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!

Website Update

It’s definitely time for another update! Today I’m going to talk about a couple of projects that are resurgent on the boil once again and that I am really looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into!

This also serves as a good way of checking my own progress in a way so I aim to make these Website Update posts a lot more regularly – though I’d suspect I’ve said this before!

Without any further ado let’s get into what I’m working on currently:

20180706_140550186_iOSThe Thaw – Next Edit

I’m really pleased that this past week I’ve finally bitten the bullet and started on the next edit of my post-apocalyptic thriller novel The Thaw. I last updated the blog regarding this project over a year ago and, by my own admission, it’s sat on my shelf for that time, though some very lovely friends have offered me some great feedback.

I recently, in fact, had a writer-y online call with my good friend and fellow Kingston creative writing alumni Rosie and it really helped me get into my head not only the overall changes I needed to make – she’d sent me some great answers to a feedback questionnaire I’d designed – but also, crucially in my view, how to make a start on the first few chapters. I’d honestly procrastinated because I didn’t know in a way where to even begin but I’ve made a great start on the next edit!

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I do have a variety of exciting plans – I don’t actually intend on doing another self-edit because I feel over-editing it myself is only going to expend time and result in tweaks. I need to bite the big bullet and send this work off to a professional editor, which I intend to do over the autumn for a potential submission to agents – yes, actual agents for publishers – in the new year.

I’ve been building a new writing space at home but while that’s been under construction I’ve tried sincerely to use my local library as a good writing space. It’s really helped me focus, which is very good. It’s definitely a topic I want to dive into more in-depth very soon – I also perused the non-fiction literature section and am working through a couple of books that I borrowed to see if they help me out and already some of the tips I’ve picked up are really paying dividends!

Doctor Who fan-film

IMG_27312_800pxSince 2017 I’ve been working with my friends Mark and Gary on a 25-minute Doctor Who fan-film titled Reverence of the Daleks, with myself acting as Producer and Writer. It’s been a great experience and after a couple of “soft” screenings we’re preparing the film, based on some feedback, for a general online release.

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I’m quite heavily involved at the moment in preparing what we’re calling the Producer’s Cut of the film – working on picture grade, music and tweaking some of the VFX based on the feedback we’ve had so far to form the “final”, ultimate edition of the film.

My friend Mark works as a Media Technician at Esher College in Surrey and every year he puts on a Film Evening of films he and his friends, colleagues and even students have contributed to, and Reverence is going to be the headline event of this year’s Evening, hopefully coming to a venue near you (if you live in South West London!) toward the end of September or October.

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It’s refreshing to be nearly done with this project as it’s taken up a lot of my creative energy, especially when preparing for the first showing – editing the film up until 12:30AM the night before! I’ve tons of other gestating ideas so it’ll be great in a way to have this piece as a bit of an advert for my skills film-wise moving forward.

Other projects at the stage of “worth mentioning”:

  • I’m working on at least one more post in my BookThoughts series from a while ago, so stay tuned on that!
  • I want to start working on some new short stories, including one I’d actually hoped to have done for the festive season last year! I’ve three or four skeletal ideas that I feel merit development!
  • I may be delving into the archives to update (and tidy) my Short Stories section with work from university!

Glancing Back, Focusing Forward: 2018 in Rearview

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As December closes out and the festivities of the season die down it’s always a great time to reflect on the year that was. I’ve done this in the past and I was doubly inspired by the lovely Charlotte’s recent post. So I definitely want to take stock on what happened to me in 2018 and, importantly, have a think about where I want 2019 to go too. Obviously it’s futile to really commit too rigidly to goals for the year as stuff invariably happens that cannot be foreseen but that doesn’t stop one from being as aspirational.

There were a handful of “big” events that I’m very proud of having taken place in 2018.

