How To Handle Weight Gain Like A Boss

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.


Last month, I saw a photo of myself that didn't exactly thrill me. My face looked rounder, and I noticed my hands clasped in front of me in the universal symbol of DON'T LOOK AT THIS. It confirmed what I'd recently suspected: I'd gained some weight.

In the past, I treated any degree of weight gain as an extinction-level event. I locked the doors, drew the blinds, and stocked up on provisions: yogurt, apples, whatever the new diet told me to eat. I couldn't go out, because then people would see me and know what a train-wreck I was. I couldn't dress up, because drawing attention to my body would be a constant act of humiliation. I definitely couldn't let my body be touched; any level of intimacy made my skin crawl with self-revulsion. No, I would cancel plans, put on my "fat clothes," and hide out until I lost at least five (eight? 25?) pounds. As you can imagine, this did wonders for my sex and social lives. 

Freaking out was my first instinct when I saw that photo last month. But, I'm not supposed to do that anymore. Not freaking out is the basis of this journey. When I learned to stop freaking out about food, it became a neutral element in my life. I could see it for what it was: a source of nutrition and fuel, and a satisfying experience — not my archnemesis, nor the love of my life. When I stopped seeing exercise as a punishment, I realized I actually enjoyed it and wanted to do it consistently.

But, all that took active re-thinking on my part. So, this time, I decided to actively re-think this weight gain. I would not catastrophize it, and I would not hide. Instead of shame, I would try curiosity. After all, diets may have worked as a temporary fix, but with each one I inevitably wound up back in my room with 10 more pounds to freak out about. You know that old Einstein quote about the definition of insanity? I'm pretty sure he said it while standing on the scale.
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1. Say it, out loud, to people. 
The last thing anyone wants to admit to is gaining weight. We've turned it into a crime on par with drunk driving (with five kids in the car and no seat belts). But, saying it out loud makes you realize that you are not a toddler-killer and this is not a crime; it's a totally normal thing that happens in life sometimes. Make an effort to mention it to your best friend or your S.O. — someone who loves you. Obvious though it may be, you'll feel a great relief when you realize those people still love you. Say the scary words to yourself, over and over again, until they're not so scary. Above all, don't deny the weight gain — and don't keep it a deep, dark secret. Shame is the first thing that has to go, and shame cannot exist when you shine a light on it.

2. Ignore the panic.
Ask yourself: When has panic made anything better? Thanks to the aforementioned cultural conditioning, panic becomes an unfortunately normal reaction to weight gain. But, really, how does it serve you in this situation? Panic hinders rational thought and decision-making. Your brain, flooded with stress hormones, gets locked into fight-or-flight mode, when what you need is to stop and think. So, keep your eye out for panic, and when it shows up, say hello and go about your business. Treat panic like your obnoxious Uncle Crazy at Thanksgiving. He's going to hang around all day and run his mouth, but you don't have to listen to that nonsense.

3. Get curious.
Once you've de-escalated the weight-gain, get curious about what might have caused it. Has something changed in your life recently? Is anything else happening with your body? In my case, the answers were so obvious, I felt like a dunce for not seeing this coming. First, I've spent the last several months busting my ass on a book. While writing a memoir is hard work, it's not exactly cardio. Between my day job and the book at night and on weekends, my workout schedule took a necessary hit. I lost focus on eating mindfully, and stress-snacking crept back into the picture. That doesn't make me a train-wreck; it makes me a writer (with a deadline).

4. Treat the cause, not the symptom. 
Now that I fully recognize the cause, I can treat it, healthfully — rather than panic over the symptom. I make an effort to get on my feet, even on days when I can't get to the gym. I'm going back to the basics of Intuitive Eating, taking note of those moments when I thoughtlessly reach for snacks. I drag myself away from the computer screen to eat, even if it's just for five minutes. 

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.

5. See yourself.
I'm not a fashion-y kind of person, but in the past month, I've consciously decided to dress well. It may sound shallow or counterintuitive, but putting effort into my appearance is a form of self-respect. I wear clothes I like rather than clothes I hide in. I do stuff with my hair, because I like my hair, and who couldn't use a little more self-esteem? I bought some fun new makeup. It's not just about feeling pretty; it's about taking the time to look at myself in the mirror (no matter what my weight is) and remind myself that I'm okay. 

6. Remember all the things that are more important than this.
I also remind myself to put things in perspective. This work situation is temporary; therefore, so is the weight gain — as long as I don't turn it into a "DISASTER." And, really, what's so disastrous about this incredible time in my life? How about less time stressing over my belly and more time thanking the fucking universe for this opportunity? How about more time appreciating my friends and loved ones and this life I've been given to live?

7. You're not in a "time out," so get out of your room.
Which brings me to my next point: Live your life. Do not, for one second, consider canceling plans because you've put on some weight. I guarantee you will feel worse if you do. Maybe you won't regret it tonight, when you're curled up in sweatpants re-watching Mad Men, but soon you will. Nights like these have a way of becoming habit. Each time you do it, you're teaching your brain a lesson: My life and my worth depend on my weight. It's an easy, insidious trick. Don't fall for it. It will only make both the cause and the symptom worse. Go on dates. See your friends. Act as if everything's okay, because it probably is. Being out in the world with other people is what reminds us of what really matters. Don't hit snooze on your life.

The Anti-Diet Project runs on Mondays twice a month. You can also follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject. Hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too! If you're new to the column, you can check out all the entries here.