Body Dysmorphia: The Side Effects of Losing Weight

Picture this: you’re browsing the internet, and you come across a picture of a slender model, whose very existence reminds you of your perceived shortcomings of your own body. Her ample hips, delicate waist, lithe limbs, and fine bone structure scream perfection in your eyes. Her skin seemingly smooth and flawless, you don’t see a single bump, stretch mark, or bit of cellulite on her body. As you begin to daydream, picturing yourself in a body similar to hers, you are finally resolved to lose weight so you too can fit these conventional ideals of beauty. You start your diet with a strong will that borders obsession, and you quickly begin to see the numbers on the scale and in your clothing go down. When you look into the mirror, though, you find that you look the same or, surprisingly, worse in your eyes, and you’re not nearly as happy as you imagined you’d be. Where’s your dream body? Why are there stretch marks and loose skin?

Does this sound familiar to you? If you’ve lost any weight, chances are you had or are currently suffering from something called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The situation described is actually something that happened to me, and a condition I strive to overcome daily. When people talk about how happy they are after they’ve lost weight, you don’t always see the whole picture. We like to promote healthy and happy mindsets, so the negative side effects are conveniently left out. What people don’t tell you is that your mind doesn’t always immediately catch up with your body, which leaves your brain seeing something totally different than what everyone else sees. You have this idea of perfection in your head, and instead of the smooth, dainty, long-limbed beauty your imagination has conjured, you see someone with too much fat, too many bumps, too many flaws.

Throughout my entire weight loss journey, believe it or not, I’ve struggled with being unable to see my progress. I might have even given up early on if I wasn’t being constantly and most enthusiastically told by my friends and co-workers that my progress was visible and astounding. I recall that sinking feeling of looking into the mirror and mentally cringing at what I saw, knowing that my perception did not match up with the number my scale reflected. I would pinch and pull at the fat on my thighs and stomach, suppressing the urge to weep because I despaired of ever being beautiful. Because, in my eyes, being fat wasn’t beautiful. I was a big, fat, vile hambeast, and I hated my existence. At one brief and scary point in my journey, I even picked up some disordered eating habits, where I would sometimes eat as little as 400 calories a day and would just taking sleeping pills to force me to sleep when I couldn’t handle the hunger pain. I figured if I couldn’t achieve perfection the normal way, maybe I could take a hand in it and make it happen faster. At the time, it felt oddly appropriate; in my melancholy, it seemed justified to have my destructive behavior mirror my warped self-esteem.

As my eating disorder progressed, I began to take note of other things that were happening to my body. I wasn’t sleeping well, yet I was constantly tired and fatigued. Exercise was out of the question. I started becoming dizzy often, and a few times at work, even blacked out for a second. I went to the EMT the first time it happened and she told me that my heartbeat was sluggish and irregular, and that I needed to see a doctor. I think I finally realized how detrimental my habits were to my health when I realized that I wasn’t actually losing any more weight. With my extreme calorie deficit and lack of activity, my metabolism drastically slowed. Worse, though, was that I would go through phases where I would eat almost literally nothing for a day, and then turn around and eat as much unhealthy food as I could find. The worse I restricted myself, the harder it was to deny myself food- any food at all!- when it was placed in front of me. I knew I couldn’t maintain these habits for long, and I realized they were doing nothing but harm to both my health and my self-esteem.

I did the only thing I knew I could do to save myself: I began socializing with confident, happy people who were health-savvy while still accepting their bodies. Their positive self-esteem served as a constant positive example for me, and the more I was around them, the more I started picking up on their habits and beliefs. I got more involved with fitness and weight loss communities, knowing I couldn’t let these people down. I started a weight loss tumblr, where I began my often repeated mantra of “you can still love yourself while making your body better.” After a while, I was stunned to realize that I was no longer just mechanically parroting these lines to people; it was something I truly and passionately believed. In my push for promoting healthy weight loss and a happy self-image, somewhere along the way, I gradually began to believe my own words.

