IT HAPPENED TO ME: Winning a Weight-Loss Competition Made Me Hate My Body

I missed my body. The body I had before I decided it wasn’t good enough.
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Fajr Muhammad
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I missed my body. The body I had before I decided it wasn’t good enough.
Desperately seeking Popeye-like strength

Desperately seeking Popeye-like strength

Like a lot of women in the U.S., I watch my weight. I worry about my body. I worry about my shape, the extra 10 pounds I’ll gain over the holidays and how I should probably eat more boiled eggs and join a weekend boot camp. I stress about what outfit will look right on my figure and how I can possibly Photoshop all my Instagram photos from my cell phone.

The interesting thing is, that while I worry about my weight, I believe I have a healthy self-image and reverence for my body. I’m relatively fit (no Jillian Michaels), and I care about what I eat (on most days). Yet and still, I work out regularly and make grandiose plans to lose that stubborn belly fat and get Michelle Obama arms year after year.

So when my company hosted its annual fitness competition, I was all in. Being competitive by default, adding a prize to something means I’m naturally game. This particular prize was half of a pool of money that each participant contributed to, $50 each. I was in fairly good shape, fit but still fleshy, thin but not skinny. I liked my body, but I didn’t love it.

I threw myself into the challenge with reckless abandon. I stocked up on kale, ate my weight in plain Greek yogurt, and bought a knock-off Nutribullet. I even worked out with a trainer one day a week. Exercising regularly and eating right, I felt better than ever. I had ample energy and the tight jeans I once had to wiggle into, were now loose-fitting. I was on a fitness high, so I did what anyone enjoying their new physique would do: I went on a shopping spree and exercised even more! I had to maintain it, right?

Interesting ways to burn pounds — what will they think of next?

Interesting ways to burn pounds — what will they think of next?

I was a mad woman, determined to get sculpted arms, a tight backside, and killer calves. I was a walking Women’s Fitness cover: 21 Ways to Get Rock-Hard Abs! At the end of the six-week competition, I had lost 8 pounds, 11% body fat, and more than a few inches. I was down to my “fighting weight,”and the loss was noticeable. Reactions from friends were varied, ranging from “Oh, my gosh, where did you go?” to “Look at your waist!” It was a mix of congratulations and dismay. Some thought I looked great before, others liked the new size. I was on the fence. 

But I had won the company challenge. And in due time, I was going to Costa Rica and a bikini was all I planned to pack.

My new size took some getting used to. I had been in the same weight range my entire life, but the 11% body fat came from the fleshiest of places: breasts, hips, and thighs. The ample bosom I loved had flattened. My thighs were not strong, but thin branches. And while I had never had a big butt, it was certainly smaller than ever. I missed my body. The body I had before I decided it wasn’t good enough.

After my vacation, working out fell to the wayside. Work ramped up and like most yo-yo weight losers, I figured I had lost enough weight I could slack a bit. And slack I did. Gone were my morning green smoothies and Skinny Popcorn. I doubled up on all the food I had missed while I was binge-exercising. Bagels with cream cheese? Yes, please. Hefty burrito, por favor

And quite frankly, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much, I started to gain back most of the weight I’d lost. My full body was coming back and I was happy. It was nice to see a familiar shape in the mirror.

After gaining 10 pounds back (you always get more than you give, right?), I’m starting to see my body for what it really is. Just that, a body. I haven’t been able to rid myself of the stubborn rolls around my midsection and I probably won’t stop trying to. But I have learned how to lose weight through discipline and healthy habits, and no matter how far the pendulum swings in either direction, I know that I can change myself if I see fit. If being the operative word.