Body Dysmorphia: A Weight On My Mind

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I’ve not discussed my weight loss journey here for some considerable time. This is not by accident – I simply have no progress to report!

If anything, since I plateaued in June 2018, I have regressed, though there are some damn good reasons for that: I suffered a bereavement during that winter, it was a poor time of year to consider diet and exercise but ultimately I wasn’t in the right mental headspace.

Plateauing dented my confidence to continue to stick to the plan, and dealing with serious illness and bereavement in my immediate family over the cold, harsh winter months did mean I ended up spending very little time looking after myself as I attended to duties I felt the need to.

This gives me no pleasure to write as I feel, even with that context in mind, that I am excuse-making. It’s now been a long time and I can’t deny over 2019 my weight has not been a factor that has crossed my mind. I’ve regained the weight I managed to lose in 2018, which is a great shame.

My current diet is largely unplanned, and far from healthy; I’d say my junk food itch these days makes me happy but that’s a complicated factor I’ll approach later; but it is simple and relatively cheap to maintain.

It’s easy and trite at this time of year to make a pledge to “shape up after Christmas” – why not now? Again I have reasons – they feel like tepid excuses – a new job, and new routine – a big step for me, a lot to learn which occupies some of my mental headspace as it’s change which I find scary.

And even a simple factor such as the inclement weather of a British winter doesn’t inspire me – I feel very strongly that being in the right, positive mental game for fitness or weight loss is largely the key. Starting on a new regime and making it stick means making that initial outlay of effort to start at the right time, both mentally and seasonally.

Why seasonally? Humans are creatures of comfort and I’m no exception to this – starting a new routine, especially one that involves physicality, is hard enough to will yourself into without  having to wrap up in six layers because the biting winter wind is chopping your legs off – it doesn’t inspire sticking power. Us creatures of comfort will, instead of making that express effort to carry on with a new regime we may not be familiar with or comfortable with, make excuses to stay indoors where its comfortable.

Again this comes back to headspace and being in the right mindset – procrastination (and a lack of accountability) is borne out of that uncertainty in oneself.

But none of this is really what I’m wanting to discuss – this is just setting the scene if you will, because I want to talk about why I am unhappy with my body, all the previous things considered, and more importantly how  I’m feeling about the very near future when I want to action a plan to conquer my own… lack of faith in myself.

This is something I’ve thought about a lot over the last year, or certainly for the majority of 2019. I’m not happy with my body, and my weight loss journey at least gives me some important tools to understand perhaps the context why (and a possible way out) but it doesn’t change the here and now: I very likely an experiencing Body Dysmorphic Disorder – I know why and I know perhaps some pathways out but it doesn’t change the here and now that I am quite unhappy with my body.

532581This is quite difficult, I’ve found, to talk about without feeling that I, myself, am being vain or self-centred. Just saying you feel fat seems like you’re wallowing a little in self-pity, wanting attention for it. But I do feel I’ve had a number of occasions this year when it’s had an appreciable impact, both in some acute cases and a general overall detraction: I want to go into both.

For the acute case it’s easier to tell the story: I went to visit a good friend who has in his back garden a hot-tub; however I can’t deny I wasn’t anxious about having to get in it, especially when it involves undressing in a somewhat public (or at least, very much less private) setting. I was aware that I was being extremely harsh on myself – my friend wouldn’t have judged me on my appearance – but it did bring up some anxiety, just waiting for it to be mentioned. It wouldn’t have been an enjoyable experience throughout the background – yes I could’ve masked my anxiety to the whole scenario, I expect, but it would’ve been an undercurrent throughout. That’s not fun.

On researching BDD for this post, the NHS definition  of the condition states:

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.

I feel that my thoughts and feelings about my appearance qualify. In a way I do “notice” other people’s sizes and I do end up wondering how “thin” people manage to ever stay that way, which is a harmful way of comparison.

My weight is a big part of my potential for experiencing body dysmorphic disorder but the definition is wider-ranging and I find myself noticing not only other people’s “sizes” but also their hair; for I am gradually losing mine (hopefully not completely) and I’m aware of it, and a few careless comments from former co-workers haven’t helped me there – again this all boils back down to confidence and my lack of it with regard to my body as a whole.

