Rachel Smith had been overweight her entire life, and frankly, she didn’t really care. She was happy with her body, so she saw no point in trying to lose weight. But in her mid-20s, when she made minor changes that unexpectedly led to major weight loss, Smith was totally blindsided by one of the biggest challenges that came with her new body: a fear of being intimate sexually.
“From 276 to 204 [pounds], I’ve realized that I’m terrified of intimacy,” she wrote on Reddit last month. “Being overweight was a fantastic solution. It was like an instant screening process. It meant that anyone who wanted to be close to me really meant it. And now my screening process is melting away.”
Smith tells Health that growing up, she didn’t think losing weight was in the cards for her. She gave it a “half-hearted attempt” a few times, but all of the women in her family “run a little bigger,” so she figured being overweight was just in her DNA. “Even when I was 5 years old, people would pick me up and they would always be surprised by how heavy I was,” she says.
But that all changed when she got her wisdom teeth out. She couldn’t eat solid food for a week, and she lost 20 pounds. “It was horrible. It was the worst experience. But it taught me a really important lesson, and that was I am capable of losing weight. I’m not some genetic anomaly. It’s not that I can’t do it,” she says.
Smith gained those pounds back as soon as she was able to eat real food again, but shortly after, she downloaded a calorie counting app. She used the app to calculate what her daily calorie intake should be by entering things like her age, gender, current weight, goal weight, activity level, and more. She lost 15 pounds in the first month using the app. Now, she’s lost over 70, and she’s hoping to keep her weight-loss journey going.
Getting used to her slimmer body has been exciting, but it’s also come with serious challenges. She got catcalled walking down the street for the first time in her life, and she started to notice that attention like that really scared her. Like she said on Reddit, her excess weight used to be her “screening process.” Now that was disappearing.
“In my mind, anyone who still wanted to be my friend, date me, or have sex with me clearly wanted me for who I was inside because they didn’t care what I looked like,” she says. Looking back, she knows that so-called screening process didn’t actually protect her from the rejection and hearbreak she was always so afraid of, she adds, but she just felt safer.
Smith says she was “terrified” to get back on dating apps following her weight loss, yet after taking all new photos for her profile, she decided she was ready. She put herself out there, and she’s really glad she did. “I’ve always described myself as a confident person, and my confidence has tripled,” she says. “Not only am I confident now in what I’m wearing, in my makeup, and in who I am, but I feel good, and I feel like I look good. It’s this entirely new type of confidence.”
But, contrary to what many might think, that confidence hasn’t necessarily made dating any easier. Smith is still really scared of opening up to new people, even 70 pounds lighter.
And then there’s sex. “It’s so different because I feel like I have a completely different person’s body,” she says. “I move differenly, I experience things differently, I feel differently, and it’s all better.” She also feels confident in a completely new way. “I’m not worrying about what I look like or feeling attractive. I’m just there, in the moment, with another person.”
She says she’s been able to stop focusing on herself so much during sex, which has made it way more enjoyable. “I’m not constantly thinking ‘Does my stomach look weird at this angle?’ or ‘I don’t want to do this position because I’ll squish you.'”
Don’t get her wrong, she was freaking out the first time she took it to the bedroom in her new body. She had no idea what it was going to be like, and again, she was by no means over her fear of opening up to other people. But she found the courage to let go, and it was better than she could have hoped.
Smith is now in therapy, where she’s learning how to develop healthy relationships, both with others and herself. “I’m trying to stop living my life through fear,” she says. “Asking for a way to screen out all of the bad people who might come into my life is both impossible and unrealistic, so part of what makes this so hard, and part of what makes this so exciting, is that I’m throwing away the screening process. I don’t want to miss out on the good because I’m afraid of the bad.”