I have battled obesity since I was 8 years old. I have now been at a healthy weight for a year, and yet I still battle a nagging feeling that I am too fat. Turns out I suffer from body dysmorphia. In the past three months, I have become so increasingly despondent about how big I am, that I have let it inhibit the healthy lifestyle I have worked so hard to obtain. So, I have been reading a lot about body dysmorphia. This has also been called phantom fat.
“People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image, perception, with them,” says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist who specializes in body-image issues. “They literally feel as if they’re in a large body still.” This describes me to a tee!
How the heck do we combat this? My research indicates that there are a few activities that can help:
- Take a cold, hard look at your beliefs related to your appearance.
- Train your mind to make positive evaluations of yourself in social situations.
- Focus on what you bring to the table.
- Make a list of your rituals and behaviors surrounding your appearance.
- Familiarize yourself with your personal triggers.
- Expose yourself to real-world situations that buck your beliefs.
- Ramp up your self-care.
- Keep a journal.
- Share your story with a community of other sufferers and close friends and family.
- If you are really struggling, get help.
These seem to be smart and doable. I read one article that really spoke to me. “Patients report universal success when they do one thing in the face of body dysmorphia: dress to impress! Get rid of the flowing camouflage clothes and wear a smart, well fitted outfit. Gentlemen, tuck in your shirts in. Ladies, wear a fitted skirt with a waistband. Small sized “fat clothes” do nothing for body image – dump that style and get something that flatters your new size. Enlist the help of friends you trust to find flattering clothes. Sometimes you have to force yourself to see your body as it is, a great fitting outfit will certainly do the trick.” (Kaye Bailey)
Both articles really come down to self-care. The first way I notice that I am not doing well is when I wear my hair in a ponytail, have zero makeup, and don’t even bother to try on pants with a button or zipper. Those are clear signs that I am struggling internally. (If you see me at the gym, that doesn’t count… if I am there, I am pushing!)
I struggle with body dysmorphia every day. Sitting in an airplane, in the center seat, I still feel terrible for the poor person sitting next to me. Going through turn-styles or between cars, I still turn sideways and suck in my belly. Looking in the mirror, and seeing some skewed version of who I am. I am getting better. I am getting help. One activity I do is to force myself to take a picture (of myself) EVERY SINGLE day. It’s a process, and one I think will take the rest of my life. I know that I am no longer morbidly obese. I know that I am actually fit. I can see it in side by side pictures… There are good days and bad days. The really good news is that it gets easier.
So if you are like me, I need you to know a few things:
- You are most definitely NOT ALONE.
- There is help.
- It does get better.