With the hot-tub incident above, I feel this qualifies. I was extremely anxious about the perception of my appearance – yes I am back to an overweight state but that doesn’t make it “noticeable”, to counter the last part in that definition.

As a society we’re seeking to reduce the burden of so-called “fat-shaming” – a phrase I’d never before thought I’d be using, being someone who rejects a lot of the “snowflake” culture that’s loaded behind that term.

Sometimes shame isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though perhaps a less biting term should be used: I am not using my shame to try to will myself into doing better once again, I am using my regret at letting myself down because I’m aware of the long-term health effects if I do nothing – my confidence and my anxiety are important, yes; but I have to consider the risk I am putting myself at serious illness later down the line borne out of my weight.

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Cancer Research UK’s 2019 publicity campaign which attracted national attention (I thought it effective)

There’s too much scientific proof to say that being overweight leads to legitimate health concerns that can be mitigated by, yes, addressing weight problems. It’s a fact of life. While I think that “fat-shaming” is regretful – I don’t necessarily see being personal and rude as being effective motivators to get people to address their self-confidence through their weight, but I am using my displeasure or lack of confidence to try to find that will to make the first, hard steps.

Sometimes a shock is all one needs to make effective and lasting lifestyle changes – I wouldn’t say nagging helps me, but I would say that being accountable does.

Like most people, I shower at least once a day, sometimes multiple times because it’s nice and, on a writing-related tangent, it’s oddly a place from where I get inspired. On a private level, all I need to do is glance in my bathroom mirror before and be dismayed by what I see. That dismay does cut deep, but in a way it does steel me a little, with my previous experience that I must do better.

But my body dysmorphia does manifest itself throughout my normal life: it changes how I choose to dress and perceive myself; for work (my old job) I used to have to wear fairly unflattering nylon polo shirts that would be completely unflattering to one’s spare tyre around the stomach; I wear festive jumpers not because I’m particularly festive but because they can be quite baggy and conceal what I know is there – a symbol of my inner shame.

D5Q3W-WXkAEARJuI’m extremely wary of photographs now, though that is just an extension of a general feeling of being unphotogenic. But currently I do have to be careful; if you observe this photo from April, I feel my noticeable overweight frame slightly mars a great experience of the day, and a lovely photo with a good friend (it was nice to meet Sam for the first time in real life!).

Again, going back to the definition of BDD, it may simply be just me that picks up that flaw or imperfection, but being aware of it, it makes me wary and careful with photos, which can degrade some of the spontaneity.

What does this lead to? Unhappiness, and entry into a vicious cycle of “eating my feelings” – I feel good because I eat, say, a big old carvery dinner but then I feel the guilt not just because of what I’ve done but, being totally frank, the bloat and feeling of fullness that, once the satisfaction of a good, tasty meal subsides, just leaves me feeling thoroughly crap.

It might seem dramatic to define my body as something I am ashamed of but to not do so even to a slight degree would be deluding myself a bit. The feeling I get when I look at where I am – especially compared to where I was in 2018 – the photo I’ve used from a summer photoshoot is one I’m extremely proud of. I’ve never looked that good (it was a fun day out) and, in a way, I don’t want to think I won’t “look that good” again; I just have a latent desire to put that effort in again.

But a surprise to me in the research and conversations that led to me writing this post is that body dysmorphia is not simply the domain of the overweight or obese; indeed careful reading of the NHS’s definition does not mention it being solely linked to being overweight, though that is by and far the “default” assumption. I was most surprised to hear that my friend Chris Kenny has suffered a similar crisis of sorts, but from the opposite end of the spectrum to me. I’ve followed his Instagram for a while and he should be really proud of his fitness progress but I was surprised to hear that he seemed to have a similar lack of self-confidence in what his body looked like.

We strive for perfection, always spotting flaws that need to be adjusted. Some rounder delts, thicker traps etc. To your question, in the past I was aware of my skinny frame and indeed made aware of it by work colleagues (“work place banter”) and it hurt.

Read Chris’ responses in full on this page.

