What you think is not what others see

It’s been a few weeks into the post-competition season. I’ve been avoiding writing a post about body image, and how competition plays tricks with your mind that is not dissimilar to an eating disorder. One of the reasons is because I’ve been in denial, another is because I thought the feeling would go away – which is essentially me in denial.

But, the real reason I’ve decided to finally “talk” about it is because you’ve asked me to. So, let’s talk…

What is acceptable?

I know not all of you are competitors. This post is for everyone. We all struggle with body image at some point in our lives, and what we see as our “comfort zone” as far as the weight we carry.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD): Excessive concern with imagined or exaggerated problems in one’s appearance.

Okay, so these are pretty extreme cases, but it gets the point across.

I think, in some way, we all have a little BDD in us. I certainly do. Even more so post-competition. I can’t walk past a mirror without a quick glance to see if I look “wider”. When I wake up and look in the mirror, I expect to see that I’ve gained 20 pounds overnight. It’s crazy and unrealistic, but I can’t help it. I’ve just spent the entire summer and fall months obsessing over getting my body the best it can be for stage, that was my goal. Now, in the off-season, my goal to bring my best to the stage for provincials next year means I have to eat, which means I have to put on weight. It’s bittersweet to look in the mirror and see that my breasts are filling out again, and that my clothes are not as loose as they were a few weeks ago. The worst part is, it’s going to get worse. It’s a necessary evil that I just have to deal with. But no one said I have to like it, because I don’t.

They say that those who have lost weight are particularly vulnerable to remaining dissatisfied with their body image because of what they consider “defects”. They’ve spent months, years, etc. analyzing their body, only to be scrutinized by others once they’ve lost their weight. Agatha  told me that after losing all of her weight and initially sharing her story, that she didn’t want to share it anymore. She didn’t want it to define who she was – or, in her words: “be the poster girl for fat loss”. She’s since accepted that others want to hear about her weight loss, because it gives them hope. She’s learned to accept her changes, and that’s a healthy outlook.

Exercise Bulimia

Another fear of those who have lost a lot of weight is returning to their former self. This has it’s own issues, and at the extreme end of the spectrum it’s called: Exercise Bulimia.

Exercise bulimia is a subset of the psychological disorder called bulimia in which a person is compelled to exercise in an effort aimed at burning the calories of food energy and fat reserves to an excessive level that negatively affects their health.

A close friend of mine lost a lot of weight. She looks good and feels great. She told me she’s afraid to stop training, though, for fear of returning to her former self. While she’s not likely to develop exercise bulimia, it’s worth understanding the disorder and watching for warning signs.

Compulsive exercisers will often schedule their lives around exercise just as those with eating disorders schedule their lives around eating (or not eating). Other indications of compulsive exercise are:

  • Missing work, parties or other appointments in order to workout
  • Working out with an injury or while sick
  • Becoming seriously depressed if you can’t get a workout in
  • Working out for hours at a time each day
  • Not taking any rest or recovery days

Sounds like peak week… 

But seriously, it’s akin to an eating disorder, which is no laughing matter. Consult your GP if you or someone you know suffers from one of the above conditions.

Orthorexia – Too much of  a healthy thing

I didn’t know this condition had a name, but it’s something that comes up in conversation frequently.

Orthorexia nervosa (also known as orthorexia): people who develop an obsession with avoiding foods perceived to be unhealthy. In rare cases, this focus may turn into a fixation so extreme that it can lead to severe malnutrition or even death. Even in less severe cases, the attempt to follow a diet that cannot provide adequate nourishment is said to lower self-esteem as the orthorexics blame themselves rather than their diets for their constant hunger and the resulting cravings for forbidden foods.

I have a problem with “fad diets” – they’re just that, a fad. You know, paleo, Atkins, mediterranean, cabbage soup diet (!?), zone diet, blood type, etc. etc. The list goes on and on… There is no “magic pill” or special diet that will make you thin and keep you there. Generally, fad diets are a short term solution to what should just be your lifestyle.

Statistically, those who embark on these fad diets eventually fall off the wagon – they’ve deprived themselves for so long, that it’s unrealistic to think it can be maintained. If you eat right, and keep sugar and refined foods to a minimum, then you’re already aiming at success. Start with small changes to your daily meals, cutting out “bad” foods slowly and one-by-one.

As with anything, ease into it slowly and you’ll eventually reap your weight loss rewards. Getting healthy, and staying fit and lean is a marathon, not a race. You have to stay focused, surround yourself with positive support, and BE PATIENT.

Thin isn’t sexy, just as being over weight isn’t healthy. There is no “ideal” body.  Body image is psychological and subjective. The best you can do is accept who you are, and work your hardest to achieve happiness, regardless of your jean size.

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6 thoughts on “What you think is not what others see

  1. Great post as always Lisa, I can relate to so much of what you said. After all these years of trying to maintain my weight loss it wasn’t until very recent that I stopped obsessing over everything I put in my mouth & found that perfect balance where I’m able to be “ok” with treating myself occasionally and not killing myself in the gym for it right after. I have never been happier about how I look and most importantly, how I feel about my body. It’s a tricky thing to master, it takes time but once you find that balance it really makes you breath a sigh of relief. Thanks again for putting this out there, so many of us feel this way yet we don’t talk about it.

    • Agatha, I admire you both because you possess inner and outer strength – thank you for sharing your story, and giving us a small peak into your life. xo

  2. Orthorexia is so common amoung competitors and is what I would have diagnosed myself as having as a teenager. Scheduling things around food, obsessing, and at one point freaking out because I accidentally ate something not on the meal plan. It’s also colloquially called “fit-orexia”. People think that these people are just extreme health nuts. But in a lot of cases it’s reached an unhealthy level. Thanks for spreading the word! The more that people know the better they can deal with it.

    • Thanks for sharing.
      I had only recently heard it had a “label”. Once a problem is identified, named, called out and examined, only then can healing begin.

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