I was no longer losing weight to be skinny, and I no longer thought I was previously ugly because I was fat. My goals shifted from weight loss to becoming strong, fit, and healthy instead. I quit staring dejectedly at my reflection in the mirror every morning, pinching at my fat and frowning at my flaws. In fact, I began smiling at my own reflection, for once comfortable in my own skin and pleased at what I was seeing. Yeah, I’m not the epitome of perfection, but truly, who is? The model whose body I so coveted previously had the benefit of flattering camera angles, professional makeup applied, a professional photographer, and photoshop used. No matter how much weight I lose, I will never look like that image, and you know what? Neither will the model. At the end of the day, “perfection” is unachievable, and you have to learn to define your own idea of perfect: the best version of you is the happiest version of you. Perfection is waking up, looking in the mirror, and thinking, “You know what? I’m pretty rad.” Not because you’re skinny, fat, or fit, and not despite being skinny, fat, or fit, either; because it’s you, and it’s the only body you have.

And you know what? Even if I gained back all of my weight, I think I’d be okay now. I’ve finally learned to accept myself.

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18 responses to “Body Dysmorphia: The Side Effects of Losing Weight”

  1. Molon Labe says :

    This made me think of this revolutionary new product that might interest you.

    You can get fauxtanical hydro-jargon microbead extract! FINALLY!!!

    • ladybirdspot says :

      I just read an article about you on a local newspaper and I wanted to tell you that I appreciate your hard work and your determination in losing weight. I’m having problems with my weight too so I will read your blog to take some advices. Greetings from Romania.

  2. Daren says :

    Amazing post. It’s reassuring and motivating to hear from those who have their head on straight. Keep the posts coming!

  3. Suze says :

    Words that everyone losing weight needs to hear!

  4. Jane says :

    What do you eat everyday.

  5. sarahsmilesintherain says :

    Reblogged this on SarahSmilesInTheRain.

  6. Jeff says :

    Every time I go to the gym, I see the same girls doing dozens of repetitions on the machine leg press with the lowest pin , same girls doing dozens of tricep kickbacks with 3 kg weights all seeking the elusive ‘tone’. It is refreshing to hear a girl that actually understands the key elements of weightlifting (simplicity!) and the benefits it will provide.

    As a male that has been described as a meat head, let me pass on a secret to your readers which you already know: people in the gym are always happy to help! Sure you get the odd person who is focused solely on what they are doing, but most gym goers are always happy to help where the they can, be they male or female. All you have to do is ask!

    Again, let me congratulate you on your amazing work, and I look forward to following your fitness progress!

  7. Denise Bertacchi says :

    Criss–I ran across your photos (don’t worry, nothing sleazy) and I just had to say, WOW! I’m a bit older than you, so I don’t think I’ll even try to get back to my college weight, where you are now. BUT your photo set is very inspiring and a real reminder of where I can be if I want it bad enough. We have a similar build–I’m 5’2″. I was feeling content at 150 (after tipping the scales around 200 while pregnant) but your photos make me feel like signing back up with the gym and getting rid of another 15 or 20.

    Also, perception is a weird thing. I NEVER felt skinny, yet I remember clearly that my first driver’s license said 110. Now I look back at those photos and I look soooo scrawny.

    Keep up the good work.

  8. studioennex says :

    This is just so incredibly common. >_<

    On days when I'm feeling kind of down, I don't see any difference in the mirror. It's very discouraging to have that kind of perspective…there's that little voice in my head saying I'm wasting my time. On days when I feel really good, I'm over the moon. XD I feel healthy and strong and so excited.

    But the more weight I lose, the more my boyfriend feels comfortable making jokes about how I'm the same and chubby. He's a snarky individual, but truly loves me at any size I have been. I am having a hell of a time making him understand that my brain just immediately takes it seriously… =\ He just can't say those things. It makes him sound kind of mean…but he isn't trying to be, he just doesn't have problems with self-esteem and confidence so he doesn't get why it can make me so instantly depressed.