Of course I approach my understanding of Body Dysmorphia from the conventional “overweight” perspective but it’s an important distinction to make that this isn’t solely a condition based on one’s weight; though a big part of it, BDD is more about one’s lack of confidence in their appearance and the harmful cycle that this leads to.

The NHS page on the condition lists Cognitive Behavioural Therapy as a potential treatment for Body Dysmorphia and I’d wholeheartedly agree – my own experience with CBT in relation to depression – these conditions can and do overlap, body dysmorphia can be a powerful feed into depression – would back up that it gives great tools to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions. It’s worth checking out.

However I approach my own conclusions slightly differently, and it goes back to my earlier statements about stalling on my weight loss journey. I know that my lack of body confidence stems from my weight, and it’s something that will clearly be a long-term issue for me to deal with, especially as I age and my metabolism slows. I need to accept and be at ease with that fact – and my previous weight loss success means that, like with cognitive behavioural therapy, I am now equipped with the tools to better understand what goes on under the hood.

The struggle exists now as I feel I have regressed a lot – though perhaps regression is the incorrect choice of word for what’s happened because contextually based on my personal circumstances I have a lot of reasons why I’ve lost my way.

But I have a burning desire to regain that progress in 2020. It’s surprising because I’m using my shame and displeasure in my own body to drive myself to make positive changes – the best way of breaking the vicious cycle is to use that momentum to divert. I think I can use my knowledge of what I can achieve, given gumption and determination to do that again and smash past the barriers I saw before.

It’s also a good time of year to reflect. I want to spend the rest of the year really considering how I’m going to effect some decent change in my life, and I want to give myself some time to let those ideas percolate.

Rushing into things usually ends with just a flash in the pan – I want to effect a decent, lasting change and that starts by adapting a new way of thinking. I mentioned a lack of accountability before and one way I’ll aim to address that is to write about my progress – positive and negative – more regularly, as this is only the start, I feel, and there may be more to say as time goes on. Stay tuned, and I hope it helps!

Weight Loss Journey: The Sixteen Week Hitch

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I last wrote about my weight loss journey back in late February. I’m very pleased to report that I’ve made some great progress: from 117Kg in early February I’m now down to around 105Kg which is a real achievement to me!

The whole process of Weight Watchers has now fully ingrained into my psyche in a positive way – my whole perception of food as a whole has really shifted. I’m now a lot more conscious of what I’m eating; before I was less so, and even when I attempted a simple calorie count, that’s not the big picture at all!

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I’m a convert to the Weight Watchers SmartPoints system – it’s a scientific approach to consolidating a lot of confusing and complicated nutritional stats into a system that can be understood a lot more at-a-glance! I’ve noticed it’s not foolproof (more on that later) but the results can be surprising and I’m finding it motivating.

I’ve noticed a lot of my go-to foods that seemed insignificant, like a McDonalds milkshake, or even a simple supermarket sandwich, are packed full of unnecessary, empty points and this is definitely an area I feel I was letting myself down with before. Less so now!

Overall though I’m feeling fantastic – others have noticed an appreciable difference in my physical appearance which is endearing and motivating, especially as I have no self-esteem when it comes to my appearance generally, so noticing I’m able to fit into older clothes again, and my current clothes are feeling and looking baggier is a happy result of my effort so far. One of the things I’m really having mixed feelings about, and have for a long time, is how to receive and handle praise but I’m doing my best to channel it into positive energy and it’s driving me forward!

However, it’s not been plain sailing. I’ve recently had a bit of a bump or plateau where I’ve not been losing (much) weight; indeed, I’ve actually put on a pound or two! This has been more a disappointment than anything.

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The important lesson I’ve learned from this recent wobble is firstly: not to panic. Some weeks are good, some are bad. That’s normal, that’s life. I’ve taken a few days to mull over my progress so far, which overall has still been encouraging. Firstly, what are the circumstances around my recent wobble? Easy:

  • Complacency: It’s so easy, even when strenuously trying to avoid it, to fall into the “I’ve lost so I can…” mindset. I’m certain in the last few weeks I have done this to a minor point, saying “my weekly points [intended as a buffer zone] can take it”. I need to be a lot more disciplined.
  • Lack of focus: The last few weeks I’ve both had to content with the mental struggles of my final year university deadlines and some time off work afterward. I hold my hands up to being less than completely focussed during that time on my weight loss goals and more on my immediate challenges and goals.
  • Time away: I also had a week off after my final deadlines which culminated in a pleasant, if not a bit undisciplined weekend away to see a friend. Honestly, that week I simply took my hands off the wheel.
  • Restrictive SmartPoints budget: This is an emergent challenge – as my weight decreases the suggested SmartPoints I should look to consume has shrunk also. This has been a challenge recently as my new target, 30, is remarkably easy to “blow” with an unwise, impulse-led food choice.

