Coping with Body Dysmorphic Disorder: A Perspective

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A common misunderstanding about obesity is that the struggle goes only slightly deeper than skin-deep. If you’ve ever had someone preach to you about the simple mathematical equation that is “eat less calories than you expend”, you’ll understand what I mean.

And you have probably realized, it’s not that simple.

There is a psychological component that plagues those who struggle with weight because if it was really THAT easy, we obviously would have done it by now. For me, it’s a combination of failure to break bad habits and the constant internal disappointment that accompanies a condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

5 years ago, I was 5’7″ and 165lbs. As a muscular, athletic person, this was not a bad look on me. At least, that’s what people told me. I’d gotten down from about 180lbs, and I was getting tons of positive feedback from everyone around me. By BMI standards, I was six pounds away from being considered “normal weight”.

Unfortunately, my mirror told a different story. I saw someone who looked the same at 165 lbs. as she did at 180 lbs., or even 215 lbs. At that time in my life, that had been my heaviest known weight. Despite my mother telling me there was nothing there, I could clearly see a double chin staring back at me that made me self-conscious about taking selfies with friends. My face was always fatter than everyone else’s. My body and shoulders were broader than any of the other girls I knew. My cellulite created a series of craters on my thighs that prevented me from wearing skirts in public. No matter what the scale said, these thoughts haunted me to the point that I could never see a change in the mirror, no matter how much my weight fluctuated.

In high school, there was no one who would have called me “stylish”. Even though I was moderately popular and tried to be friends with everyone, I was awkward and obsessed with being careful not to let my physical appearance become a topic of conversation. I was terrified of ridicule, as any teenager is. I wore baggy clothes and athletic apparel almost every day. I didn’t wear makeup and I didn’t wear my hair in any way other than a messy bun. Not the cute, chic messy buns either, but a ready-for-soccer-practice kind of bun. People called me a tomboy, but looking back, I’m not sure that was the underlying cause for my appearance.  I believe it was undiagnosed BDD.

Even when I was older and smaller and my clothes felt looser, I couldn’t bring myself to buy new clothes. I was convinced the extra room was a figment if my imagination. So, I walked around with pants so loose, they would fall off without a belt. My shirts were baggy to prevent anyone else from seeing the ugly curves of my body. I lived in sweatshirts during the winter months. I hid my body as best I could from the gaze of the public, even when I was still just six pounds from normal.

Today, I’m 100 lbs. heavier than I was at my lightest. You might hypothesize that my Body Dysmorphic Disorder expanded as I did, but it actually didn’t. In truth, I look the same when I look in the mirror. In fact, the only time I see a difference is when I look at photographs. I can see a major difference from 165 lbs. to 265 lbs., most notably in my wedding pictures, but my eyes just can’t see it in person. I still see the same double chin, and the hips that almost look like they were drawn by a caricature artist, and the broad expanse between my shoulders that make me feel masculine and ugly. I see stretch marks and cellulite and spider veins, even when my husband says he doesn’t. I still hate selfies.

I was trialed on an antidepressant at some point in my early to mid 20s to address this. Funny thing about antidepressants: they have a potential side effect of weight gain. 15 lbs. later, I weaned myself off the medication and declined a follow-up with that prescribing specialist. (Disclaimer: this is my own personal story and not a argument for or against SSRIs or antidepressants. Stopping some of these medications abruptly on your own can be dangerous. Talk to your doctor before stopping or changing medications.)

I have tried, and continue to try to employ cognitive behavioral therapy to change my faulty thought patterns, but it’s easier said than done and still something I struggle with. I’ve been to several shrinks who have given me several methods of doing CBT, meditation and thought modification at home, but I don’t always have the mental fortitude to practice this every time I’m presented with the opportunity to admire my flaws in a mirror.

In addition to “eating less calories than I expend”, I accept that this battle will be 80% emotional and 20% physical. As I continue with my weight loss transformation, I will have to include my battles with BDD and anxiety and fears as they will likely become more prevalent as I continue to be successful. So, to me, it’s important to be truthful with you upfront, so you can understand my perspective in future posts.

