Losing weight can be a roller coaster of emotions. There are days when your pants fit a little looser and you feel like celebrating, and then others when you feel defeated after you step on the scale and see the number hasn’t budged.
“Losing weight is hard, plain and simple,” says Amy Cirbus, a licensed therapist at Talkspace who is based in the New York City area. “The elation of success, when we reach a point we’re proud of achieving, is a powerful high. The sting of disappointment, shame, anger, and doubt creep in when expectations aren’t met.”
Generally, this comes when life gets in the way of your best-laid weight loss plans. Cirbus says things can start out great — you establish an eating and exercise plan and commit to letting go of problematic old habits in favor of forming positive new ones. And then something happens that throws you off course — maybe you can’t resist a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party, or work interferes with your gym time. “We’re left to work through the disappointment and frustrations of falling off the wagon in order to get back on,” Cirbus says. “It becomes a mental game as much as a physical one.”
It’s completely normal to take these setbacks personally. “When we cheat on a diet, we mistake the behavior with the person and absorb the failure,” Cirbus says. “The day we decided to eat all the cake at the party becomes a hangover of sugar and regret, and can make us feel horrible about ourselves.”
It helps to know that setbacks are part of the process. “Losing weight is a marathon, not a sprint,” Cirbus says. She says to picture your weight loss journey as a graph, where the individual day may not have been so great, but overall your progress is trending in the right direction.
If you need help along the way, pick up one of these seven inspiring books that depict what the weight loss journey is really like.
1. Heavy: An American Memoir, by Kiese Laymon
In this powerful memoir, which earned a lot of buzz in 2018, Kiese Laymon tells his story of growing up in Mississippi and how he learned to lean on food to cope with life. The book deals with more than just weight issues — it chronicles Laymon’s complicated relationship with his mother, his history with sexual violence and gambling, and the difficulties he’s experienced being black in America.
2. The Elephant in the Room, by Tommy Tomlinson
When the journalist Tommy Tomlinson was approaching his 50th birthday, he weighed 460 pounds (lb) and was at risk for the negative health issues that come with being overweight, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. He explains that the weight didn’t creep up on him. In this vividly written memoir, Tomlinson details his lifelong battle with his weight, which he partially attributes to being born into a family that loves Southern food and considers rich fare a luxury. He also describes what it’s like to go through life every day as an obese man (researching restaurant seating in advance and fearing tumbles on the subway, for instance) and how he’s attempted to move the needle by counting his calorie intake with a food journal.
3. Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life, by Eric O’Grey with Mark Dagostino
Picture this: Eric O’Grey is 150 lb overweight and dealing with type 2 diabetes and depression. He goes to see a new doctor who leaves him with an unconventional prescription: a shelter dog, Peety, who’s also overweight. This uplifting read tells the story of how the pair became friends and turned their lives around together. Both of them lost weight (150 lb for O’Grey, which was enough to put type 2 diabetes in remission), and O’Grey regained control of his life and found love and happiness.
4. It Was Me All Along, by Andie Mitchell
This New York Times bestseller tells the story of a young girl from Boston who found comfort in sweets and junk food. Andie Mitchell’s awakening came when she stepped on the scale at age 20 and was shocked by the number she saw. The story that ensues is partially about weight loss (she ends up losing about half of her body weight by seeking balance and eating in moderation) and also about self-acceptance and how Mitchell learns to love herself.
5. Always Too Much and Never Enough: A Memoir, by Jasmin Singer
Jasmin Singer is an animal rights advocate who adopted a vegan diet, which she learned did not automatically make her thin. In her poignant memoir, Singer touches on how she successfully lost 100 pounds (cutting out processed foods and incorporating juice fasts are two tactics that helped), the ways in which heavy people are brought down by society, and how unpacking her destructive relationship with food helped her rebuild her self-esteem.
6. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay
In this popular memoir from the celebrated New York Times bestselling author Roxane Gay, the writer dives into her past and reveals how the violence she experienced as a 12-year-old girl made her rely on food as a way to protect her body. Gay details how the societal shame of being overweight has infiltrated aspects of her life as a 6-foot-3 bisexual adult with obesity. The story will pull you in with its wonderful writing, and while Gay herself doesn’t view her story as inspiring, it may push you to rethink your relationship with food and your own body and how necessary it is to do the work to make sure that relationship is a positive one.
7. The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl, by Shauna Reid
Looking for a lighthearted and hilarious read? This one is for you. Scotland-based Shauna Reid started a blog — The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl — to document her journey from a 351-lb 23-year-old to a slimmed-down version of herself half that size. The book weaves in other plotlines, including Reid’s travels, work issues, and dating life, as it tells the story of how she overcame obstacles in a way many readers looking to lose weight will find relatable.