My distorted self-perception

What do you see when you look at yourself? Do you see what others see? Does what you see in the mirror match what you see in pictures of yourself?

I know that I do not see what others see when looking at me. And this is common. But how much of what we see is also accurate? Is any of it accurate?

Physical distortions

Recently, I was caught in traffic due to an accident. I was thinking about workouts (when am I not?) and clients. The majority of my clients – past and present – have fat loss goals. Many women will state, “I want to look like you!” I generally reply with, “Thank you for the compliment! Together we will work to find the best YOU.” Or something of the sorts.

When I stop to truly think about it, it baffles me – others want to look like me? I have had women want legs like mine, or a butt, or arms. I have had clients comment on how they would like a flat stomach like mine – I remark that my stomach is not flat and that they need to find a different standard to work towards! And all I want are abs like – any number of my fit friends. What is it we are looking for in what we perceive to be perfect physical attributes?

What does this boil down to? Many woman would be satisfied with my physique – so why am I not? OR, would they be just as self-critical once they obtain their ‘ideal bodies,’ identifying new targets for improvement and perfection?

What I wonder is, are my abs better than I see in the mirror? Is there a physiological or psychological lapse between my cornea and my brain? I believe that these thoughts result from being told I have body dysmorphic disorder (as good of a reason as ever to never label someone). Is what I see accurate – and how do I know?

To be unaware

I have no awareness of my outward beauty. It does not occur to me that I am attractive. A compliment often goes in one ear and out the other, without a second thought. This is not to say that I think that I am unattractive – I am simply ambivalent. I have been told this is better than being arrogant about my looks – I am not so sure! I was recently asked, “If you had to choose between being dumb or being ugly which would you choose?”

I would choose ugly. Hands down.

I place great value on my intelligence and mental aptitude – and next to no value on my physical appearance. I do not know that this is right or wrong, but it is.

The bottomline

I am not overly concerned with my physical appearance – and never have been. I seldom wear makeup. I rarely use a brush or a comb in my hair (lucky, I know!). I do not spend much time or money on my wardrobe.

However, I do have a distorted self-perception. I do not believe that I look fit. I view myself as a ‘big’ girl – with an athletic build. Does this thinking negatively influence my life in ways of which I am not aware?

Today, I am left blogging about questions that I do not have answers to.

Like what you read? Please comment and share below!

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. ~ 1 Peter 3:3-4

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Break through a weight loss plateau with REST

Anyone who has tried to lose weight has experienced a weight loss plateau – large or small. You lose, you lose, you lose – and then it stops. Some times you regain weight that was lost. Sometimes the plateau is a week or two. Other times it lasts months.

Plateaus occur in part because the human body has set points. Your body will reach a new set point approximately every 12 weeks. What does that mean? You can expect a plateau every 12 weeks – if not every six. NOTE: This varies on an individual basis, but these are common benchmarks.

Research shows that we can use plateaus to benefit the long term journey (Fairburn, 2008). The best plan is to be prepared.

Six month rule

For a client who is looking to lose a significant amount of weight (>40% of her bodyweight), I implement a six month rule. We work together to set weekly and monthly short-term goals and six-month, long-term goals. At the six month milestone, all weight goals pertain to weight maintenance.

Yes, maintenance, not loss.

Physiologically, the body has been in a deprived state for a significant amount of time. While the ideal program will have guided you to avoid reaching the physiological starvation mode, at some point your body is going to adapt to the deprivation. NOTE: I do not even like using the word deprivation, as a weight loss that results from deprivation is a band-aid, not a long-term solution. Further, deprivation bares a negative connotation and negativity is detrimental to goal attainment.

Maintenance

After six months of dedication to strict meal planning and lifestyle changes, it is a good idea for you to allow yourself to simply BE. Maintain what you have worked so hard to achieve. Accept it. Appreciate it. Recognize it. At this point on your journey, it may be difficult to see what is real when you look in the mirror – and you may see a previous version of yourself. The phantom fat phenomenon may be preventing you from being able to see your results. This can add discouragement and frustration to a lengthy, taxing process.

