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'Gaining my weight back was the failure that helped me finally love my body'

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

One woman shares how failing her weight loss surgery saved her from disordered eating

The perfect cure for obesity simply doesn't exist. If it did, weight loss surgery may be the closest thing to a magic bullet that we have.

Weight loss surgery can be life changing, no doubt about it. And when all other methods have failed, it can feel like the only way left to get your health back. But according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, nearly half of bariatric surgery patients regain a significant amount of weight in the years following the procedure.

Leah Kinney, a 33-year-old living in Minnesota, is one of these people. But, she says, it isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, going through the process of having surgery, losing weight and then regaining some has helped her love and respect her body even more.

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Several years ago, Leah found herself at her highest weight of 263 pounds and was desperately unhappy with herself. She'd battled eating disorders for years, and they'd left her with painfully low self-esteem and chronic health problems. She knew she'd feel better both mentally and physically at a lower weight, but though she tried her hardest to lose the pounds through diet and exercise, the extra weight wasn't budging. Eventually she decided on a vertical sleeve gastrectomy and went under the knife in 2011.

During the year after her surgery, she lost weight quickly, finally ending up at 165 pounds. She enjoyed her newfound confidence and body and even had surgery to remove the loose skin left over on her arms. But while the surgery had helped with the physical side, she says that mentally she was still having issues.

"Weight loss surgery can't cure eating disorders," she says. "These are often rooted in shame and self-hate, taught to us at a very young age. It takes years of unlearning to overcome them."

As bad habits started to creep back, the pounds started to creep back on. But instead of seeing it as another reason to hate herself, she realized she needed to start working on her disordered thoughts and learn to love herself regardless of what the scale says.

"I learned that if weight loss is your goal, shaming, blaming and hating yourself thin will never work," she says. "Freedom from eating disorders and body shame doesn't come from external measures but comes when we turn our gaze inward and show love to ourselves."

During this time, she discovered the Health at Every Size movement, which focuses on helping people be happy and healthy at every weight and on showing them that health is not determined by a number on the scale. Its message resonated with Leah, and she says she was finally able to ditch all her shame and body hate.

Now, at 210 pounds, she's regained nearly half of what she lost. But she doesn't see it as a failure at all. "I'm much healthier and a whole lot happier today at this weight than I have ever been!" she exclaims. It all comes down to learning to love and respect her body, both for the difficulties it's survived and for the way it supports her now.

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This mental shift has changed how she sees everything related to her health. While she may still be doing the same things — eating healthfully and exercising — she says she does them for totally different reasons, and the results have been marvelous. Now, instead of starving herself and using exercise as a punishment, she sees eating and exercising moderately as ways to love and nurture herself.

She isn't perfect by any means, but she says that she's so much happier and healthier than she's ever been. And if it took weight loss surgery to get her to this point, then so be it — she doesn't regret a single step of the journey.

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