This is something I’ve never told any of my friends or family before, so plastering this all over the internet is quite a large band-aid to be ripping off a deep, deep wound. It’s encouraging to hit the “publish” button and get this out in the open. As some say, “the first step is admitting there’s a problem”, so here’s me admitting it and owning it. Keep watching as I work to overcome it!

Please feel free to share you’re stories and feelings in the comments. Like my page to keep updated as I post new content!

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Is there a vaccine for the awful Keto Flu?

This week, I attempted to do something that I have never done before. I attempted to go on the ketogenic diet. If you’re not familiar, this diet basically eliminates carbohydrates from your diet. This causes your body to go into what’s called “ketosis”. Basically, your body has to burn stored fat for energy to make up for the carbohydrate deficits and ketones are a byproduct of this process.

So, for five days, I eliminated carbs completely. I was so pumped to get started because all of the stories I had read talked about how much energy people had. It was like a light switch turned on in their bodies, making everyone feel 18 years old again. There were little blurbs here and there that offered a sugarcoated disclaimer about the initial effects of the diet. There were remarks about the first week and the drowsiness, the mental fogginess and the pangs of hunger. None of this sounded unbearable, but merely a slight inconvenience for a day or two.

Uhhh, what?

Sorry, but these must be the same people who think childbirth is a “slight inconvenience for a day or two.”

Maybe it’s not necessarily that bad, but I’m here to tell you that the Keto Flu is real. It’s a thing and it doesn’t mess around.

The first two days going Keto were fine. I missed food, but I could move past it. My biggest hurdle was cutting the emotional tie to carbs that I had. At the end of the day on both days, I went to bed with a feeling of mild hunger. I was actually proud of this. There had been times in the past when I would have given in and fed myself right before bed, even though I knew it was bad for me. I felt a sense of accomplishment.

On day 3, I got up from bed feeling like my seven hours of sleep was only 2 or 3. I chalked it up to a less than stellar night’s sleep. Since my husband and I share a king size bed with 2 extra-large dogs and a cat, there are occasional space issues that cause suboptimal sleep.

When I got to work, I felt ravenous. I had already had breakfast, so I tried to ignore it. This is easier said than done when I work in a very large office and we always have something to celebrate with food and baked goods. It happened to be the birthday of not one, but two of my colleagues. So, we had a few desserts to choose from as early as 8:30 in the morning.

As hungry as I was, I was also suffering from an ironic kind of nausea. I didn’t want to eat, but I simultaneously wanted to eat everything. Throughout the day, this nausea remained constant. Even after my ultra-healthy Keto lunch, my stomach could not be tricked. In fact, I really just pissed it off more. I started to almost feel feverish. Not that I felt warm to the touch, but more like I was having cold sweats. I felt clammy. As someone who is anxious about, literally, everything, I started to contemplate all the worst diagnoses for my current condition.

Was I hypoglycemic? More likely than not, considering the lack of sugar.

Was I going into some form of shock? Maybe I should have researched this Keto diet better.

Was I dying? Has anyone died from 3 days on Keto? I don’t know, but I sure don’t want to be the first.

To top it off, my mental clarity was completely shot. As a healthcare professional, I need to be logical and well-rested and focused at all times. I double- and triple-checked everything I did for fear I would screw up.

Driving home, I felt mentally drained. With my history of working the night shift, I knew all the tricks for keeping awake behind the wheel. For me, it’s all about rolling the windows done, blasting the music and putting on a concert from my driver’s seat. Halfway home, a ballad came on the radio that caused a 10-minute nervous breakdown complete with the kind of ugly crying that makes your vocal cords ache.

This continued even after I got home and found my amazing husband getting a nice dinner together. His romantic efforts were met with emotions of rage alternating with that same ugly crying.

This persisted for two more days before my saint of a husband presented me with the one peace offering that could make all of this go away: a plate of pasta.

If you want to make the argument that he didn’t support my Keto efforts, you are not grasping how severe these symptoms were.

