This is a topic that is talked about at times, but likely not near enough. Especially by those that do what I do. And if it were talked about more, I think it’d do many grappling with it for the first time a world of good to know they’re not alone.
It seems to be often associated with females when in my experience males are every bit as likely to struggle with body dysmorphia.
Body dysmorphia can be defined as a mental health disorder in which you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.
Like most disorders, I do believe there are varying degrees of affliction with this one. Many that spend any appreciable amount of time dieting or in the gym lifting for aesthetic reasons, WILL experience this at some point, and for many, it never dissipates entirely.
At my heaviest I was just under 260lbs and now I maintain in the 170’s. If I’m being honest, I still have plenty of days where I see myself as 260lbs Jason. It’s been years since I’ve been that weight, I’ve worked my absolute butt off dieting down, getting my fitness in check, and losing weight, but for some pesky reason my mind doesn’t quite see my “now” and totally accepts it. Sometimes I see the changes I’ve made, but far from always.
I’ve caught myself gazing into the mirror pinching the minuscule amount of fat left in my love handles, frustrated that it’s still there. In the moment, I fail to recognize the 90lbs I HAVE lost and instead focus on the 3, maybe 4 lbs, that I HAVEN’T lost.
I’ve spoken with enough individuals, coaches and clients alike, to know this is not uncommon. We ALL seem to focus a whole lot more on our flaws, than our positives. We could get a 98% on a test and rather than being proud of all the questions we got right, we’d wake up in the middle of the night stressed over the one or two we got wrong.
Back to our bodies…
In my experience, we do start to accept the changes more and more, and I believe it’s a multi faceted process that leads to it.
Here are the factors (in my opinion) that start to make your changes more and more real:
- You spend enough time maintaining the changes, and your “new” becomes your “new norm” when you first get there, then after a while the “new” drops off and its simply your “norm”. You have visions of your old self, but to anyone meeting you today the first time, they’d have no idea where you’d been and how far you’ve come.
- You hear from others around you just how different you look, how spectacular the changes, and get kudos and how’d -you-do-its?!.
- Living your day to day life makes it real. You become accustomed to shopping for a size 3-4 below where you used to be. You can tie your shoes without running out of breath. You fit comfortably in a seat whether it on a plane or at a stadium. Time living day to day with these new quality of life improvements cements where you are now not as some temporary blip, but your new norm.
The trickiest part, in my opinion, of being preoccupied with our body and our appearance, is knowing when to say “when”.
At my lowest on the way down from near-260, I got down to 166lbs. I was hungry almost constantly. I had very low energy; if my daughter got home from school and wanted to go for a walk, I would decline, “Sorry sweetie, daddy’s too tired today”. My muscles were flat, my running felt terrible, strength was waning. It didn’t take me long to realize just because I *could* get that low, it didn’t mean I SHOULD get that low.
I had to put the thought of going as low as possible out of my head, realize it wasn’t a sustainable approach or gameplan, and instead focus on improving quality of life even if it meant weighing a bit above my lowest during that cut.
My own coach helped me massively as far as being my voice of reason, often reminding me that I’d hit a bottom limit, and we wouldn’t want or need to stay there. Without him in my ear, I’d have likely been content with being miserable just a little longer to do “just a little more”. Think back to art class back in school. Ever finish a piece, came out looking pretty good, but then you found one tiny flaw and decided to touch it up, only to mess the whole thing up? Yeah. Same deal here. Too much of a good thing is usually no longer a good thing. We have to know when to say “when”.
Now about 3 years hanging right in this 170-180 range, I’m doing a much better job looking in the mirror, and being happy with what I see. Maybe not 100% satisfied, because I know I could stand to benefit from a couple more lean then mass phases, but happy.
I recognize where I was, and where I am now.
I feel good shopping for clothes in sizes that indicate I’m in an ideal weight range.
I have great energy, my endurance and strength are on point, and I can go on a spur of the moment walk, hike, run, or bike ride.
Make sure you are listening to those around you when on a weight change journey whether it be a spouse, a friend, your coach, anyone who sees you regularly and can help keep things in check and call you out if you start to discredit yourself.
Our brains are amazing things, in every sense of the word. If we’re not careful in how we talk to ourselves internally, eventually we’ll begin to assign truth to some of these words. Be kind to yourself and remember to come up for air every now and then and recognize just how far you’ve come. The mirror will show you, but you’ve got to make sure the lens you’re looking through is clear.