I lost more than 3st but why was I still holding on to my ‘fat’ clothes?

Rachel Flaherty: Letting go of clothes that no longer fit me, that made me feel bad about myself, was exhilarating

Rachel Flaherty hiking along Lough Tay in the Wicklow Mountains in Co Wicklow.

Rachel Flaherty hiking along Lough Tay in the Wicklow Mountains in Co Wicklow.


For more than a year I’ve stubbornly refused to let go of clothes that no longer fit me. I’ve attracted a few sideway glances and eyerolls when I’ve vigorously defended my logic of keeping my old clothes, which mostly are either too big and look unflattering or too small to fit properly, adamant my choice was sensible and practical.

But every morning I opened my wardrobe I felt unease as they stared back at me. I understand it’s a first-world problem, but it bothered me why I was fighting against throwing away clothes that didn’t fit me anymore. Was holding on to clothes that were too big for me giving myself permission to regain weight in the future? Would getting rid of clothes too small for me be throwing out my hope and aspirations of being that size again?

I have clothes of varied sizes in my wardrobe so I decided to tackle the problem two-fold – if they too big or two small, they needed to be purged. I needed to stop hoarding clothes I didn’t wear.

When I was gaining the weight, 5st 6lb (34.5kg), I grew to dread the task of finding clothes to wear in the morning. My weight increased so much at one time that clothes that fit me one week were too tight the next. It was demoralising. My body shape was changing consistently with my unhealthy eating and exercising behaviours, and I didn’t feel comfortable in most of my clothes or in control of my habits. Whatever about the weighing scales, not fitting into my clothes hurt much more because it was a reality I couldn’t ignore.

I had also grown to hate clothes shopping over those years. I used to love shopping for clothes – making a sprint for the shops at the first chance available when payday arrived. I bought clothes that made me feel good, that I loved and reflected who I was, and my challenge then was deciding which piece of clothing I loved the most to buy. But as my clothes size increased, so too did my hatred for clothes shopping. There was rarely much of a choice – I always ended up feeling deflated and depressed as I changed from choosing clothes that I loved to ones that were functional, “did the job for whatever event I wanted it for” or just fit. It became increasingly difficult for me to find clothes that fit properly. No longer did I chose clothes that reflected me.

Trying on clothes

I started to feel anxious about trying on clothes in stores. The reflection I saw in the full-length mirrors didn’t match the vision of myself I had in my mind. I knew I was treating my body badly and the mirrors reflected that. I couldn’t hide from them my unhappiness with my unhealthy relationship with my body, food and exercise. But as reluctantly as I may have purchased some of those clothes, I’d grown attached to them. They were there for me in days when I didn’t feel my best, but putting them on made me feel better, ready to face the world and put my best foot forward.

It felt brilliant when I was losing weight and my clothes were no longer tight on me and then eventually became loose. I’ve lost more than 3st (22kg) and dropped in sizes, and am building self-belief and confidence in what my body and mind can achieve. Buying new clothes feels good again.

I’ve moved away from worrying about regaining weight. I’ve worked hard to change my habits and giving them time until they feel a natural part of my daily patterns. I’ve no doubt I’ll gain weight here and there, depending on what’s happening in my life, but I’m certain I would not treat my body, mind or health so abysmally again. I’m confident I’ve changed in that regard.

But it frustrated me I still refused to get rid of my old “fat clothes”, just as I’d previously refused to throw “skinny clothes”. I got the courage to do it on a Monday evening. I started to pull all my clothes from the wardrobe and it wasn’t long until I was overwhelmed with different emotions. Sifting through the different pieces of clothing, my emotions felt exposed and some difficult to face – I realised this was why I’d delayed this task for so long. Some were like saying goodbye to old friends, comforting and supportive, many had good memories while other clothes felt like letting go of old hurts and excuses.

One dress reminded me of the time I felt like I’d given up on ever feeling like myself again and I doubted if I was capable of losing the excess weight.

The scarf

Then there was the scarf. A scarf I’d grown to hate even when I wore it. Obviously, my clothing size makes no difference wearing a scarf, but I was hiding away from the world when I wore it. I hadn’t worn it in more than a year and a half, but it always managed to peek out from the wardrobe to haunt me. It needed a memorable send-off so I got the scissors. At first, I felt guilty and sad cutting it up, then relieved and excited.

As I made my way through clothes, deciding if they would go to the bin or charity, I found clothes I’d never worn. I’d thought they would’ve still been too small but now were too big, a reminder that my mind is taking longer to change than my body.

Then I then turned my attention to clothes that were too small. I’m losing weight, enjoying the process, and I’m sure I’ll be wearing this clothes size in time. But these particular clothes have tormented me through the years. I used to think that getting rid of my smaller-sized clothes meant I was throwing out the hope I had of being that size again, that these clothes would inspire me when I’m in need of some encouragement to push myself to change.

They didn’t. Those smaller-sized clothes just made me feel bad about myself and the only change they encouraged was to deprive or punish myself into behaving differently, which never lasted.

They were holding me back more than I cared to admit. The clothes represented the old ways I thought about myself – the berating, the shame, the guilt and judging myself excessively harshly. The reflected how I used to be.

Throwing out the old clothes was the end of a chapter for me. I had said goodbye to a part of who I was, making space for who I will become.

Rachel Flaherty’s column is about getting fitter and healthier

Contact Rachel on Twitter @rachelflInstagram or email rflaherty@irishtimes.com

Part 1: I lost 3st and I’m stronger now
Part 2: Stuck in the weight loss plateau
Part 3: Friend called my fitness holiday a fat camp
Part 4: My plan is driving me up the walls
Part 5: It is slow and fluctuates but has stayed off
Part 6: Why are we doing this? This is terrifying
Part 7: I want to form new habits
Part 8: I gained 4lb. My fear of failure returned
Part 9: It’s time to face my nemesis – running
Part 10: Losing weight without trying
Part 11: Letting go of the shame and guilt helped
Part 12: Habits have led to weight loss
Part 13: I’ve fallen in love with running
Part 14: The mountain doesn’t care who you are
Part 15: Unhappy relationship with food and my body
Part 16: I stopped trying to be perfect
Part 17: Lunchtime workout worth the hassle?
Part 18: 35,000 steps across Dublin
Part 19: Military fitness camp
Part 20: My relationship with ‘clean eating’
Part 21: Holding on to my ‘fat’ clothes

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