However I’ve taken this into account and I’ve given myself time to mull over where I’m potentially going wrong and, more positively, steps to take to rebuild my momentum:

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    View from a sunny walk in Sutton

    Getting active: This is a step that I initially tried last summer; now the long winter has ended and there’s some glorious weather I can finally get out for fitness walks. I do feel I do better to do multiple short-ish walks throughout the week – aiming for at least three 1.5 mile walks a week – than a few long ones for motivational reasons. They’re also great for starting the day and helping with my mental health!

  • Cutting out problem foods: I’ve decided that a go-to snack for me – pitta bread with houmous – has to go as I’m eating it to excess which negates the health and weight loss benefit. Because I know myself, it’s not enough to just say “no” internally; I’m just not having it in the house for a while.
  • Focusing my attitude: Ultimately I need to take this seriously again to get down to my personal goal weight of 95Kg; I’ve made good progress and I need to just carry on that momentum. Part of this was thinking I’d plateau’d but I don’t genuinely think this is the case and my mental focus just needs to be sharpened to the weaknesses I’ve identified.

So that’s my plan for the summer! I hope to be able to report more encouraging news next time!

Weight Loss Journey – Beginnings

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I was recently challenged by my fellow blogger Chris to write a post in a similar vein to his recent post regarding physical health and, after giving it a little thought – sure, why not!

I’m pleased to finally be able to say that I am making steps to address a longstanding issue that has bugged me for years – that being my weight.

But before we talk about now, how did we arrive here?

I think for the last nine or ten years I’ve had an issue with my weight, and I know precisely where it began. While I was at school, this required a two-mile walk from the bus to my house to school, twice a day. And that four miles, plus walking around school, kept my weight in check.

Then I left school and did pretty much nothing for best part of a year.

Well, I did eat. But I didn’t burn it off and, well, I’ve been overweight since that time in 2009.

I’ve wanted to address it – nagging from parents aside; that doesn’t particularly help, but weight loss feels like such a specious and arcane thing… it’s as if results take so long to see it’s easy to be put off by no apparent progress, and therefore be victim to temptation.

I don’t drink alcohol, I don’t smoke – these are very unhealthy things – so, my mind tells me, what’s the real harm in this packet of Quavers. This blueberry muffin. This whole quiche. This Vienetta – it’s only £1.

In older posts I talked about my struggle throughout 2016 with my mental health problems and depression. I was by no means in the right frame of mind to address my weight; if anything, my depression took over and my physical health deteriorated quite badly.

And also, since 2009… I’ve gotten older. And I feel that age is creeping up on me.

Last year toward the end of the summer I did decide to take some action – I was talking to Chris about one specific thing that “triggered” my mental switch to take my weight seriously. I had to buy a pair of 40” jeans, and crossing that boundary seemed to trigger me into actually taking the issue seriously and not kicking it into the long grass. So I took myself out for a walk and tracked it. And it felt good.

I started calorie-counting from that point, setting a fairly aggressive total and I found I did start to lose weight – I went from 124Kg (19st 11lb) to 114Kg (17st 13lb) in the space of a couple of months or so. But then it got cold, it got near to Christmas and my resolve wavered. I was conscious of this but, doing what I do best – procrastination – I resolved to take the bull by the horns again in 2018.

But I did realise that calorie-counting on my own, while somewhat effective, is not the entire picture. And I am accountable only to me – and I am an unreliable judge.

So I’ve actually taken a fairly big, proactive step toward combatting this issue by joining Weight Watchers – because I feel being accountable to someone (in this case my coach) is going to greatly help my motivation. And I’m already feeling the mental switch in my attitude toward food – and that can only be seen as a positive. I’m more mindful now of what I’m eating – the Weight Watchers plan being focussed on “points” derived from a broader nutritional base, taking into account sugar and protein – and I’m actively interested in preparing my own food more and relying on ready-made meals less.

