Ask The Therapist: “I live in constant fear of gaining weight…I can’t sleep thinking that I’ll gain more weight with time…”

In 2016, the number of people estimated to be suffering from mental health issues like depression and anxiety amounted to roughly 1.1 billion. Since then, numbers have likely continued to rise. Moreover, studies have also shown women especially on average are a) more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and b) less likely to talk about them. The taboo in Pakistan surrounding depression and anxiety disorders only serve to aggravate the individuals suffering even more. For the women who cannot seek out full time therapy, we’ve enlisted the help of a trained therapist. You sent us in your questions – here are the answers!

“I live in constant fear of gaining weight. My wedding is next week and instead of getting excited, I am terrified of not fitting into my shaadi clothes. I observe myself in front of a mirror 24/7. I have this urge to keep losing weight because I have been bullied so much in the past regarding my weight. This fear is so deep inside me that I keep thinking that I’ll gain back all the weight I’ve lost. I keep obsessing over it. I need help. My husband doesn’t think that I have a problem. He thinks I’m just stressed because of shaadi. I can’t sleep thinking that I’ll gain more weight with time. Please help me out.”

Shahrukh’s Response:

Dear Anon,

I can imagine how difficult it must be when you’re constantly monitoring your weight. It sounds like you’ve been carrying that sense of diligence with you for a really long time. Let’s explore this a little more, and see if we can help you find some clarity and grounding before your big day (and even after!)

Body Image And Self Worth: A Relationship That Should Never Have Happened

Over the last few years, I’ve reflected a lot on the relationship between body image, self-worth and how that links with a person’s ability to remain grounded within themselves. In recent years, due to the social media boom and access to unlimited content, there has also been a rise in the kind of influence it has on the way we perceive ourselves. 

A lot of us have grown up with the idea that being overweight, or rather, being healthy/not thin is a bad thing. From the classic “no one will marry you if you’re overweight” to the blatant taunts you might experience at school because of your weight. The word “fat (moti)” (or “healthy” – as said by some aunties at a wedding or random social gathering) has been given so much power. What I mean by that is that it preys on our self-worth, because how can you be worth anything if you’re not wafer thin, right? Wrong. It’s so wrong, and Anon, I’m sorry you had to go through experiences that hard-wired this belief into you. It’s difficult and exhausting to live with, so what to do about it?

Redefining Your Worth/Yourself

“Redefining your worth”, three words, yet there’s so much more to it. We’ve been raised to believe that we are only worthy if we achieve certain things: be it grades, a certain body weight, get into a good university, and so on. Our relationship with ourselves was made to be so conditional, that if we don’t keep these things up, our sense of self deteriorates, and we begin to believe that we are no longer worthy. It can be difficult to fight your beliefs, especially when social media and everyone around you constantly reinforces it. Here’s the good news, though: you don’t have to listen to them. Just because years of conditioning have taught us to believe something, that doesn’t make it true, nor is it something that we need to listen to.

Valuing Your Body And Yourself

When it comes to our bodies, there is a tendency to keep it separate from our inner selves, as well as focusing on its physical appearance, rather than how it serves us every single day. Here are some ways you can begin to explore your dialogue with your body, notice how you respond to yourself and perhaps slowly change that said dialogue.

  • Acknowledging All That Your Body Does For You: From your lungs to your heart and stomach, to walking, dancing and so on; there is a great deal it does for you every single day. Nurture it and thank it for all that it does.
  • Challenging Your Thoughts: What would happen if you did gain weight? What’s the fear there? What is the root of that fear? Would you be able to allow yourself to acknowledge that perhaps your body might need comfort and that it’s okay to eat more and that a little weight gain is alright? Try your clothes on a few days before, if they fit then, it’s highly unlikely (read: impossible) they won’t fit a few days later.
  • Staying Mindful Of Social Media Content: Nowadays you will find hundreds of pages about fitness, intermittent fasting, diet culture etc. Try shifting away from these kinds of pages that might trigger that sense of shame, and perhaps follow influencers who encourage body positivity and normalize eating for pleasure as well as health. I would highly recommend following @thefitnesschef_ on Instagram for the latter category.
  • There Is So Much More To You: There is more to you than just your external appearance. You are a human being, with emotions and thoughts – keep reminding yourself that you are whole, and that you are valued for so much more than what you look like. 
  • Affirmations: Whether it’s for your body, or for yourself internally – offer yourself some kindness and compassion: 
    • “I am enough.”
    • “My body deserves love and respect.”
    • “I am perfect just as I am.”
    • “I will nourish my body, my mind and my soul with whatever it needs.”
    • “Food is my friend, not my enemy – it nourishes me and keeps me energized and happy.”
    • “My worth is not defined by my body. I define my own worth, and I am (and will always be) worthy. 
  • Be Mindful Of The Company You Keep: Surround yourself with others who are positive, and who make you feel good and confident about yourself.
  • List Down Five Things That You Like About Yourself Once A Day: Whether it’s creativity or your sense of style or your dedication to your work – focus on things that aren’t related to your weight or what you look like.

Anon, you have more power over yourself and your thoughts than you know. Realizing and truly accepting this truth can also take some time and work. So, be kind to yourself during this process and go at your own pace. For any further help, I would also encourage you to seek out counselling, specifically with a practitioner who specializes in issues related to body image and eating habits. I hope you were able to take away something from this article. I wish you all the best on your journey towards healing. Good luck and stay in power!

The above article is written by Shahrukh Shahbaz Malik who is trained in humanistic integrative counselling at CPDD in the UK and currently has her own private practice in Karachi. The views expressed in this article are those of one expert. They do not necessarily represent the views of Mashion, nor do they represent the complete picture of the topic at hand. This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment.

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