It may appear to most that many people who start a weight loss journey do so in order to change their outer appearance, but in actuality many do so to find worth and self-acceptance. For my dear friend Kori, she started a journey to lose weight in an effort to find acceptance but found that the most important person that needed to accept her was herself.
For years she had lived with bullying toward her body, making her withdraw as much as possible from social situations. Consequently she developed low self-esteem and self-hatred. She also believed that her lifestyle was interfering with life opportunities. For years she had dreamed of competing with a world class drum corps, requiring her body to meet intense physical demands. As a performer, she also wore incredibly tight uniforms that showed off every inch of her body.
“I just knew that I couldn’t handle hating myself any longer and that I wanted to explore my life into something that could potentially steer me in a direction of being okay with life.” Says Kori, reflecting on the start of her journey.
Kori decided that the best way to overcome this self-hatred was to lose weight.
In April 2014, Kori started an intense weight loss journey involving dieting and intense personal training sessions. I met Kori at the start of her journey and couldn’t help but notice her perseverance. She would not let anything stand in her way of extreme weight loss. In just over a year, she decreased her BMI from 50 to 33%.
As a nutrition major, body positive ‘warrior’, and friend, I also worried how her efforts and fast progress might backfire. What is the weight came back? Or if it plateaued? What if she still isn’t happy at the “end” of her journey? For the sake of her overall well-being, I hoped I could get her to take the emphasis of her journey off of weight.
I tried to encourage Kori not to neglect her mental and emotional needs. No one could talk her out of weight loss, and as a supportive friend, I wasn’t going to. I wanted her to be happy, but also realized she could not be happy with what the scale said unless she learned to love herself.
Her response to this message is what makes me brag about her journey. Not because she lost so much weight, but because she eventually realized why losing weight for acceptance was detrimental.
A few months in, Kori lost a whopping 80 pounds. She looked significantly different and everyone around her noticed. She received so much attention and praise and accepted it graciously.
I also remember how heartbreaking it was when Kori realized that the attention she suddenly received was only for her weight loss and not for the rest of her. Incredibly enough, she did her best to note that these people were not her true friends. They only contributed to the idea that her weight defined her self-worth.
A few months following, after her 100 pound weight loss mark, Kori’s weight plateaued. Even though she had worked so hard, her journey became frustrating. Her weekly weigh-ins were no longer as satisfying. Her body was not changing as quickly as it had before yet she still had a long way to reach her original weight loss goal.
“About 2 months [after] I hit my first goal of losing 100 lbs, I was so confused as to why I still was not fully satisfied with my results. The battle went on for months until it just clicked one day that I need to love my body for what it is in that moment. Not what is was or what I want it to be. But what I currently [have] for a body.”
That’s when Kori started to shift her goal from weight loss to self-love. Even though she was still committing to her original goal, she realized learning to love her body was the only way to be happy with it. Losing weight did not result in self-love. Only learning to love herself resulted in self-love.
“I knew that the only way I was going to reach my top goal was by defeating my insecurities. I would always remind myself that staying behind my insecurity would never fix anything and just keep me in the same spot I was in.
…I’ve discovered self-love and how it’s okay to feel comfortable in the fact that I have curves and loose skin throughout my body.”
There are many ways in which you can learn to love your body, and they are unique to every individual. For Kori there was a lot involved. She pushed herself into intimidating social situations. Such as meeting with a personal training, attending social events, and simply being open to having conversations with new people.
She reports how difficult it was for her to even set foot in a gym for the first time, but how forcing herself to engage in challenging social situations made her a more open-minded person. She reports that her life of “self-hatred” made her quick to dislike others. But being comfortable with herself made her comfortable with others even if they were unlike her.
Although journeys of self-acceptance are often depicted by rainbows and butterflies, Kori notes how accepting hardship is important in order to overcome it. Even after a significant amount of weight loss, there are still moments of insecurities with her body. I remember when she first tried on the below uniform, and worried about the skin under her armpits being exposed.
But who would even know based on how freaking radiant she looks?
“I’ve learned that insecurities and negative thoughts aren’t something you can hide from, they are a part of life. But the way I choose to let my mind control them is how my outlook on myself will be. Recognize the negative thoughts and overpower them with the positive.”
She also notes that self-acceptance is not easy, but it’s worth it.
“You’re the only person who has to be around you 24/7. You might as well find ways to love it. And if you can’t find any… create some. My first year of this journey I was so busy focusing on the number and not paying attention to the fact that it’s more than that.”
After witnessing her story, and how it still progresses 4 years later, we both share her story to encourage others who feel the same way that she has.
No, you don’t need to lose weight in order to be happy; that’s one of the many things Kori realized along this journey. If you hate yourself to begin with, you will still hate yourself even when the weight is gone. At this stage, she realized that weight can fluctuate in different stages of ones life and accepting that fact is key.
Yes, you do need to challenge yourself in order to grow into the person you want to be. Kori notes that even though this journey started as an effort to lose weight, she challenged herself in so many different ways that helped her grow as a person. It was these challenges that has made her a better version of herself.
“My state of mind has grown tremendously. I’ve become more open to others. More open to myself. I’ve gained some kind of social life because I’m not so worried about what other think of me.”
Now, Kori is a Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) who has fallen in love with fitness. She developed non-weight related fitness goals such as becoming more flexible, competing in weight lifting competitions, and building her endurance. She also continues to perform with a world class color guard and drum corps. Kori is no longer afraid of walking into the gym or feeling the need to cover up parts of her body. She even recently posted a picture of herself on social media shirtless, one of the hardest things she has ever done.
Left: Accepting her CPT Certificate; Right: Exposing her skin for the first time (source: Kori Sheades)
“Opinions about how others think I look don’t really bother me anymore. It’s a really great feeling being able to be self-aware of these things in the positive sense and to break through the insecurities that you thought would be impossible to defeat.”
Kori also wants other women struggling with their bodies to know that they are not alone. As a CPT, she wants women who are too insecure to step foot into a gym to challenge themselves to do so anyway. She reports how pushing your limits is hard, but it is the only way you can grow.
“So many people out there are going through very similar feels like you. You are not alone. You need to have patience with others. Patience with yourself. And Patience with time.”