I encourage clients to take at least a month to focus on maintenance at the six month mark. During this time goals do not increase physical activity, nor do they change eating habits. Goals focus on the established lifestyle. If a client had previous goals of working out 3 times a week, we retain that goal for the 4 weeks – but we do not reach for more. I do not encourage her to stretch herself. We work to maintain the changes made so far and adopt them as part of a lasting, healthy lifestyle.

If you choose to maintain – you retain the control instead of allowing the plateau to control you.

A time to rest
photo (34)

Sometimes we just need a break. Sometimes you just need to be easy on yourself. You also need to know, that it is OKAY to rest. In fact, you need to rest. Why do most individuals quit weight loss programs?

Grow tired and weary?

The mental fatigue of constantly thinking about what you need to do next?

The lack of results?

We often view the plateau as a failure. Change your thinking and use that time as an opportunity for rest. Rest the mind – knowing that where you are today is better than where you were yesterday. Stop thinking about what you need to do differently or more of this week or next. Just allow yourself to BE.

A time to check in

A plateau is an opportunity to rest. It is also an opportunity to check in with yourself. Be honest.

How are things working?

Are you putting forth enough effort?

Do the workouts fit into your lifestyle as a long-term addition?

Can you maintain the ‘diet’ in the long term?

Are your goals still realistic or do they need to be modified?

Something has got to change

This is the common advice for anyone looking to break through a plateau – you have to change in order to see change. This is true. The human body is highly adaptive – it takes six exposures (give or take) to an exercise before the body adapts to it. What does this mean? You need to change – the load, mode, duration, etc. For once the body adapts, you will no longer obtain results by doing that same thing.

However, it is not that simple. Most individuals who experience significant weight loss followed by a lengthy plateau lost the weight by creating a huge dietary intake deficit. To some of you this may sound good. It can actually be detrimental to long-term success. The result is a slow and groggy metabolism. Sometimes the necessary change is to eat more – revving up that metabolism. Example: I spent a summer working for a weight loss resort, essentially eating what the guests ate. I gained almost 15 pounds – my dietary needs were not being met and it slowed my metabolism WAY down. I lost that weight quickly and easily by eating more.

The bottomline

Plateaus are going to happen. It is best to be prepared for them. There are ways to reduce the frequency of plateaus, using science-based workouts and programming. You will not find this in a DVD or in a standard group fitness class. You will not get this programming from your average personal trainer, either.

My best advice to you – plan for maintenance every 3 to 6 months. Use this time to be proud and regroup. Rejuvinate. Enjoy what you have earned.

If you like what you read, please comment and share below.

References

Cooper, Z., Fairburn, C. G., & Hawker, D. M. (2003). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Obesity: A Clinician’s Guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fairburn, C. G. (2008). Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Eating Disorders. New York: The Guilford Press.

Progress pictures – A good idea?

My answer: it depends. Progress pictures will be good for some individuals and bad for others. It is a question that I have been asking for myself recently – is it good for me – therefore I have been giving the concept a great deal of thought.

I know some individuals who take daily progress pictures. I know that if I took pictures everyday, I would become depressed by the lack of change from one day to the next (or perceived change in the negative direction). I would become overly concerned with my appearance (which is already borderline considering my concern with appearing as if I am someone  who works out). I think that an individual’s mental health, stability, maturity, and so forth have a significant influence on whether or not he/she can healthfully take progress pictures and use them for motivation and/or self improvement.

From a coach and trainer perspective, I encourage clients to take progress pictures every 4 weeks. This is often enough to be a reasonable amount of time to wait. It is long enough to see visual change – in some cases. And this schedule does not create a risk for obsession or unhealthy habit of picture taking. Why do I warn against progress pictures becoming an obsession? Do we need another way and reason to judge our own bodies and appearances?

So yes, I do take progress pictures

I take personal progress pictures. I do this on no specific schedule, just when I think about it. Lately, I have been overall pleased with what I see. Can you say the same? For a short time, I was experiencing anxiety over the imperfections I saw in these pictures. During this time, I was also taking daily progress pictures. I reduced the frequency of my pictures. AND I changed my thinking – seeking the positive aspects of each picture. I am becoming much more lean. When I put pictures from October and today side-by-side the difference is amazing to me. I am down 12-15 pounds, I do not weigh myself often enough to really know, and the difference in my definition is wonderful!