After I resumed eating carbohydrates, I felt a strange mixture of physical improvement and emotional despair. I felt like a failure. It made me feel like losing weight was out of my reach. But at the same time, if losing weight feels like this, I might just have to be fat forever.

The silver lining from this experience is that I unearthed a ton of recipes about going low-carb and no-carb. I got tons of good tips and tricks from others out there who share in my struggle. From this, I’ve decided to go with a low carbohydrate approach without cutting them out completely. It might take longer, but I always try to remind myself that it took more than a couple weeks to get the weight on, so I need to spend more than a couple weeks getting it off.

This is not meant to prevent anyone from trying the Ketogenic diet. In fact, if you’re doing Keto, keep going! I’m proud of you. If you couldn’t keep going because it was too hard, you’re not alone! I’m right there with you. My experience has made me realize that when I hit my weight loss goal, I just won’t be able to thank Keto for my success. But, I’m not deterred! I’m going to keep going on my way to my making my hopes, dreams and goals a reality.

Let me know your Keto stories in the comments!!

Meal Planning Fails: The Double-Edged Sword of the “Sensible Dinner”

Has this ever happened to you before?

You trying out a new diet plan where the instructions tell you to be strict in your nutritional regimen for breakfast and lunch, then feel free to go nuts for dinner, as long as it’s “sensible”.

You’re suckered in, because that “sensible dinner” ploy makes you believe that you can still be creative and “enjoy yourself” at least once a day. It makes the whole process of restricting yourself for 2/3 of your meals seem worth it. You’ve invested in meal-replacement shakes, protein bars and frozen, pre-packaged meals, and your only responsibility is to eat something healthy on your own once a day.

If it sounds too good to be true… well, 9 times out of 10, it probably is. That’s because we didn’t make it to the size we are by “eating sensibly”. Any of us who struggle with weight know how to read a diet book. We know how to follow recipes. We know how to follow directions on an exercise video. It’s not that we don’t know how. It’s just that we don’t.

For me, my biggest struggle is portion-size. I actually love healthy food. And, as a person who works in healthcare, I’ve done my fair share of classes on nutrition, exercise and healthy living. I know what fuels my body and I happen to love all of those things. I just love them to excess.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been practicing a meal-prepping regimen. Typically, my go-to is a protein shake for breakfast and a spinach salad with a hard boiled egg for lunch (and a small serving of Caesar dressing because I haven’t been able to wean myself off of creamy, fatty dressing just yet). Overall, I’d give this an 8.5 out of 10 for healthy dieting.

On my way home from work, I’d start fantasizing about what I could make for dinner. So many ideas to choose from! Meat and potatoes. Chicken and rice. Tacos. Pizza. Pasta. I could make these with some “healthy ingredients” and all would be well with my diet. Funny how a salad never entered my head during my dinner brainstorming…

As I sat down for dinner, this healthy meal turned out to be a “sensible dinner” for a family of 3-4. No wonder the scale wasn’t budging! A closer glance at the plate revealed that I had likely cooked my healthy ingredients in such a way that their nutritional benefit was now questionable. Maybe I’m not even the healthy eater I thought I was?

Left to my own devices, dinner was frequently a dieting disaster. This would only fuel my negativity toward dieting, making me resistant to “get back on the wagon”. Another fail in a decades-long line of almost daily failures, leading to how I became the size I am today.

Fast forward two weeks later, and I’ve upped my meal planning game like crazy. I’ve come to learn that I’m not mentally, emotionally or physically capable of making good nutritional decisions on a whim. I just can’t be trusted. And, that’s okay. I’m not a bad person for admitting my flaws. I just need to make those flaws go away.

To me, going strict on breakfast and lunch is necessary. I have just always been more successful when I have a routine, in dieting and life, in general. So now, I have to go strict for everything else as well. My meal prepping has now extended into snacks and dinner. My refrigerator is stacked full of containers for my weekly meals. My snacks are appropriately portioned and individually packed. I know what I’m going to eat for every meal for the next eight days.

Boring, you say?

Maybe, but being spontaneous and fun with food has only made me more unhappy with myself. Which means that if sacrificing the spontaneity gets me to where I need to be, I’ll gladly do it.

