My Brain Told Me I Was Skinny When I Was Fat! And When I Lost Weight, It Told Me I Was Fat. Go figure!!


By Kyle Laws, A Millennial

Some of the questions I get asked a lot since I lost weight are:

  • “How did you allow yourself to gain so much weight?”  
  • “Didn’t you see yourself getting bigger?”
  • “Didn’t you look in the mirror and see that you were getting fatter?”
  • “And what about your clothes? Didn’t you see that your clothes didn’t fit anymore?”    

Well, let me admit that I was in denial about my obesity. I fooled myself by only wearing sports clothes with elastic waistbands or baggy clothing. I refused to step on a scale and never took pictures of myself (no selfies). And whenever someone did take a picture of me, I would tell myself, “It’s just a bad angle.” So it is fair to say that I took steps to avoid focusing on my obesity.

Ironically, I consider myself to be an intelligent person so I didn’t think I would have remained in denial for as long as I did. I knew the difference between how I felt when I was in good physical shape versus when I could barely make it up a small hill. So my own self evaluation suggested that there had to be more to me condoning my weight gain for as long as I did than simply ‘plain ole garden variety type denial.’

And I realized that in addition to the usual denial, I experienced this weird phenomena when I looked in the mirror. Each time I looked in the mirror, I saw a “normal” version of myself. I never saw a fat or obese person! Perhaps what I saw was similar to what anorexics see when they look in the mirror. They see a fat person.

It appears we see the opposite of what we really are.

So looking back at all this, I realized that my brain was playing tricks on me by telling me to ignore the reflection of myself in the mirror and see something else.

As you can see, this goes way beyond more than just avoiding the scale because I didn’t want to see that number on the scale. It would be more like me stepping on the scale and when it showed 250 pounds, I would tell myself I was actually seeing 170 pounds. So somehow, I was able to avoid reality and create a fictional reality that everything is fine and tell myself I was really not fat.

And here is the kicker! Up to 2 months after I lost the excess weight and confirmed on the scale that I was over 60 pounds lighter than before, when I looked in the mirror, I still saw myself as fat!

How is that possible you may ask?

Well, this is a question for psychologists, researchers and others trained on how the brain works. I can only tell you what I felt during this period of my life. And what I felt is not unique to me, so I know I was not alone.

I did some digging and found some good research and discussions out there that describe this psychological phenomenon that I felt. I am not qualified to go into it with great detail, and I request that the good folks at Proactive Health Labs do a blog on this. But trust me, there is real research out there that describes this condition.

One health professional described a study some time ago where “3 in 10 overweight people feel they are normal, and 7 in 10 obese people (body mass index of 30 or greater) feel they are simply overweight.”

Another recent study I looked at states that our “perceptions can be biased after a prolonged exposure or adaptation to a given body type.”

And there are many more articles out there on this issue. But what all this reading confirmed for me is that I was not crazy! Other people have the same issues. If a person has had a history of being overweight in the past and they lose weight, at least for a while, they may only see their overweight self in the mirror and not their current self. And if you have had a history of being skinny and you gain weight, for a while you may see your skinny self in the mirror.  

I talk about my experiences here because I believe that to successfully treat obesity or other weight issues, this ‘brain deception” must be accounted for. If we are battling obesity, it seems as though we may need some help to make sure our minds adjust to the fact that we are really fat. Sometimes, like in my case, it may be just someone emphasizing the fact that I am not able sleep well or do certain physical activities. In other cases, we may need professional help to have our perceptions come more in line with reality.

So the next time you see an obese person, rather than saying or thinking, “I can’t believe how you let yourself go that far,” maybe you can be more understanding. Try finding a way to let them face the reality of their situation and help them get through it.

Clearly, we cannot fix our weight issues without fixing our brains.

I really like what this doctor said about the brain...

“The brain, in other words, cannot be forgotten in this process of behavior change. Without knowing these fundamental brain laws, you risk your brain being as sluggish as your feet on that treadmill.”

Kyle Laws is a 25-year-old young adult who overcame addiction and obesity and has dedicated his life to helping others do the same.