Method for measuring progress

I measure my progress with my physical fitness assessment – performed every 3 months – and progress pictures. I use pictures as part of measuring my progress for numerous reasons. One reason being that I avoid scales and weight goals. I have a history of never being satisfied with my weight. Once I reach the goal, I am continually decreasing my desired weight. This is unnecessary and even detrimental to my efforts.

An important note is that I can wear the same clothes – though they wear differently today than they did then it is not noticeable enough to me. I do not weigh myself. Clothes are not a good measure for me. I need a measure! I need these images to motivate me to keep my diet on track and stay lean. The primary change in recent months has been in eating habits – and slipping into old ways and still fitting into my clothes – that is risky business!

The phantom fat

What I see in the mirror is not real. I see more fat in the mirror than the pictures show. What a relief! I have discussed the realities of phantom fat – despite my awareness of this psychological enigma, it still sneaks up on me! What we see of ourselves is distorted – and this has been highly publicized recently with the Dove Real Beauty Sketches.

There is complex science and psychology behind the differences in how we view ourselves in the mirror versus in pictures – and each one of us has varying discrepancies. These discrepancies are the result of our personal thoughts and feelings. What we see in the mirror is a reflection of what we feel (the Beauty Sketches sort of support this phenomenon, as it is a result of the image we see of ourselves and we most often see ourselves in mirrors).

The bottomline

I am me. You are you. What works for me will not always work for you. And what works for you will not always work for me!

There is no right or wrong, good or bad. Each of us is an individual – making each of our experiences individual. I know others who take daily pictures and thrive. I have learned that daily pictures are detrimental for me. Most times, we need to experiment and learn through trial and error what will work.

An honest battle with body image

I have to be honest. It is irrational, but I have body image issues. As I mentioned in my post on Phantom Fat, I do not always see an accurate image in my reflection – it is sometimes replaced with what it used to be. More often than not, I simply just see the imperfections. As a fitness professional, I hold myself to a high standard – I must be fit, healthy, and essentially perfect. And despite my inspiring level of fitness and athleticism, I beat myself up for my imperfections. I know many of us are guilty of this. And I find that the more I focus on my fitness, the more I am obsessed with attaining the perfect body and the more frustrated I become with what God has given me to work with. So, I need to reign in my thoughts and refocus on my achievement goals.

I was very careful with my 2013 goal selections – focusing on physical achievements over physical appearances. I become frustrated because my appearance does not always display what I feel my fitness is – for example my lack of 6-pack abs. I am probably most insecure about my torso – and genetics, not my strength or effort – are at fault. I would generally advise against placing blame on your genes, but they do control our bodies structure and nutritional needs to a certain degree. My torso, with my rotated rib cage and protruding left side is a sore sight to my eyes. Can I fix that? It is skeletal, it is structural – it is kind of what it is! I also carry my ‘fat’ in my tummy – this is part genetics (my father will tell you that my mother always had a little tummy, too) and part stress. I will need to become EXTREMELY lean before you will see my rectus abdominus. You can, however, see my transverse abdominus and of that I am quite proud. But I desire those 6-pack abs! This is what we are taught to work towards!

6-pack abs = strong core?

Think again. When I get in this dark place of body image, I need to remind myself of the TRUTH. A 6-pack is not representative of a strong core. A 6-pack will not help me with my heavy bag crunches (and I have decided that I can probably do the crunches – I do not have access to a heavy bag and am training with a roman chair).

Core strength and stability is commonly misunderstood. Typically, the core is associated with the abdominal muscles groups and stability is associated with isometric or static strength or the appearance of the 6-pack. The main core muscles include the transverse abdominus, the internal and external obliques, the quadratus lumborum, and the diaphragm – rectus abdominus is a secondary. These muscles work together to protect the contents of the abdominal cavity and provide support to the spine and pelvis during movement. Most individuals – and trainers – miss training the transverse abdominus. Why? Lack of education and awareness. So I will tell you now – get your rotational exercises into your workouts.