Stay tuned as I will be posting my weekly meal plans, as well as the pros and cons of each, in the coming weeks!

Happy dieting all!

The Social Media Ditch

A few months ago, I made the decision to deactivate my social media accounts.  Knowing how over the top dramatic I can be at times, I thought that deactivation would be a better option than totally deleting my accounts, and then living to regret it.  I was also kind of lazy at the time and didn’t want to scour through thousands of photos I may want to save.

Within the first few days, I knew I’d made a wise decision.  It was apparent in the way that I mindlessly clicked on the app every time I opened my phone.  The login page would pop up and I would be reminded, yet again, that I was no longer actively involved in the social media community.  This happened probably 10 times on the first day!

It made me painfully aware of how addicted to social media I had become,  and how invested in popular nonsense I really was.  I fought the urge to log in and resume activity if only because I was feeling lonely or bored.  It also made me too aware of the flaws in my character that eagerly fed on internet-borne jealousy and controversy.

I delighted in reading all the latest local gossip and feuds between friends.  I loved the ferocious fights and outbursts.  I found the hate and vitriol hilariously entertaining.  It was a guilty pleasure to feel like a fly on the Facebook wall during a good fight.

Then came a reflection of my own contributions to social media.  In what I thought was a harmless glimpse into my daily life had become an obsession to showcase only the best parts of my personality and lifestyle.  My captions were almost always plagiarized from someone wittier and cooler than me.  All of my newest or priciest possessions were proudly displayed mugshot-style, with a front facing and profile view.  My profile pictures were edited for perfect lighting and model-worthy bone structure.  And, don’t forget my liberal use of the crop tool to keep all pictures cut to above the shoulders, thus camouflaging my unfortunate weight gain.

If that wasn’t enough, I grew jealous of others who did the exact same thing.  I wanted the things other people had and then some.  My house had to be nicer than theirs.  My clothes had to be cuter than theirs.  My food had to be tastier than theirs.  I wanted to make everyone believe that my life and job and marriage were better than theirs.  In other words, I was becoming a pretty appalling human being.

This didn’t reflect my perception of myself at all.  In fact, I was somewhat terrified that I was nowhere near as self-aware as I thought I was.  I never considered myself to be a jealous person, or mean-spirited or malicious in any way. But behind the shield of my iPhone’s screen protector, I seemed to be an unrecognizable and shameful person.

Fast forward three months and I’ve now made a New Years resolution to go ahead and delete my personal social media accounts permanently.  As much as I may grow to miss the ease of keeping in touch with friends or the lightning fast access to important (or not so important) information, there are many things I will NOT miss.  I won’t miss the mystery friend/follower requests, the unsolicitated invitations to hundreds of online “independent consultant” parties, or the repetitive re-posting of temporarily relevant memes.  I will also not miss the chaos of internet controversy or the pressure to be perfect in every post or picture.

And, before anyone beats me to it, please let me clarify that not everyone on social media eventually turn into loathsome internet trolls, but for me, I don’t like the person I pretended to be on these platforms.  Until I feel secure enough to be genuine and imperfect in this kind of public arena, these personal sites are just not for me.  On my path to positive reinvention, I have to be willing to sever ties with the things that hold me back from discovering my truth.

I also have to concede that someone else will always be smarter than me, richer than me and skinnier than me.  Someone else’s house is bigger and skin is clearer.  But, instead of competing against those on the outside, why not consider my own self-doubt as my most formidable opponent?  And why not grow to love and appreciate my imperfections instead of masking them with editing software and filters?

In the new year, I resolve to break the barriers in my own mind.  To study my weaknesses, flaws and bad habits, and change them for me, not for my followers.  This year, I’m focusing on the good I can do for myself in all facets of my life, not because it looks good on the portrait setting of my camera app, but because it makes my soul smile.  Maybe eventually, I’ll return to the social scene, but for now, I’m content to just focus on me for a while.

 

heat waves + herniations.

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Let’s talk exercise.

