Phantom Fat - Feeling Bigger Than You Are
2018 has been going well for you. You've been making better food choices, you have been hitting the gym regularly, and you've definitely seen some progress.
For most of us, the weight loss journey is one that we spend seeking internal answers and fixing bad habits. Many ask questions like asking yourself why you overeat, why do you run for food under stress, and how can we make ourselves healthier.
Related - When Healthy Eating Goes Too Far
For some of us, unfortunately, we don't see the progress. We don't see anything that we like, and it makes us miserable. You may have lost 70 pounds but you still buy the same clothes, have the same "fat fears" as you did before, and you definitely don't like your body.
"Phantom fat" is a body dysmorphic disorder that keeps someone from embracing their new and improved thinner selves. It causes people to still perceive themselves as they were, even when the reflection in the mirror tells a different story.
With BDD, the person is always preoccupied about something they perceive as a "flaw" even when it is not observable to others. This means you check mirrors repeatedly, you seek reassurance from others, or you always compare yourself to other people.
Phantom fat syndrome is in the same category of disorders as the bodybuilder who never sees himself for as big as he really is. They work out constantly to try to address this perceived flaw.
So What's Actually Going On?
While body dysmorphic disorder is generally associated with anorexia and bulimia, phantom fat syndrome is a little different.
In particular, when your body has changed a significant amount, your mind and how you perceive yourself can take years to catch up. This is similar to someone who's lost a limb.
Someone who has been obese for most of their lives may reach a healthy body weight, but still holds onto the internal responses that have been reinforced for years.
Feelings of being judged about your size, thinking that people don't sit next to you because you are fat, and the disconnect from what's going on in your body and your brain can be frustrating.
While most of us think that once we hit our target goal weight that we will be happy, sometimes there is a disconnect between what we actually look like versus what we feel we look like. As you see, losing weight is only half of the battle.
Do you know someone exhibiting these behaviors?
- Changing clothes excessively
- Constant exercise or constant grooming
- Avoiding mirrors altogether
- Standing in front of mirrors for hours
- Constant attempts to hide a perceived flat under makeup or clothing
- Reaching for reassurance about their appearance
These are all signs that someone may be suffering from BDD.
So How Would One Adjust?
Getting your brain and body in sync takes some time. That's why when you've made progress on your weight loss journey, it can take weeks for you to notice a difference.
There are some coping mechanisms to this adjustment period. One of the first things is to know that weight loss is just that - losing weight.
Putting expectations on yourself that things should be and feel a certain way is setting yourself up for a disaster. Talk with friends and family and choose someone who will really listen to your struggles. Someone who is dismissive and simply telling you to "get over it" won't help.
Write in a Journal
Writing in a journal allows you to get all of your emotions out onto paper and keep it hidden. Understanding that this is a normal reaction to weight loss or a huge body transformation - it takes time.
It can be hard to process these feelings of feeling plus-sized. Having a poor self-image, low self-esteem, and not taking the time to process all of the hard work you have done all contribute to these feelings.
It's a hard process that takes time to get there. Instead of focusing on the negatives, how about thinking about the positive changes?
Can you stand and walk around without that stabbing back pain or hurting at the end of the day? I bet tying your shoes is easier, and you definitely aren't swatting away flop sweat walking out to get the main, right?
Reminding yourself of the good aspects of your body and overall well-being helps you feel better when the picture you see in the mirror may say otherwise.
Get Treatment for Phantom Fat Syndrome
Living with BDD means that you have to deal with worrying obsessively over their self-image almost every waking moment.
Did you know that almost 50 percent of people that suffer from BDD develop a drug or alcohol problem?
Almost 50 percent also seek unnecessary surgery - making up about 15 percent of cosmetic surgery patients.
The Real Reason Why You Should Get Treatment
Studies show that about 75 percent of people who suffer from BDD sometimes feel that life isn't worth living, and 25 percent will attempt suicide.
A study that was published in a journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior interviewed 200 people with BDD. They found 78 percent had thought about suicide. People who suffer from an anorexia-type eating history that suffered from BDD were twice as likely to attempt suicide over others with BDD.
Getting help is important if you feel this way. There is help out there if you want it.
You Can Recover from Phantom Fat Syndrome
People with BDD have a good rate of recovery, according to a study published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. The study was small, but it is the longest study of BDD treatment over an extended period of time.
Of the 15 participants, 76 percent were in recovery from BDD after eight years. For half of the patients, it took only five years to reach recovery. Working with a therapist to overcome your fears and problem areas takes time.
Here are a few pointers to help you recover from BDD:
- The more you expose your fears, you will slowly become less sensitive to them.
- You may need to be prescribed some medication to help with the anxiety or depression you deal with.
- Seek surgery as the absolute last solution.
- Recovery rates are high, but you need to stay true to the treatment.
- Don't cut yourself off from people, even when that feels the best thing to do.
- Get more sleep and try to exercise more. Having a fist fight with your mattress while screaming is a great way to get some steam out.
- Make healthier food choices. Seriously, the convenience foods we eat ruins our body and mind.
- Self-medicating with drugs or alcohol is not recommended. This is a rabbit hole you don't want to go down.
- If ending your life sounds like a good idea, or you have considered self-harming, find someone and talk to them immediately. It does get better.
Wrapping It Up
Having a good support system of friends and family members will help you stick to your treatment. When the hard times come, they will be there to push you through it.
Reach out to online groups, be anonymous, or meet new people. The social interaction with others that suffer from phantom fat syndrome can give you a new perspective and help you recover.