If you follow my Instagram, you probably know I suffer from body dysmorphia. In the past, whenever I made some real progress and shed a lot of fat, my friends would tell me how much thinner I looked. I didn’t see it. When I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see the “fit” Melle my friends saw. I saw a “fat” Melle I was trying desperately to fix. The same thing would happen when I switched over to gaining muscle. No matter how well-proportioned I was, no matter how much lean muscle I was building, it just looked like more fat to me.
I didn’t always have body dysmorphia. I developed it after I got into the fitness industry and started getting in shape. The more time I spent at the gym and on fitness-related social media, the more I started comparing myself to others and feeling inferior. Over time, that feeling of inferiority became body dysmorphia. Mental health is as important to a good fitness program as physical health, and managing mental health issues is a lifelong journey. Here, I’ll talk about what body dysmorphia is, the most common triggers, and some warning signs to look out for. I’ll also talk about some strategies I’ve found for managing body dysmorphia.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia is also known as body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. It affects about one in every 40 Americans, both men and women, and involves having a fixation on your own body parts. Different people have different fixations, but typical areas of concern are the stomach, thighs, or hips, as well as the face or hair. It doesn’t have to be about feeling fat, either. That’s been my journey, but some people struggle with other appearance issues like their hairline or cheek structure.
The one thing that’s true for all people with body dysmorphia is that we want to look normal. That’s it. Some people have an unrealistic idea of what “normal” is for their body type. Others may genuinely need a better fitness plan, but aren’t able to recognize when they’re making progress. For me, I spend a lot of my time as an online trainer analyzing people’s physique. My head is constantly full of data on fat content, muscle content and body types. So when it’s time to analyze my own physique, my perspective is skewed, which triggers my BDD. Body dysmorphia can affect your life in many ways. It causes some people to stop spending time with friends, because they feel like they’re being judged, or can’t stop comparing themselves to others. Some people with BDD spend thousands of dollars on cosmetic surgery, only to be disappointed with the results. Body dysmorphia can also lead to other, unhealthy disorders like purging and binge eating. It can also lead to substance abuse, and cause depression or even suicide.
The Dangers of Social Media
A lot of “fitness inspiration” pages on social media have lots of pictures of people who use their program. These ladies are always smiling, never sweaty, and never seem to have anything standing in the way of their fitness goals. There’s a reason for that. These people are paid to make their brands look good, which means pictures of smiling people who say they went from being couch potatoes to being fitness models thanks to whatever six-week program they’re pitching. It doesn’t matter to them if they’re on steroids, suffering from menstrual problems, erratic mood swings, high blood pressure and kidney failure. It doesn’t matter if they’re spending thousands of dollars on surgery to remove fat, while still killing themselves with unhealthy diets. Because they’re selling an image.
I’ve unfollowed a lot of pages over the past few years, because what they’re selling isn’t healthy. If you find yourself fixating on these models, wishing you looked more like them, maybe it’s time to unplug and take some “me time”. Real fitness, like real mental health, isn’t easy and it doesn’t have shortcuts. But it does have positive, long-term results, and that’s what I like to focus on.
Warning Signs to Watch For
Body dysmorphia affects people who are in shape and people who are out of shape, regular people and famous supermodels. Whether or not you have body dysmorphia has nothing to do with what you actually look like. It has to do with what you look like to yourself, and how you manage those feelings. So how do you know whether you’re suffering from body dysphoria, or whether you’re just a healthy person who cares about how she looks?
The most obvious symptom is feeling like you’re bigger or smaller than you truly are. I’ve blogged before about body shapes, so I won’t go into it in detail here, but understanding your body shape, along with your height and other factors, is important for knowing whether or not your perceptions are accurate. Other common symptoms include picking at your skin constantly to see if you’ve lost or gained fat, choosing outfits specifically because they cover a certain area, or avoiding being photographed. Another major warning sign is if you find yourself avoiding friends. When we feel that we aren’t good enough, we can project that feeling onto other people, and think everyone is judging us. If you find yourself doing this, there’s a chance you might have body dysmorphia. A related warning sign is if you often compare yourself negatively to other people.
Finding a Remedy
Let’s say you’ve got body dysmorphia, how do you live a healthy lifestyle?
Personally, I stopped following toxic social media accounts and poisoning myself with their unrealistic expectations. Instead, I started doing research on body types and nutrition, so I could get and stay fit the right way. A therapist can also help you work through negative thoughts or compulsive behaviors. Some people with body dysmorphia are prescribed medication to deal with underlying mental health issues, or side effects like depression. Body dysmorphia is a serious issue, and while I can talk about my personal experiences, I’m not a psychologist. If you’re suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts, please see a professional, or call this number to talk to someone for free.
Thanks, everybody, and see you in the gym!