Already I feel I’m challenging myself – there’s a bit of a stigma that “Weight Watchers is for women” – though if it helps me achieve a more healthy lifestyle and goals in terms of my weight loss then I call that stigma bunkum, and as before with depression, I feel it’s a really unhelpful thing – best challenged!

And to keep myself accountable – which I feel is going to be the driving force behind this journey – I’m going to consider tweeting my weight loss progress out to my followers so it’s out there, in the public domain.

So let’s see how this goes! I can’t guarantee as regular updates as Chris but it’s certainly another journey I want to chronicle here on this site!

If you have a story or tip on losing weight then feel free to share it in the comments! Happy to read and reflect!

Ghosting: Further thoughts and updates

A couple of months ago I posted an important (personally, at least) article where I discussed discovering that I had been ghosted by a close friend and the profound impact that it had had on my mental wellbeing. The reaction to that post was really and surprisingly positive and I’m still feeling so empowered that I was able to call out my ghoster and I could feel… not a sense of closure, but at least at peace in some way toward being ghosted.

Last week I was surprised to see this video by a friend of mine, Andy, which was inspired by my original blogpost, and I thought it gave a good opportunity to touch base on what I’ve discovered and how I feel since that last post, and to touch on some of the points Andy made in his video.

Again, I was genuinely touched that my post inspired Andy’s video, which I feel was greatly positive and captured the core points really well. I think there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding of ghosting as a nascent phenomenon that has been made all the easier to do, and easier to notice you’ve been the victim of, through social media. The internet really does make disconnecting from someone as easy as clicking a button, but I feel that it also allows people to avoid a social responsibility or callback that would perhaps exist if they saw the person every day, or lived nearby.

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And for me, especially, seeing a wall erected between me and someone I had a pretty deep and meaningful friendship with appear overnight was probably the most shattering part of it. When it comes out of nowhere, and with no explanation, it hurts the most; for me, relating to my own story of ghosting, I thought things were on the positive with this person and still, 18 months later, they refuse to answer any questions about it. How is that acceptable? Well, it isn’t; and I’m ok with that.

Andy, in his video, reflects on his own experience which I saw the parallels of in my story – he had a friend, a best friend in fact, who would go out of their way to not ghost them, but made moves that gave mixed messages. Not sharing a new contact number, or email address, and not explaining why. I feel that’s insidious – as much as we all hate confrontation, when it comes to interpersonal relationships, especially friendships, I just feel to lead someone up the garden path when they are unaware of the twisted rationale behind it is quite discourteous. If you’ve made the choice to end a friendship then I feel it’s at the very least disrespectful to not be open and honest about that.

When you communicate through a screen, you can say whatever you want to someone, or completely ignore them, without having to physically face the consequences of seeing their heart break, or hearing their voice whimper when you tell them it’s over.

People aren’t disposable, and being ghosted made me feel like I was, and I feel that was one of the worst feelings it was possible to experience, especially when I was mentally fragile to begin with. For me, it led to a lot of resentment and, worse, it led me to question myself in the worst possible ways. What did I do wrong? What’s going on? Which leads to well, bad people get treated like this, so I must be a bad person. The self-doubt that it instils bred depression and low self-esteem, a rut that I’ve only just felt strong enough to come out of. You can’t help but, in the face of no facts to the contrary, blame yourself and that quickly leads to dark places. I’m only glad that I can say I triumphed over those dark feelings and I can look back and recognise that – I’ve never felt as mentally strong as I do now, but I’m not going to deny that the journey was painful and tortuous, both for myself and the friends that were there to support me.

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With ghosting, it’s easy, as Andy said in his video, to try to deflect some of the responsibility back to the person who was ghosted, but this isn’t helpful, and it just makes the damage the ghosting has done worse. I had it with my own post, where an associate of my ghoster decided to anonymously comment, trying to do that very same thing, to try to justify their friend’s actions.  They were simply missing the point.