Personally, I like exercising.  I love a nice brisk walk and before I gained all this weight, I even enjoyed some mild to moderately strenuous hiking.  I’ve been trying to get back into it as well as working in some strength training.  That was, until I had two roadblocks land in my lap this week.

First, my sleepy little hometown was hit with a disgusting heat wave.  I know that some people thrive in warm temps and sunshine, but not me.  My ideal weather is cool, maybe 50s or 60s fahrenheit and at least partly overcast.  My all-too-fair complexion needs a combination of SPF 1000 and cloud cover to be completely protected.  I’m even a fan of rain and snow.  But heat and humidity are an oppressive kind of hell for me.

So when my thermometer spiked to a record 90+ in the end of May, I was less than impressed.  Especially considering the fact that there was snow in my yard only about 6 weeks prior to that.  This kind of heat causes an energy-zapping phenomenon inside my body.  Just walking outside, I develop a thin layer of sweat over my entire body.  My eyes gets heavy and my emotional fuse gets much shorter.  My enthusiasm for outdoor activities drops exponentially as the temperature increases.

Two days after this heat wave, my mole hill became a big ol’ mountain when I tweaked my back while doing some chores on the farm.  Evaluation of my condition revealed a herniated disc in my lower spine.  I’ve been doing some exercises at home and taking my NSAIDs religiously with some manageable pain.  My biggest struggle is bending to put pants and socks on so I’ve spent my entire work week in comfy maxi dresses.

I gave myself the week off from exercise and looking back, I regret it.  I had been making progress and I let myself down.  My biggest weakness is my ability to find a good excuse.  While my back pain is legitimately limiting, I failed to evaluate the alternatives to strenuous exercise that could keep me on track.

I’m not putting myself down for this.  I have a long road ahead of me.  But, I’m also taking some time on this beautiful cool, rainy day to reflect on what I can do better and how I can do better.  I’ve come to realize that this is more mind over matter than I ever considered.  My addiction to food is as powerful as my aversion to fitness.  Neither will get me to where I need to be.

So, how do I revolutionize my mindset?  I guess, if I had the answer, I’d be making millions upon billions of dollars teaching my magical method to the world.  Instead, I’m another statistic amid millions of overweight Americans.  I’m searching for the end to my woes, and the cure to my bad habits.  If I could continuously remind myself that I can control my thoughts and actions every time I think I’m hungry or tired or hurt, I’d probably be okay.  It’s the moments of weakness in between my repetitive mantras of positivity that betray me.

As a new week approaches, this is my new goal.  In addition to the eating right and exercising that will make the ultimate difference on the scale, I’m going to focus on rewiring my brain.  I’m going to learn how to ignore the hunger pangs that boredom created.  I’m going to override this false idea that relaxation occurs best when seated firmly on the couch and instead, learn to relax and find calm in being active.

If you think this sounds overwhelming, trust me when I say that it absolutely is.  That’s part of the reason I haven’t addressed it and 100% of the reason that I spiraled out of control with my weight.  If I want to fix this, I have to start at the most basic, cellular level and work my way out.  I can do this, but it’s going to be an intense struggle.

In lighter news, I am 12 weeks away from marrying my soul mate and I’m excited to continue this journey and make myself look and feel beautiful on my big day!

taco salad is not salad.

I fell off the wagon.

Already.

It’s been, like, a minute.  Barely a few days in.  And, I slipped into the abyss.

I started off decent this morning.  A protein shake and a cup of coffee.  Without creamer, I might add, because I’m really trying.

And then, I saw it.

The dreaded take-out menu.  At my job, we are lucky enough to earn frequent free lunches and today was no exception.  I glanced over the menu and acknowledged the fact that this was from a new chain restaurant in town and this was somewhere I’d never been before.  With my willpower razor thin at best, I opted for a taco salad because, duh, it had salad right in the title.

To my astonishment, and glee, when I opened the styrofoam container, I found a delicious mound of beef, beans, cheese, lettuce, salsa and sour cream.  As a bonus, it was in a fried tortilla bowl.  In the back of my mind, I knew this was not a real salad.  But that one, tiny but mighty, carb-addicted wrinkle in my brain was teasing me, telling me that the menu clearly stated ‘salad’ so it was good for me.

