I want to talk about a type of loss that isn’t weight loss and yet it is profoundly linked to weight loss.
It is the feeling of loss that people may experience when they once had lost significant amounts of weight, subsequently regained it often ending up with even more excess weight than their original weight.
It is a loss of the loss if this makes sense?
This is a type of disenfranchised grief.
Disenfranchised grief is a concept that was first described by Kenneth J. Doka in 1989. He defined it “as grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned”.
This loss is something that publicly we are not able to articulate or discuss as it is considered widely that weight regain is simply a matter of our doing. There is so much judgment and stigma surrounding weight regain that can very quickly reinforce feelings of shame and stigma for people as if it is their fault that the weight has come back.
However it is a very real and legitimate feeling.
They might mourn the body that for the first time could fit into an item of clothing that they had always wanted to wear and for the first time in their life were able to. They may mourn the body that for the first time in a long time found it easier to walk up stairs or fit comfortably in chairs. They may mourn no longer having the life circumstances to enable them to lose weight again or keep it off for example fitness, finances, or good health.
Conversely sometimes when people lose weight they may mourn their old body that they were familiar with and the new slimmer body feels wrong to them. Perhaps it makes them feel vulnerable or exposed or they don’t like feeling so much smaller. They may mourn the freedoms of being able to eat as they wish.
Disenfranchised grief, due to its very nature of not being socially sanctioned, means that people are often left to suffer in silence for fear of being ridiculed if they articulate how they are feeling.
If this is something you may be experiencing please know you are not alone and that it is totally understandable that you feel this way and there is help available.
Ginette is a counsellor/psychotherapist and coach specialising in complex weight related issues especially when an illness may be the cause of excess weight gain or weight loss or when weight gain or loss has caused illness. She also teaches a weight management course called the “Science and Sustainability of Weight loss’ and teaches counselling and communication skills to students studying nutrition.