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If you’re feeling like you’ve drifted apart from a friend (which is normal and fine, these things happen), or they’re doing things that they’re subconsciously unaware are irritating, or you can no longer countenance their different (but totally valid) opinions because somehow you want a pure echo chamber on your Facebook, and are emotionally immature to the point where you can’t handle that difference, the least you can do is give them the courtesy of telling them, especially for a long-term relationship or friendship. Courtesy costs nothing, and failing that basic social premise will invalidate any beef you had. You don’t just up sticks and disappear, as that just isn’t justifiable, whatever you may think. As before, it’s emotional and psychological bullying, plain and simple.

Psychologically, we’re abandoning someone, betraying their trust, and leaving them completely in the dark as to what happened and why we left.

When we’ve been ghosted, before the anger sets in, we turn inwards and blame ourselves.

Did I do something wrong? Am I too clingy? … Is my radar broken? Am I unlovable? There’s so much mental anguish that goes into over-analyzing what happened. It’s soul-crushingly painful.

Ghosting impacts our self-esteem and self-worth. It can lead to depression, which affects our sleep, appetite, concentration at work, and desire to be around friends. It can also cause anxiety in which we obsess and ruminate about what happened, feel on edge, and are filled with worry and insecurity.

Whereas I’ve accepted the criticism, the friend that ghosted me hasn’t. That’s really sad. They chose to shift the emotional responsibility, and that’s just wrong. It’s indefensible, it’s immature and it’s just cruel, ultimately – I found it very difficult to deal with, and it’s insidious. Like Andy, who had a best friend who seemingly didn’t know how to do the decent thing and end the friendship, not with a blazing row, but with a calm discussion, respectful and civil; unlike Andy, I suppose my ghoster skipped straight to the “erasing from existence” phase; whether that was more or less “cruel” is entirely another question. With either case, there’s no answers, no closure, no tying up of matters. And with long-term friendships, especially deep and meaningful ones, I think ghosting is even less acceptable than it is for, example, after a relationship or when dating – it’s that sudden, unilateral severing of an emotional relationship that causes that pain.

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But what do I aim to achieve with these posts? Partly they’re an open letter – yes, if my ghoster dropped me a message tomorrow, I’d listen. To be honest, I’d probably forgive, but listening is the start. I’d have that conversation. I don’t want to shout at them, or vent; I’d rather I helped them understand that their conscious choice of actions, to “duck the issue”, did more harm than good. Yes I have been angry, I do feel they’ve been “immature” and “cowardly”, but those are just words, and I don’t think, especially in my case, words should be held against me, especially out of context. I do think they’re scared because they know they let me down, but they never gave me the chance to explain how I felt and to make reparations. It’d be a hard conversation, sure,  but it would also be cathartic and, I feel, a good opportunity to part on less ignoble and ugly terms, especially context taken into account.

I don’t see the point in grudges; fair to say I have been angry, I have been resentful but I don’t have any energy left for that. I’m honest about my flaws and I’m open – I just want them to understand about the harm they have caused me, not to make them feel guilty, but to hopefully enrich their own life so that they don’t, inadvertently or not, do this again. As no-one deserves to be ghosted. Some deal with it better than others, but I am proud to say I am a survivor and I still feel mightily empowered, and I hope that my advice continues to inspire people to realise that it doesn’t have to negatively impact them.

Ghosting, like I said before, says more about the ghoster than those being ghosted. Courtesy costs nothing, and the rise of ghosting as an apparent “acceptable” way of ending interpersonal relationships in the digital age… it’s a side of the times that I’m not keen on. But talking about it, being open and realising, first and foremost, that if you’re being ghosted, it’s not your fault; and, if you’re ghosting, yes that’s a bad choice, and you shouldn’t, but you shouldn’t run from those whose emotional judgement you’re probably seeking to avoid. Accept that you are, which is the first step. The second? Message them, be optimistic, open and at least try to open a dialog? Because, ultimately, even after a month, a year or more, what do you have to lose? You may even be surprised!

But in either case, I don’t believe there’s an emotional chasm too wide to at least attempt to bridge. So then, even after this long a time, what do you have to lose?

Article Referenced

“What You’re Really Saying When You Ghost on Someone” – The Good Men Project