I ate it.  All of it.

Then, hell broke loose.

One bite of deliciously fried, crunchy, flour-packed heaven sent me into a tail spin that included three handfuls of M&Ms and a large glass of something else completely deceiving: green tea packed with fruity, likely-artificial flavor and sugar.

I plummeted.  I hit hard.  And then, I found that place where junk food-induced euphoria turns into deep, deep miserable guilt that only comes from cheating yourself out of something very important.

I have dreams.  Big dreams.  And, I postponed them because I let my stomach trick my brain into thinking I could handle temptation.

In the end, I can say that I learned a very valuable lesson.  Know the food you’re putting into your body.  As much as I love and appreciate getting a few free lunches here and there, I can’t let myself be swayed by a tasty menu.  So, from here on out, I’m brown bagging all my lunches at work.  I can then be sure I’m taking in only the food I’ve prepared and I can also be sure of the calories and carbs I’m ingesting.  I don’t want to feel like I have to live on rabbit food forever, but I do have to get over the unbelievable urge to consume all things doughy and sugary, all the time.

Unfortunately, I’m aware that this has been my thing for a long time, so saying this and actually doing it are two very different things.  I hope that through documenting this journey, I can, perhaps, hold myself more accountable for my actions if I’m forced to confess every time I screw up my diet.

Tomorrow is another day.  Another chance.  I’m blessed with another chance and I don’t want to have to come back here tomorrow and confess my sins again.  I simply have to do better tomorrow and I will.

 

 

creating a plan.

Taking action.

This is something I have failed to do for the last 15-20 years.  And, judging by the billions of dollars invested into weight loss books and diets and contraptions every year, I’m not alone.  I can sit here and lie and say that I’ve been trying, but the truth is, I have really just been obsessing about the idea of trying for several years.

Do you ever say to yourself that you’ll be better tomorrow?  Or, that you’ll try harder next week?  Do you ever imagine looking back after hitting your goal and remembering the exact date and time you made that life-changing decision?  These kind of thoughts were like a daily mantra of failure for me.  I decided that if I’m going to make this work, I can’t wait for the ultimate best time.  There is no convenient or opportune time to revolutionize your life.  So, here I am, at a time and on a day of the week, month and year that has no significant meaning or value to me.  And, I’m changing.

If I close my eyes and envision myself “in perfect health”, I imagine a lot of things.  Clear, hydrated skin.  Toned muscles.  No aching joints.  No heartburn.  Awake and alert and full of energy 24/7.  I’d drink a smoothie of assorted fruits every morning followed by a Buddha bowl of colorful veggies for lunch.  My addiction to carbs and artificial sweetener would be a thing of the past.  And, my anxiety would be completely well-controlled by my calming Zen lifestyle and intense yoga every morning before work.  Maybe a 5K run for fun in the evening.

Yes, I know.  Idealistic is an understatement.

For now, I plan to make small changes over time.  I’m starting by restricting my carbohydrate intake as well as dairy.  I don’t plan to cut them out completely, but I do feel that I have a legitimate addiction to carbs and sweets that I desperately want to break.  I do want to cut ‘diet’ drinks out completely.

As for exercise, I intend to start with low impact exercise on account of my current orthopedic issues.  For several months, I’ve been struggling with low back pain as well as right hip and knee pain, presumably from the weight gain.  I purchased a combination elliptical/bike to use until my joint aches are better.  I also want to try my hand at yoga again.  My flexibility and strength have significantly diminished due to lack of physical activity and I want to get them back.

I’m also aiming to get my anxiety under control through more natural means.  In the past, I’ve done therapy as well as several medications to keep my nerves at bay.  When I attempted yoga in the past, I did notice a subtle, but distinguishable improvement in my ability to cope with everyday struggles at work and at home.  I’m experimenting with the idea that I can manage my emotional ebbs and flows through diet, exercise and positive living.

As I progress, I will keep my site updated with progress and, hopefully minimal, setbacks.  Wish me luck as I make the first steps!