So often, especially in the first nine months or so of my surgical weight loss journey, my family, friends and co-workers would tell me how great I looked and exclaim over the amount of weight I’d lost while I would stand there dumbfounded. When I looked in the mirror, I couldn’t tell I had lost a single ounce…not one. I looked exactly the same to me. As I progressed through my journey, I learned this strange curiosity of not being able to see your own weight loss was actually a pretty common occurrence following weight loss surgery.
When we look in the mirror we see more than just our reflection, we also see a mental image of ourselves – the person we imagine or have told ourselves we are. I had told myself for decades that I was fat (I don’t generally like the “F” word, but “fat” was the message I gave myself) so that was what I saw when I looked in the mirror. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of myself ten months after surgery, after losing well over a hundred pounds that I saw myself as thinner. Nine months after surgery, I was looking through some family pictures of a new grandchild when I asked my sister “Who is that holding the baby?” I almost fell out of my chair when she said “It’s you!” I had changed so much that I didn’t recognize myself when I wasn’t expecting to see me. I had a friend who failed to recognize her reflection in a store window so she understood my reaction.
Let’s look at a couple of ways you can get the mental image and mirror image to agree. A good place to start is to compare some of your before photographs to some of your current ones. Look at how your face may have changed or ask a trusted friend to tell you where they see the biggest change in your appearance and then compare photographs looking at that area. Try saying out loud “I am thinner than I use to be.” This gives our mind permission to see ourselves more accurately.
Look for physical evidence that you’ve lost weight. For some reason, I could see the difference in my size soonest in my hands and fingers. Are your rings loose? Is your watch band less snug than before? Can you circle your wrist with your fingers for the first time? I remember celebrating by buying a very nice bracelet when one would finally fit around my wrist. It also helped my head to adjust to my new size when I slipped on a pair of my old jeans.
If you are in the middle of this challenge, I hope my story at least helps to normalize the process for you and provides some pointers on letting your mind catch up with your body. If you’ve experienced this same challenge and came out on the other side by finally seeing yourself as thinner, please share how you gained a more accurate mental image of yourself.
Trish Jarrell, RN, is the clinical manager of the Bariatric and Metabolic Services Program at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital.