wait, WHAT?? Fat loss can cause breast lumps? I left the breast centre in a fog, partially due to euphoria that I was still healthy (I didn’t quite realize how much stress I had been carrying around for months over this until it was gone), but also because I’ve been a personal trainer for twelve years. I read voraciously, I stay on top of the research, and I do four times the required amount of continuing education every year. I have gained and lost HUNDREDS of pounds myself. Seriously HOW had I not heard about this before?
So, although you guys all know more about my boobs now than I am 100% comfortable with, I thought that the only thing to do with this little piece of information was to pass it on. I *probably* would have felt better if I knew that lump formation was a normal, although horrifying, side effect of fat loss. (Note: I still would have gotten it checked. ALWAYS GET LUMPS CHECKED.) And don’t get me wrong – it’s not a deterrent by any stretch; losing excess fat is worth the effort, even if it has some unsavoury side effects.
Spurred on by the sting of indignation over never having heard of this “fairly common” thing that happens, I set out to compile a list of all the shitty, nasty, and rude side effects of fat loss that I, my friends, colleagues, and clients who have lost fat would have preferred to know about in advance. Because forewarned is forearmed. Because the only thing worse than experiencing a shitty side effect is getting surprised by a shitty side effect. And because I’ve got your backs, homies – this coach is gonna give you the whole story even if it stinks a little bit. Without further ado…
Food that used to be your friend won’t be your friend anymore.
While on the surface this might seem like a good thing – it’ll help you with the fat loss effort rather than hurt you – it can make for some uncomfortable situations. Picture this: you’ve had the worst day ever. You’ve had a fight with your significant other, you aren’t getting along with your co-workers, and you just need some downtime with a plate of cookies and you know you’ll feel better. Right?
Wrong. One of two things will happen here. Best case scenario is that you’ll take a bite of one cookie and it just won’t taste that good, you’ll realize that eating that plate of cookies won’t make you feel better, and then…then you’ll have to find another way to deal with the bad feelings. Not fun necessarily but an opportunity for growth. Worst case scenario? You’ll eat that plate of cookies, feel sick, and then hate yourself. You’ll feel betrayed by those cookies – they used to be there for you, the fuckers! And now everything is worse because you have guilt to add to that delicious cocktail of bad feelings.
If you are accustomed to chasing bad feelings away by throwing brownies or potato chips or pizza at them but you’re trying to drop some fat, you will need a new strategy. Besides which, did eating those feels away really help? Really? Of course not, food is just food; it doesn’t have the power to change your situation. All it can do is distract you from solving the problem for a little while. So before the next crisis situation hits, let’s talk about how to deal.
- Don’t keep junk in the house. The other night I was dealing with PMS cravings that made me feel ready to murder someone for a cupcake. I was already in my pajamas and too lazy to leave the house to hunt down that cupcake (or cookies or brownies or cake or whatever, bring me all the sugar!! ROAR!) and, you guessed it, there was no real junk food to be had in my house, so you know what I ended up eating? Air-popped popcorn with chili-lime seasoning. SO unsatisfying, yes, but no guilt later and no stomachache.
- Get the hell out of the house. I know, all you want to do is climb into bed with a tube of pringles, but trust me, you want to put some physical distance between you and those pringles. Also just going for a walk will help you clear your head, and the endorphins released will help that crisis situation feel less like the end of the world.
- Practice feeling shitty. That’s right – hang out with those bad feels for a while without eating them away. Give yourself 30 minutes to wallow – cry, curl up in a fetal position, write in a journal, call a friend, whatever. Feeling bad sometimes is inevitable, it happens to everyone, and the sooner you develop some coping skills without narcotizing yourself the better off you’ll be. (It should go without saying here that if you are down for days or weeks at a time you need to reach out for some help.)
PEOPLE that used to be your friends won’t be your friends anymore
You know the story about the crabs in the bucket, right?
One of the crappiest aspects of losing weight and changing your life for the better is that you may find that some of your friends or family are just crabs in people suits. They are unhappy with their own lives and they don’t want to see you be happy with yours…because how dare you imagine that life could be better when they’re stuck in victim mode? And then you have the gall to show them it’s possible to get yourself out of that bucket?
See where I’m going with this? Their changed treatment of you has nothing whatsoever to do with you and everything to do with them – all you are doing is holding up a mirror. You could offer them a hand up…but chances are they’d just use it to try and pull you back down again. If they can’t be happy for you then fuck’em. Let them go. Surround yourself with people who will be genuinely supportive and happy for you.
At this point we’ve probably all seen enough weight loss reality shows that we know that skin doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to and snap back into place when we lose weight, right?
I could do a whole post on this issue alone but for brevity’s sake: saggy skin can happen after weight loss, especially if the weight loss happens quickly. It doesn’t happen to everybody. If it happens to you, be patient with yourself – it can take your body some time to catch up with the new normal and it might get better. For some people it doesn’t, and the skin stays stretched out – if that sounds like you and it’s something that you can’t live with, surgery is an option.
So you’ve taken all these steps to change your life for the better. You’ve worked hard – maybe harder than you ever have – toward changing your body, and you’ve been successful. But you don’t feel better about yourself…in fact, maybe you feel worse. Depression that sets in after weight loss is super common: you aren’t the same person that you were. Your chief coping method is no longer available. Maybe you’ve lost friends. Your new body may not look like you thought. Above all, you are still you, and if you weren’t okay with yourself before you lost weight, it might come as a crushing disappointment that losing weight didn’t help you like yourself more.
This is all normal, and you are not alone. Be patient with yourself; you have to grieve for the old life that’s gone – that is part of the process. BUT here comes the PSA: PLEASE reach out for help. If you know anyone who has gone through weight loss themselves, ask them about it. And if you’ve been really down for more than a couple of weeks, see your doctor.
Do it Anyway!
Here’s hoping I haven’t scared you away from the fat loss train. Like I said earlier, I (and all the people I asked about this) would have preferred to know that the negative aspects above were possibilities, but the benefits outweigh the risks tenfold.
Did I miss anything? Did I make your day? Ruin your day? Tell me about it – I’m always listening.