I’ve lost a lot of weight recently. Almost 40kg this year. It’s one of the common side effects of having most of your stomach removed, and is, after all, the reason I did it.

Actually, that’s not quite true. The main reason I chose to have a gastric sleeve was to become healthier – that doesn’t necessarily mean skinnier. It’s why I am struggling so much with the conflicting emotions that come with losing a lot of weight quickly.

People keep telling me I look great. I really struggle to receive this compliment because what runs through my head when I hear this is:

Yes – I do! LOOK AT MY WAIST! Oh but am I just excited by my waist because that’s what society has programmed me to think. But actually, it has been bloody hard work to get to this stage so maybe I should just take a second to relish my weight loss. Except the only thing that’s changed about me is my weight. I am still the same person I was. And I was always confident in my body before, so why should I be more confident now.

Then I get sad that few people recognised how fabulous I was beforehand. An offhand compliment opens up a spiral of complicated emotions, political debate, and introspection.

People keep telling me that it must be easier to move now I have shed some of my fluffy lining (and oh boy does nobody tell you how COLD weight loss is). And the weird thing is that up until recently, no, it wasn’t. Before I lost weight, I could deadlift 100kg at the gym. I could sled push my built trainer. I was the kind of chick who enjoyed making gymbros feel inadequate when they saw this fat girl lift as much as them.

So to go from that to somebody who could barely move because my routine was shot, my energy intake was restricted and my abs were literally shredded (and not in the good gym way) was immensely dispiriting. I am now three months post-op and I still get angry at myself that I can only hold a plank for 15 seconds.

Fitness is complex. It is so much more than the number on the scale. And for as long as I can remember, because the number on the scale didn’t bring me any joy, I got my fitness joy through the things I could achieve. Building that back up from scratch is frustrating and tiring.

I read something recently that said roughly that becoming healthier is about engaging in healthy behaviours. Often that leads to weight loss, but not always.

In my case, the answer is sort of. I am eating less, and I am losing weight. But it’s hard, and, if anything, I am more conscious of my eating than ever before. More conscious of every ‘mistake’ I make, every craving I have. Food gives me much less pleasure than it used to – which is a good and a bad thing for me. Exercise is hard and bodies don’t just magically become fit when you lose weight. I have to put the work in.

And I guess that’s the bit I want to be rewarded for. When people commend me on my weight loss, I wish they were commending me on the process, not simply the outcome. Because the process is something I am proud of. The preparation for, and recovery from, weight loss surgery is one of the hardest things I have ever done.

Next time you go to compliment someone on their weight loss, stop and pause. Are you applauding them for their hard work and commitment? Or are you simply applauding them because they look good in jeans? Only one of those really matters to me.

Image credit: @beyondbeautifulbook