Battling with body image

I do not question my strength. I do not question my physical ability. I DO question my physical appearance. I do not ‘measure up’ to the fitness models that I am bombarded with day in and day out. How do I expect to inspire and motivate? I have to remind myself that I am REAL. Fitness models rarely eat – this is a known fact. Competitors and models spend HOURS in the gym each day – while I only workout ONE hour. Lastly,they take supplements and other things that I do not want to think about. I’m natural. I eat real food and take the normal daily supplements.

I am caught up in a weird place. I am not happy with my body as it is. But I do not want to go through the harmful behaviors required to obtain that ‘perfect fitness body.’ I ask myself, if I do 100 situps per day for a month, adding gradual progressions, will I see the results I desire? Actually – been there and done that and the answer is no. What if I ________? Ideas galore, but they are all crazy – literally.

So what needs to change? Something needs to change. It is my mind.

The bottomline

A negative body image is far too common in our culture. I compare myself with others – why can other woman (particularly frustrating when it is women who are less fit than I am) have flat stomachs and I cannot? Well, God made me this way – and that is the truth, not an excuse. The following is an excerpt from a post by Nicole Hawkins, PhD on www.centerforchange.com:

Seven Ways to Overcome Negative Body Image

1. Fight “Fatism”
Work on accepting people of all sizes and shapes. This will help you appreciate your own body. It may be useful to create a list of people who you admire that do not have “perfect” bodies; does their appearance affect how you feel about them? It is also important to remember that society’s standards have changed significantly over the last 50 years. The women that were considered the “ideal beauties” in the 1940’s and 1950’s like Marilyn Monroe (size 14) and Mae West were full-bodied and truly beautiful women, but they would be considered “overweight” by today’s standards.

2. Fight the Diet Downfall
Ninety percent of all women have dieted at some point in their life, and at any one point in time, 50% of women are dieting. Women are two times more likely to diet than men. To dieters’ dismay, 98% of all dieters gain the weight back in five years. Studies also show that 20-25% of dieters progress to a partial or full-blown eating disorder. Women are foolish if they believe that dieting will make them feel better about themselves. Dieting only helps you lose your self-esteem and energy. Dieting also creates mood swings and feelings of hopelessness. If you feel pressure to lose weight, talk to a friend or loved one or seek professional help.

3. Accept Genetics
It is critical to remember that many aspects of your body cannot be changed. Genetics does play a role in your body and at least 25% to 70% of your body is determined by your genes. While there are many aspects of our bodies we cannot change, you can change or modify your beliefs and attitudes which influence the way you feel about yourself. Change starts with you, it is internal and it starts with self-respect and a positive attitude. It is import to focus on health and not size.

4. Understand that Emotions are Skin Deep
It is important to discover the emotions and feelings that underlie your negative body image. The statement “I feel fat” is never really about fat, even if you are overweight. Each time a woman looks at herself in the mirror and says “Gross, I’m fat and disgusting,” she is really saying “There is something wrong with me or with what I’m feeling.” When we do not know how to deal with our feelings we turn to our bodies and blame our bodies for our feelings. Every time you say “I’m fat” you are betraying your body, and you are betraying and ignoring your underlying feelings. Remember that “fat” is never a feeling, it’s avoidance of feelings. Learn to discover your emotions and feelings and realize that focusing on your body is only distracting you from what is “really” bothering you.

5. Question Messages Portrayed in the Media
The media sends powerful messages to girls and women about the acceptability (or unacceptability) of their bodies. Young girls are thought to compare themselves to women portrayed as successful in the media, assessing how closely they match up to the “ideal” body form. Unfortunately, the majority of girls and women (96%) do not match up to the models and actresses presented in the media. The average model is 5’10” and weighs 110 pounds, whereas the average women is 5’4″ and weighs 142 pounds. This is the largest discrepancy that has ever existed between women and the cultural ideal. This discrepancy leads many women and girls to feel inadequate and negative about their bodies. It is important to realize that only 4% of women genetically have the “ideal” body currently presented in the media and the other 96% of women feel they must go to extreme measures to attempt to reach this unobtainable image. Many of the images presented in the media have been computer enhanced and airbrushed. The models’ hips and waists have often been slimmed and their breasts enlarged through computer photo manipulation. Many of the women presented in the media suffer from an eating disorder or have adopted disordered eating behaviors to maintain such low body weights. It is important to start to question images in the media and question why women should feel compelled to “live up” to these unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness.

