5 questions to see if you struggle with a body image disorder and 5 ways to help you overcome it!

5 questions to see if you struggle with a body image disorder and 5 ways to help you overcome it!

Written by: Dr. Saira Kassam, ND

     Did you know that fashion models weigh 23% less than the average female? We live in an era of social media dominance, bringing on the powerful, oh, so familiar feeling of inadequacy.  Have you ever thought about the different emotions and feelings just scrolling through your social media bring to the surface?  When I scroll through my social media feed I can’t even count the number of times I think to myself, “Why can’t I look like that? How is she so skinny? Why is my sense of style not as good as hers? How is her make up so perfect?”  These feelings rooted from watching other people’s lives on social media tend to dictate the way we feel about our bodies and ourselves.  Confidence is now rooted from how many likes or thumbs up you get from a social media post vs. actual life accomplishments.

     Societal trends are promoting muscularity or being “ripped” in men and leanness in women.  It is already difficult to stay happy with our body types. Now, we have social media that tells us what we should strive to look like. The pressure to look a certain way on men, women, teens, moms, and dads is immeasurable. Girls and boys feeling the media pressure to have that “perfect” body can lead to unhealthy behaviors, leading to an unhealthy body.  Advertising images can set unrealistic ideals for both males and females to strive for that “perfect” body. What defines “perfect” anyway?

     A common survey, “Children, Teens, Media and Body Image” found that many teens that have an online presence worry about how they are perceived. This survey found that 27% of teens are stressed about how they look in posts and 22% felt badly about themselves when their photos were ignored.  A lot of people are dissatisfied with some aspect of their appearance, but for some people, this dissatisfaction leads to an excessive preoccupation with imaginary defects in their appearance. This phenomenon is termed Body image disorder.

     Body image disorder (BDD) is defined as a “preoccupation with an imagined defect in one’s appearance that causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational functioning”. Individuals are preoccupied with some aspect of their appearance being “abnormal, unattractive, deformed, ugly”. In reality, this ”flaw” is minimal or non-existent.  Focusing on the flaw is so preoccupying that it can more often than not lead to feelings of depression and obsession. It is characterized by time consuming behaviors such as: mirror checking or avoiding, comparing particular features to those of others, excessive camouflaging tactics to hide the defect, skin picking, excessive grooming (hair combing or grooming), body measuring, restricting dietary choices, excessive exercising or weight lifting, seeking surgery or anabolic steroid use, social anxiety, home bound and/or seeking reassurance from others. It can often be confused with vanity.  

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you very worried about your appearance in any way?

  2. Does this concern preoccupy you? Do you think about it a lot and wish it would preoccupy you less?

  3. If you add up all the time you spend thinking about your appearance each day, how much time do you think it would be? (>3 hours a day)

  4. Has this preoccupation with your appearance interfered with your job (or school work), your relationships or social life or other aspects of your life?

  5. Have your appearance concerns affected your family or friends?

     The most important aspect of struggling with body image issues is the behaviors it forces one to engage in. This could mean excessive exercising, running to the gym after eating a big meal (one you feel terribly guilty about), not eating at all, overeating, and/or taking laxatives to empty out your intestines. These are just a few of the behaviours we tend to engage in if we are not satisfied with our bodies. I know for me, it is excessive exercising. Growing up I was always on the heavier side – got made fun of for being “fat” and “ugly”. I still remember my first boy crush. I was around 12 years old and joined a camp for 2 weeks.  A friend of mine went and exposed my feelings to him.  His response was, “who, that fat girl”? It is moments like these that stick with you through life. I didn’t realize the impact this one comment would have on me forever. After that, I was naturally inclined to work hard and lose my “fat” to get to a place I am happy with. It is only recently that I understand the importance of developing a healthy self-image and how my strong desire to lose weight was not coming from the right place. It IS possible to overcome body image issues through setting healthy goals for yourself and learning to love yourself for who you are.

     Harbouring a positive body image is so important for self-esteem, self-acceptance, and self-love.  Comparing to what or who is around you really lessens your own personal satisfaction with who YOU really are. 

Here are some tips that really helped me change the way I see myself over the years:

  1. Make sure to focus on your positive qualities and avoid negative self-talk

  2. Say 3 positive things about yourself every day (Keep a journal of this and refer to it when you are feeling down on yourself)

  3. Don’t compare yourself to others. You are unique in who you are – love and appreciate yourself

  4. Set positive goals that are important for your health vs. goals related to weight loss/weight gain

  5. Take a break from social media if you need to! Don’t be afraid to be absent from Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat if you are feeling down on yourself (I DID IT!)

 

     Just remember, everyone has their own story and is fighting their own battle.  Compare less with those around you, whether it be your friends, family or people on social media. Media images are an unrealistic minority of the population. If you are unhappy with your body, find healthy ways that are not damaging to your long-term health to drop those few inches. Love yourself for you are and spread that positivity amongst yourself and those around you who may need it.