Weight loss and self identity

When our body changes through illness, accident or injury we have to develop a new relationship with ourselves, with our new physical identity.

For me it was weight loss through illness. For most of my adult life I had been around 140lbs, but when I went into my 40’s this gradually increased to 148lb, and it was a continuous battle to remain at that weight. There were a few exceptions, for example prior to getting married I was eating 1300 calories a day and it still took 4 months for me to loose 8lbs prior to our wedding in 2013, needless to say it soon went back on. Then in the late Summer of 2014 I naturally began to lose weight which I put down to a change of diet; drinking smoothies and eating lots of salads, but the weight continued to fall through the autumn.

After an episode of acute pancreatitis – where the pancreas becomes inflamed and the digestive enzymes it produces begin to digest the pancreas itself – my diet became more restrictive. I was eating less generally, as well as having a low fat diet (less that 35g of fat a day bearing in mind an Avocado pear is around 20g!).

However, due to the pain I was in, eating wasn’t enjoyable, it became a chore rather than a delight. Anything containing too much fat caused me discomfort as my pancreas wasn’t able to digest it properly.

I struggled to get used to my lighter weight and what I called my scrawny shape. Why? Because it wasn’t my choice. The interesting thing about losing weight when it’s not planned is that there is a sense of confusion about why it was happening and also a concern as to when it would stop.

How low could my weight go for me still to have enough energy to get through daily life?

Then when I was diagnosed with a pancreatic tumour (IPMN) in January 2015 the weight loss made sense, at least I knew why, which was a relief. Also, the tumour could be removed, an even greater relief.

By the time I had surgery to remove my tumour I was down to 120lbs, the last time I was this weight I was a teenager! Having lost 2 stone none of my clothes fitted, everything was baggy, making my weight loss more obvious. I became gaunt as my face became thinner.

My sense of identity had never been challenged before, and I didn’t know how to adjust to the change. It was like I had been given a new body to live in, a very disconcerting feeling. My view of myself changed. I may have looked a thinner version of my usual self to everyone else. But I felt small, not just physically but psychologically too, it felt like everything about me was diminishing, fading.

Fortunately as with most things, it was time that allowed me to accept my new shape and identity. I literally had to shrink into my own skin and then as I got used to it, I became stronger and more confident in myself and my new body.

When we chose to change our body shape, it’s because that is what we want to do, and therefore we are delighted when we achieve it whether that is due to diet, exercise or surgery.

Having lost 28lb in the 12 months prior to my operation, it has taken 9 months to put on 8lbs due to a low fat diet. But I now finally feel comfortable and well in my own skin, and I am enjoying having a new body, a new shape, a new identity.

It takes time to adapt and accept physical changes. I am fortunate, I haven’t lost a limb or one of my senses, I just have an abdominal scar that fades with each passing day. I also have age on my side, at 50, I no longer want or have any expectations of a ‘perfect’ body, what ever that may mean. I am just happy that I have a body that is still functioning and enables me to live fully.

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