You’ve seen those before and after photos, right? The transformation narrative goes one way from sad and overweight to empowered and fit. It’s like we’re being sold on the idea that losing weight is the key to ultimate happiness. I will never stop advocating the benefits of a healthy body composition — particularly as a healthy diet and exercise improves mental health. However, it is not a cure-all and can bring some new problems with it as well.
Hey, Ray Beam, some of you may be asking, why haven’t you been around lately?
When you feel like you are stuck in the bottom of the dumpster, it is hard to focus on lifting other people up. I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I deal with mental health issues. That is why it is a huge part of my holistic view of fitness. I have also struggled with feeling like a huge hypocrite recently, advocating for self-love and self-kindness when I’ve spent the past few weeks wallowing in the opposite.
My notebook with blog post ideas is pretty full right now. I wanted to do some product round-ups, some geeky reviews, more Spartan advice, but it’s been really hard to sit down and actually make myself type anything out. I think one part of it has been the depression preventing me from doing anything productive, and the debilitating anxiety about the fact that I have not been doing anything productive.
The other part of it, is that I have something more important to talk about — something that people don’t really talk about when they lose weight.
In the simplest terms, dysmorphia is a disconnect between your perception of your body and your body as it actually is. This can happen at subclinical levels without becoming disruptive to your life. It can also manifest as Body Dysmorphic Disorder, taking up a significant amount of your thoughts for the day and negatively impacting your work and social life.
Are you struggling with what you see in the mirror? Take a look below at the three main ways your mind can mess with your fitness journey.
1. It takes time to get used to your body
I’ve noticed my default concept of my body is what I looked like around 170 lbs. I have been both higher and lower than this weight, but I think I’ve spent most of my adult life in the 160-170 range.
When we see something in the mirror over time, we become accustomed to it. This is me. This is what I look like. This sort of self-perception takes time to change, more time than the actual weight loss process.
Despite knowing you lost weight, you often instinctively grab old sizes when clothes shopping, or find yourself doing double takes when you get tagged in a photo. This is okay. You’re going through another part of the process.
RECOMMENDED READING: 10 Things My Before Picture Will Never Show You
2. Weight loss doesn’t fix your life.
Like I said earlier, I will never stop advocating for getting your body to a healthy state. The chronic inflammation that excess adipose tissue creates has whole-body systemic effects causing everything from joint pain to memory problems. But if your eating habits are a result of something deeper, then weight gain is only a symptom of a larger problem.
Think of it like the cough you have with bronchitis. You can take medication to stop coughing, but you still have the underlying illness that needs treating. Food is one of the first comforts we know in our life, and it’s very easy to turn to it when we need solace from something that is painful.
This is the truly difficult part, because if you don’t treat the source of the overeating, another habit may replace it. Even if it’s a good habit like exercise, you may still need to talk to a psychology professional to come to peace with some deeper problems.
3. Body Dysmorphic Disorder is real.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a disorder on the Obsessive-Compulsive spectrum. While it can overlap with some symptoms of eating disorders, particularly the body distortion aspects of Anorexia Nervosa. BDD is the preoccupation with an imagined defect of personal appearance or excessive concern about a slight defect to the extent that it causes severe distress or impairment in daily functioning.
BDD does not have to be about weight, in fact it is more commonly hyperfocused on a single body part. In fact, people with BDD are most commonly concerned about facial features, skin, and hair. BDD is a serious mental illness. 80% of people with BDD have reported suicidal ideation and about 25% have attempted suicide.
I worry lately that I have fallen into this last category here. While I have pride in many of my physical accomplishments (I hit 100 lbs on my power clean this past weekend, I feel like Wonder Woman), I keep coming back, time and again, to an obsession with my stomach. It has been draining me creatively, and making me unmotivated to do anything other than go to the gym and play video games. Even self-care has become incredibly difficult.
Luckily, I’m getting myself into therapy soon so I can start to work on the faulty cognitions that are causing me to feel this way.
I am not making this post for pity. I’m making this post to let you know that you are not alone in your struggles. Even those of us who have “succeeded” still feel like we are far from where we want to be sometimes.
I will be back soon. I am still training for my Spartan Race on July 14th.