When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Most likely, what you THINK you see and what is actually there are two very different things.
We tend to be our own worst critic. We see flaws in ourselves that nobody else would ever notice. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to our worst enemy. Maybe what we see isn’t even there. It could be the “huge” birthmark on your cheek, the “monstrous” bump on your nose, or the extra padding on your thighs. Let’s face it, we are in a hyper-critical society.
What makes matters worse, is that we are constantly bombarded with messages of the ideal figure. The “strong is the new skinny” banners and the magic of Photoshop have altered what we perceive as perfection. We cut calories, bump up the workouts, and stress out about what we can do to reach this ideal image. Chances are that perfect figure doesn’t even exist. And what really is perfect? Does it even matter? Are you a better person if you look “perfect?”
That perfect image you are looking for may appear beautiful on the outside, but who the heck knows what’s going on inside. When a woman tries to lean out by dramatically cutting carbohydrates or calories, she can send her hormones on a roller coaster ride. Believe me, I see this A LOT in my practice and I’ve been there myself.
That young looking skin is surely not going to last when your body is taking a beating. This is the same for men as well. Sure you may look like a fitness model, but how’s that testosterone level? Are you socially isolating yourself during the week to avoid eating or drinking something “forbidden?”
What I am getting at is that we need to stop focusing on meeting some ideal image. What is looking like a model going to do for you? Sure, maybe you will get more attention, but what will that do for you? Likely, it will just pressure you to maintain that unreasonable figure and THAT my friend is an unhealthy way to live.
The fact of the matter is: the image goal you are trying to attain will probably never be enough. I’ve spoken to many women who say that they will be happy once they reach _x_ lbs. They hit that mark and then change their goal. Now it’s _x_ lbs. Some of us are in search of an endless goal.
Your purpose in life is more than the size of your jeans.
So all of this to get to the point: I want to introduce you to a condition known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It’s a condition where people focus on their flaws (either real or perceived) for HOURS each day. The negative thoughts they have literally control their life. Because they are afraid that other people will see their “flaws,” they avoid social situations, work, school, friends, and family members. They may even have plastic surgery done multiple times because it never fixes the problem.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) lists some of the ways people with Body Dysmorphic Disorder behave to try to hide or improve their flaws. Examples include:
- Camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
- Comparing body part to others’ appearance
- Seeking surgery
- Repeatedly checking in a mirror
- Avoiding mirrors
- Skin picking
- Excessive grooming
- Excessive exercise
- Changing clothes excessively
The ADAA has a few self-tests on their website that can suggest if Body Dysmorphic Disorder is present; however, keep in mind that this is not a definitive diagnosis. You should talk to your doctor or mental health professional to see if this is an issue.
What is the point of addressing Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
I mention this because I’ve seen women with absolutely beautiful bodies complain about the most meticulous things. If your focus is on perfection, you will never reach it. After all, we know how cortisol (the stress hormone) can really mess things up. Having negative thoughts and disordered behaviors to reach this ideal image will only leave you in a state of hormonal imbalance. Correcting that imbalance is not an overnight fix, so the sooner you stop, the faster you can heal!
What to do about it?
- Be honest about what is going on. Maybe you don’t have Body Dysmorphic Disorder, but realize that you are highly critical of how you look. Do not try to battle this on your own. Treatments such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy can help you pinpoint irrational thoughts and change your mind set. Continuing to eat a diet rich in healthy proteins and fats and void of processed junk will also help heal your mind and body.
- Be kind to yourself! Instead of being your own worst critic, use your energy for a better purpose. When you invest in others, you invest in yourself. Work on building relationships with those in your community and generously give!
- Choose a different goal! Instead of focusing on the number on the scale, choose a career-focused goal, fitness goal, or a goal regarding your relationships. For instance, your goal may be to convince your boss you deserve a raise or you work harder to prove yourself promotion-worthy. It may be that you focus on doing a pull up. It may be that you commit to spending every Sunday dinner with your family. By focusing on what matters to besides your body shape or perfections you will open up a new world of what’s possible in your life.
- Choose different friends. I’m half joking with this one. Who you surround yourself with has a MASSIVE influence on how you think, act, and feel. If you have toxic friends, you will have a tough time overcoming the urge to compare. The self sabotaging thoughts and behaviors will only get worse if you don’t extend your social circle to people who build you up, not break you down.
- Give your nutrition a makeover. Clean up your diet so you are removing as much processed foods as possible! Your hormones and neurotransmitters (think serotonin/dopamine) thrive on healthy fats and proteins. If you continue to choose artificial sugars or highly processed foods your brain and body take a toll. Start focusing on having at least 4 oz of protein and a serving of healthy fat at each meal. Small steps make lasting changes.
Your body is a truly amazing machine. Think about where you could be if you devote half as much energy as you do trying to “fix it” into activities that actually serve you. It’s about wellness, not perfection.
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