Messages from society, peers, and family constantly influence an individual's body image. The images in magazines are altered. We need to be aware that the
images we receive constantly are so distorted. It is impossible to try
to live up to an 'ideal' that does not even exist.
The problem is your perception of your body. You know how you stand in front of the bathroom mirror, twisting about to look at all your junk? So you find some imperfections--surprise! These 'flaws' translate to ‘fat’ within our heads. Who gets to decide what is technically considered fat? It is clearly a subjective classification.
It must be the Body Mass Index. Using this measurement, however, you find that world class bodybuilders (at 4% body fat) qualify as obese. Well, that doesn't seem right. Ideal body weight charts, BMI tables, and any assessment tool you use are all very limited. None of this matters, though, because you don’t need outside measurements to confirm what is clearly reflecting back to you: I am so fat.
I listen to the discussions of women around me. I have a friend who thinks she is 20 pounds overweight and complains of feeling fat. But then I become completely confused when another friend (who is 5-10 pounds underweight) declares she is also feeling fat. Wait just a minute. Has everyone been drinking the funny punch?
So I ask my friend who is certain she is 20 pounds overweight a simple question. How did she feel about herself 20 pounds ago? The answer is shocking (though probably familiar): she remembers even then thinking about her thighs rubbing together. I have had in my practice, clients who weight only 60-70 pounds. They are struggling with anorexia. They got where they are at because at 80 pounds they continued to feel fat. It is completely clear there is no standard point where you will no longer feel fat if that is what you truly believe about yourself.
The clinical term for this mental state is Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I would argue that many of my clients and many of the people reading this article are struggling with this disorder to some degree. A negative body image can absolutely negatively impact your quality of life. Even though you may have always felt this way doesn't mean it is normal or okay.
Until we can accept and love our beautiful, imperfect bodies, we will continue to suffer with wounded self esteem. We believe these thoughts are our only defense against eating ourselves even fatter. I would argue, though, that it is this type of thinking that actually leads us to comfort ourselves more frequently with food.
What I have found is that when a person becomes overly conscious of their physical appearance, there is typically something else going on inside of them. If these thoughts begin to affect your life—refusal to go to social events, missing time with family to work out—you have to take a closer look.
Our obsession with weight helps us to distract ourselves from uncomfortable thoughts. These thoughts are usually about other things in our lives over which we have no control. When we feel uncomfortable, it gets translated in our minds as feeling fat. If our body is the problem, then there is a sense of being in control of the solution.
The negative body image provides a cover for these deeper issues. Ever notice how one day you feel okay and the next you feel so fat? It is not possible that your body has changed--your feelings have changed. Your body image is very dependent on what you are feeling and thinking.
So, the next time your friend says that she ‘feels fat’—whether the charts agree with her or not—ask her what she is really feeling. She might look at you weird, but we need to honor one another by exploring our true feelings. When the person you are closest to in the whole world (yourself) says that she ‘feels fat’, just know that she is just unaware of what she is really feeling and needs to be pampered, and ultimately, unconditionally loved.
Contact us with any questions about eating and mental health issues. You or someone you know may be in need of outpatient eating disorder treatment.
Jennifer Pereira LPC, RD - Counselor & Dietitian
1. Do you worry that you have lost control over how much you eat?
2. Do you make yourself sick (or use laxatives/exercise) if you feel uncomfortably full?
3. Do you currently suffer with or suffered in the past with eating issues?
4. Do you ever eat in secret?
5. Does your weight affect how you feel about yourself?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, or if you are not satisfied with your current eating patterns, contact us for more information.