Health / Weight Loss

How to Mentally and Emotionally Cope With Weight Gain

There's a lot you can do to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “the only thing that is constant is change.” It’s true about life—and it’s true about the number on the scale. It doesn’t matter who you are or how committed you are to your diet and fitness routine. Chances are, your weight is going to fluctuate. Maybe you’re pushing towards a promotion. With all those late nights at the office, you don’t make it to the gym as often as you’d like. Maybe you get caught up in the holiday spirit. All of those cookies and cocktails catch up with you before the new year. Maybe you’re struggling with a health condition, or you fall off the fitness wagon, or you’re just getting older and can’t eat the way you used to. Whatever the case may be, the odds are that you’ll experience and have to cope with weight gain at some point in the future.

And, that’s totally OK! There’s nothing wrong with gaining weight. For some people, adding a few extra pounds is nothing to lose sleep over. But, for other people, gaining weight (especially when you don’t expect it or don’t particularly want it) can be a challenging experience—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally. And, without the right tools, it can be hard to cope. “Gaining weight is always a tricky topic. Most of my clients know that we should appreciate and care for our bodies at any size, but we’re so steeped in weight loss culture that it’s difficult to feel that way,” says Abby Thompson, a San Francisco, CA-based therapist who specializes in body image and eating disorders.

To help you process a new number on the scale, we talked to Thompson about the healthiest ways to cope with and adjust to weight gain.

Don’t pretend that you’re not struggling.

Coping with weight gain can be challenging, but pretending that it’s not challenging can make it even harder. You might wish that you were handling your weight gain better. However, accepting how you feel about it (even if what you feel is that you wish it didn’t happen!) is, ironically, the first step to feeling better.

“Allow yourself to mourn your ‘old’ body. And, even more importantly, allow yourself to mourn the fantasy of being at a lower weight,” says Thompson. “Pretending [that] you don’t care, if you really do care, won’t help you cope.” If you’re bummed that you’ve gained weight, let yourself be bummed. Pretending that you’re not upset and pushing down your feelings will only make them harder to deal with in the long run.

Focus on how you feel—not how you look.

When you gain weight, it’s easy to hyper-focus on how your body looks or the number on the scale. But a much better way to feel more comfortable in your new body is to focus on how you feel—not how you look. “Focus on doing things to increase your energy and overall wellbeing, rather than change your body,” says Thompson.

When you’re in the gym, don’t worry about how many calories you’re burning or reps you can knock out. Instead, focus on how great you feel after a HIIT session on the elliptical (hello, endorphin rush!), or when you’re able to push a little harder than you were yesterday. “I think the key is to think of fitness as a celebration of what your body can do and how you can feel rather than a punishment or obligation,” says Thompson. “Frankly, if working out is about burning off calories, it may be worth taking a step back so [that] you don’t torture yourself. But, when you are working out to feel great, even a little bit of exercise can make a big difference. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym.”

Treat yourself to a new wardrobe.

There’s nothing more demoralizing than staring at a closet full of clothes that no longer fit—so don’t do it. “Buy clothes that are comfortable and feel good to wear at your new size,” says Thompson. “We often torture ourselves trying to fit into smaller clothes with the hope that it will shame us into losing weight. That doesn’t work. You deserve to feel comfortable and confident at any size! You could even organize a clothing swap to avoid destroying your budget and cluttering up your closet.”

Or maybe you know your weight gain is temporary. So, you don’t want to get rid of your entire wardrobe. That’s totally fine. Just stash any too-small pieces in storage. “If you really want to keep clothing in case of returning to your former size, limit it to a few pieces you really love and think you’ll love later, too,” says Thompson. “Put them in a box away from your regular clothes so [that] you aren’t reminded every time you get dressed that they don’t fit.”

Get help if you need it.

If you’re really struggling to cope with your weight gain, ask yourself if it’s getting in the way of leading a healthy, happy life. If the answer is yes, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to ask for help.

“You deserve to feel amazing no matter what you weigh. If your feelings are more intense than just a little disappointment, it’s definitely worth getting some help. Disordered eating doesn’t always look as serious as anorexia or bulimia. Sometimes it’s just thinking a lot about food, feeling shame about it, or feeling out-of-control around it,” says Thompson. “At the end of the day, your relationship to your body, food, and exercise should be fun and empowering—or at least neutral. If it’s making you miserable, definitely reach out to a therapist with experience in body image or eating disorders.”

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