Your Self-Image after Weight Loss

“Phantom Fat” is an Issue for Many who have Lost Weight

ImageJacqueline Stenson, an MSNBC contributor, has written an interesting article regarding research that’s been done regarding the phenomenon of “phantom fat.” We’re familiar with the term “phantom pain” as it relates to amputees who still experience pain long after their limbs are removed. But the notion of “phantom fat” is relatively new.

Joshua Hrabosky, who studies body image as a psychologist at a Rhode Island hospital, co-authored a research paper in 2004 and investigated “phantom fat.”  The researchers found that while people who lose a significant amount of weight do experience a more favorable view of themselves, it’s not always to the level that someone who was never overweight does.

For many who have been overweight a number of years, they find themselves still carrying around the persona of the uncomfortably overweight person they once were, in spite of the fact that they are much smaller and more “normalized.” Examples of this are women who still worry about breaking chairs long after they’ve shed 50 or 100+ pounds or more, or men who cringe at sliding into a booth at their favorite restaurant though they can comfortably fit after their weight loss. 

I believe this article is important because an awareness of how “phantom fat” can affect body image is critical to long-term success following weight loss. Modifying internal body image so that it reflects the external reality of the body is imperative. 

The subconscious is a powerful tool. It causes our perceptions to often become our reality. If we harbor an out-dated image of ourselves as obese individuals, eventually, our subconscious may direct our behavior to make this so once again. In other words, we become at a heightened risk of regain if we don’t alter our internal body image to reflect our external reality. 

Engaging ourselves to explore the internal work that needs to accompany the external work of weight loss is so important and valuable. This article offers one example of how and why this is so critical. The full article may be found at “Phantom Fat can Linger after Weight Loss.”

Have you experienced “phantom fat,” and if so, how do you cope?


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