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Friday, December 09, 2005

Body Dysmorphia:
"I Still Just See Myself"

On Jenn's blog, Plow Hazard, yesterday she asked, "How can I _know_ that I've lost a lot of weight but still look at myself and see myself just as, well, myself?" Jenn seems to be experiencing some mild feelings of body dysmorphia, a common psychological phenomena people experience during different stages of obesity and healthy weight. Here is a previously posted article that addresses body dysmorphia as it occurs for some patients after weight loss surgery.

Body Dysmorphia:
Mind Games After Gastric Bypass Surgery

By Kaye Bailey

Maybe you’ve heard about body dysmorphia – it’s a mental image many victims of anorexia nervosa have that tells them they look fat, even when they are emaciated. Bariatric patients can suffer from body dysmorphia as well.

When we were morbidly obese our emotional coping mechanisms kicked in and many of us were able to convince ourselves we really weren’t that big. It is emotionally kinder to avoid body criticism, the whole issue seems hopeless. In fact, many morbidly obese patients will say they see themselves normal sized. That is until a rude moment reminds them they are not normal sized: a skinny chair, a turnstile, a bathroom stall, a flight of stairs, a photograph. This false perception is a subconscious coping strategy to protect us from the brutal truth, the truth about how big morbidly obese really is.

After surgery, there is a tendency for the body dysmorphia to reverse. Before surgery we denied how big we were, after surgery we judge ourselves critically – like the anorexic – and fail to see an honest reflection. One woman, down from size 24 to size 10 wrote, “I feel fat daily. I never felt this at 248 pounds – I saw a thinner person in the mirror than I see now. I look at my size 10 jeans and they look like tents. I don’t feel as attractive as I did when I was heavy. I don’t understand it,” she continued, “but I think it has to do with learning to accept yourself fat so you didn’t see all the fat. Now I just have to learn to accept myself as thinner.”

Many patients report hyper-judging their figures after weight loss. It seems the thinner you get the more judgmental of your body you become. To this day, the first thing I see in my reflection in my pudgy tummy – I think it’s enormous. I don’t see long slender legs or a tiny waist or trim arms. I see a Buddha belly. I’ve even apologized for my chubby tummy to others when they compliment my new figure. The apology usually goes, “Yes, but I can’t get rid of this stomach.” I say this while pointing to my "flaw".

That is wrong and brutally unfair to myself. I am working daily to keep this hyper-judgment in check, reminding myself the days of belittlement and self-loathing are over. Now is the time when I love myself.

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.

Extreme cases of body dysmorphia after gastric bypass weight loss may be treated with counseling and psycho-therapy.


Jenn said...

Thanks very much, Kaye, for reposting your article! It's one of those things that I don't think about all that often; although, what you say makes complete and perfect sense! That's me to a T. Here's to hoping being consciously aware of the issue will help me be not so critical of myself.


Kim said...

Oh so true! When I was at 373 pounds, I saw myself at 275 pounds. It even reads that on my drivers license. Now that I'm at my healthy weight, I still see myself at 275 pounds. Apparently, that particular weight is my "ideal" in my head. When I was at my heaviest, I'd look at photos of myself and think, "wow, what a bad picture of me". Now, when I see a picure of me I can't acknowledge my new thinner self as being real. I always think, "that was a great angle for me to be standing". When I pull my size 8 jeans out of the dryer (none of that sentence seems real to me), I look at them and think that there is no way I'll get them over my fat thighs. The little elves come in at night and stretch them out for me, I'm sure of it. This past week, someone that I know said, "Hey Sexy!". Instantly, I went into protection mode. They must be making fun of me! Here I am over 2 years post-op and I'm still fighting with this image issue. It's going to take a long time to get past it!
Kim Stover

Hummingbird1964 said...

That's me all over! When I was almost 300 lbs I rarely allowed myself to look at anything below the neck. I was in total denial until as Kaye mentioned, a rude shock would present itself like a picture.

Kim hit the nail on the head too when she describes not believing she could ever get in to her smaller clothes. I've experience the same thing every time I pull a size 4 pair of slacks out of the closet (I also can't believe that). Nobody is more surprised when I actually can zip them up without any tricks like sucking in or laying on the bed :-)

I don't know if I'll ever get over it. But like everything else...with the right support from family, friends and this site...I'll manage.


Anonymous said...

What you say is so true and someone who has not gone through this just does not understand that you do not see what they see. It is very frusterating and you begin to doubt yourself-if I do not look any better why do I stick to the rules- if I am not going to see myself as a size six then by goodness this has not worked after all.