    Gosh that was a longer story than I meant it to be, but thank you for the post. It's good to read that I CAN work through my mental barriers, as well as the physical. ❤

  9. Carina Rubalcava says :

    I was so happy when I found your blog. I’ve never really been concerned by what people thought of my body because I have always been very active, in sports, and muscular, albeit never skinny. I’m 18, 5′ 3″, 38″ hips, 29″ waist, and 32/24 D bra size. I’m working on taking my body back from the media and modern beauty ideals. Being a college student who has to eat in the dinning hall makes it hard to control what I eat, but my semester is over in about 3 weeks and I plan on changing that over the summer.

    Throughout my life the biggest critic of my body has been my mother. She was very thin when she was younger, but that changed for her when she had kids, starting with me at age 20/21. Now she does sporadic dieting and inconsistent exercise routines to try to lose a few pounds and gives up easily. When I go home, I’m showing her this blog so that she might believe me when I say weights are good, they won’t make you bulky, and that it IS possible to love your body and heal it.
    Thank you for going through this journey and for letting us go along for the ride. You’ve inspired me and hopefully my mom is too. If you can do it, I can do it:)

  10. Fitness Wayne | Health, Weight Lifting and Paleo Diet Blog says :

    Wow, that is a pretty crazy weight loss story! I’m glad you got your identity under control before you did too much damage to your body. I recently lost 35 pounds and it took several months to get used to how I look now. I had this whole image of myself as a big, tough, muscular guy, then I lost all the weight and it has hard adjusting to the mindset of skinny guy. Good luck with staying healthy and fit!

  11. Victoria says :

    Hi Criss,
    I love your bog and you are my inspiration. Thank you for writing and all you’ve done for girls and women everywhere.
    I personally think I have Body Dismorphic Disorder, but no in the usual way. When I loo in the mirror, I see myself as “skinny” or slim and in shape. I’m currently 140 lbs and 5’2″ which is 10 lbs less than I was about 2 months ago. Have you ever heard or felt like this? It gives me confidence but deep down I know I am not 125 like I feel.

  12. John says :

    I just started reading your posts and think they’re amazing! I am a man who has been struggling with weight loss the past few years, and am at the point where I just have a little further to go.

    Thanks for the inspiring posts!

  13. brendan says :

    “And you know what? Even if I gained back all of my weight, I think I’d be okay now. I’ve finally learned to accept myself.”

    Aw hail no… it sounds like you put in a lot of hard work, and inspiring a lot of people to get rid of their own obesity. Backsliding would leave the world worse off!

  14. Dear says :

    I know you didn’t authorize your photo to be put on Imgur, but I wanted to say that someone posted the link to your site and you just helped me a LOT. I went from 182lb to 148lb so far and I’m still losing, but I don’t SEE the progress! My clothes are smaller, a lot smaller, and when I put them on it’s like someone is pulling a magic track on me. Like…how can these clothes ever POSSIBLY FIT me? Yet they fit… I still see my lower belly, my flabby thighs, my upper arms and it just makes me feel ugly. I know I lost weight. Scales don’t lie and neither does clothing fit, but I can’t get it in my head…I didn’t know what to call this. I always thought Body Dysmorphia was for people who had extreme weight loss changes(like going from 500lbs down to 150lbs or something) but maybe this is what I’m facing.
    It stresses out my family, friends and my partner because they tell me I look good and I’m not receptive enough, or worse, I worry they think I’m just fishing for compliments by putting myself down.. I’ve tried explaining but I just feel alone…Not one single fitness blog I read warned me about the aftermath of losing weight. It was always “Oh you’ll lose those pesky pounds and your life will be SO MUCH BETTER. Clothes shopping yay~” but it’s not like that at all. I still don’t feel beautiful. I still feel fat. Your site has given me something new to focus on…

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