Coping with Body Dysmorphic Disorder: A Perspective


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!


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!