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Freshly graduated! 😎🎓 #KingstonUniversity

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The first of these was my graduation this summer. In the past I may have alluded to some dissatisfaction with the Creative Writing course I undertook at Kingston University, which is an experience I still feel I should chronicle in my blog in the new year now my immediate, somewhat… passionate thoughts about have subsided and mellowed. One thing from the whole experience that I take away is a sense of pride that I managed to get through it and succeed in this endeavour. My graduation was a very happy event and I end 2018 in the knowledge that I made my friends, family and most importantly myself proud with the achievement.

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The second “event” of this year has to be the finishing of the first, gruelling edit of my work-in-progress novel The Thaw, which I’ve mentioned previously I’m sure of. I went to Kingston to expend the remainder of my printer credits to print off the second draft which I’m very proud to have completed. I’m doubly excited as I’ve just received some of the first substantive feedback (thanks to the amazing Rosie) to that draft that I sent out in July; I’m eager to work on this project some more in the early part of 2019 so I can finally submit it to agents, editors and publishers. I’m still immensely proud of my work on this book, I definitely feel it’s a worthy piece of work and I look forward to taking it on the next step of its journey.

Reflecting on my year in reading I remain content that I made the right decision to not undertake a Goodreads reading challenge this year as it’s really helped with some anxiety that participating was otherwise emanating from that. I’ve had a more sedate year in reading in 2018, which is good as I’m better able to enjoy my books as opposed to racing through them.

Here’s my pick of the titles I read (or re-read) this year:

  1. The Boy on the Bridge by MR Carey. This was a book I thoroughly enjoyed – having previously been captivated by The Girl With All The Gifts I was intrigued to read the prequel. It was a haunting, atmospheric novel of the highest order.
  2. Artemis by Andy Weir – a case of lightning indeed striking twice with Andy Weir of The Martian fame – one I enjoyed a great deal, an excellent, accurate but not intimidating space thriller.
  3. Silo by Hugh Howey – One the bookseller in Waterstones highly recommended it when I bought it! Another example of enjoyable, atmospheric post-apocalyptic fiction in a well-realised, contained world. Very excited to read the second in the series, Shift in 2019!
  4. Misery by Stephen King – a re-read but a worthy one on the back of Charlotte’s review, and there’s just so much to take from this lean, taut thriller I might make it an annual re-read.
  5. The Fog by James Herbert – I was inspired to re-read this classic book from this Tweet from Iain Dale and the scene, and the book itself, remains a high-water mark of Herbert’s prowess. My collection of his work grows!

Still, however, I feel I’ve been a little… conservative in my reading and that does bother me a little – I find myself almost being slightly self-conscious of my reading, especially as I let Goodreads post to my Twitter in public view. I feel I need to be less in a comfort zone for authors/genres I like and experiment a little. I certainly want to read more non-fiction; indeed, I took a recommendation from a friend to take on Chernobyl by Serhii Plokhy – a book I do need to finish, as it happens, but it’s again great to be able to take these on entirely at my own pace.

Landlady_Cover_MockUpAnd lastly, going again back to another post by Charlotte, that of her Halloween Story, I want to try to write more short fiction again; I’ve done it in the past way back when and I feel it’d be great to do so again, especially as I had such a positive reaction to The Landlady, my first foray into horror fiction which I wrote for my Creative Writing dissertation. I’ve been absolutely amazed at the reaction from friends, well-wishers and colleagues to that endeavour which has been absolutely lovely.

Charlotte’s Halloween piece has inspired me to write more “seasonal” work for events such as Halloween, Christmas… I’ll see how it goes. I had planned to release a festive horror short about this time but personal circumstances have eaten in quite considerably to my writing time, but it’s an idea I would definitely like to try out more in 2019 – I have missed writing short stories a bit and, having reorganised my website in 2018, I had to look again at my early work and there’s some solid ideas. Maybe I might revisit them, we’ll see!

I also managed to lose about two stone this year which is fantastic – thanks to the brilliant Chris Kenny for being a great inspiration for my progress there! Let the side down a little toward the end of the year (who diets at Christmas?) but I’m already raring to reclaim the ground again in 2019 and really power through it!

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!