6. Recognize the Influence of Body Misperception
Women are prone to more negative feelings about their bodies than men. In general, women are more psychologically invested in their physical appearance. Your body image is central to how you feel about yourself. Research reveals that as much as 1/4 of your self-esteem is the result of how positive or negative your body image is. Unfortunately, many women with eating disorders have a larger percentage of their esteem invested in their bodies. Women with eating disorders often exhibit unequivocal body image misperception, in which they misperceive the size of part, or the entire body. Hence they are “blind” to their own figures. This distortion is real and it is not due to “fat,” but to the eating disorder illness. It is important to recognize this misperception and attribute it to the eating disorder. When you feel fat, remind yourself that you misperceive your shape. Judge your size according the opinions of trusted others until you can trust your new and more accurate self-perceptions.

7. Befriend Your Body
It is important to combat negative body image because it can lead to depression, shyness, social anxiety and self-consciousness in intimate relationships. Negative body imagecan also lead to an eating disorder. It is time that women stop judging their bodies harshly and learn to appreciate their inner being, soul, and spirit. A women’s body is a biological masterpiece; women can menstruate, ovulate and create life. Start to recognize you do not have to compare yourself to other women or women in the media. Begin to challenge images presented in the media and realize that your worth does not depend on how closely you fit these unrealistic images.

Some reality of “Phantom Fat”

Perceptions are not always reality. The truth is, I am led to believe that our immediate perceptions are rarely reality – especially our self-perceptions. We do know it is easier to see flaws and concerns from the outside – for example when scrutinizing others’ relationships. How is it that we can wear rose-colored glasses for our relationships, but see ourselves so negatively? A phenomenon that I am sure I will never quite understand.

As a woman who has gone from overweight to athletically fit, I know the struggle of lagging self-perception. If you’ve ever lost a decent amount of weight or significantly altered your appearance, you know what I am talking about. You look in the mirror and you see the “fat girl” you used to be. Then you see a picture of yourself as you are today and you say to yourself, “that cannot be me!”  You might even take that picture over to the mirror and look between the two, baffled. In the end, you walk away from this experience believing that the ‘fat girl’ you saw in the mirror is what is real: An unfortunate and inaccurate self-perception. woman-mirror

Psychology experts have coined this “Phantom Fat” syndrome – likening it to that of the psychological phantom limb theories of pain. If you’ve had it and lost it, you see the fat as still there! It takes time for the mind to catch up to the physical body in this realm – and some individuals need the guidance of a psychologist to address body image concerns if they linger. Those who have lost significant amounts of weight and have excess skin or cellulite are at greater risk of the “Phantom Fat” phenomenon, as the body is often still perceived as far from perfect. Another contributing factor to “Phantom Fat” may be the constant fear of weight regain that so many of us hold onto.

Think back to a romantic relationship that had been scrutinized by others but you perceived to be perfect – after the relationship ended and those rose-colored glasses came off, didn’t you in retrospect see what others saw and realize that you were in a better circumstance out of that relationship? Just as it takes time to grieve the loss of a relationship and get to the stage of acceptance, we often need to grieve the loss of fat. It takes time. Sometimes we wonder if it is worth all the hurt and the pain (e.i., sweat and hunger pains!). The longer the relationship the longer the ‘recovery’ period? The longer you perceived yourself as a “fat girl” the longer it may take recover as see yourself as you really are today.

So I ask this: What is your relationship with your body? This is the most intimate relationship you will ever be in! Your journey may be long – but just like recovering from a heart break – it is SOOOO worth it!