Dealing With Body Dysmorphia
Body dysmorphia is defined as a focus on perceived flaws in one’s appearance. Often these flaws are exaggerated in the mind of the patients and may be unnoticeable to others. In the most extreme of cases, this can reach the level of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). BDD is so severe that the embarrassment or anxiety about one’s physical flaws causes them to avoid social situations altogether.
Body dysmorphia exists for some who are on the journey toward significant weight loss. The very nature of weight loss surgery (and the diet and activity changes that come with it) patients will naturally become more focused on their physicality. They will be closely monitoring food intake, exercise, weight, measurements, etc. The focus is literally on improving one’s physical body. Given those circumstances, it is not a big leap to enter into body dysmorphia territory if left unchecked.
Body dysmorphia can manifest differently at different stages of the weight loss process. During the early stages, patients may experience anxiety if their weight plateaus for several days, or slightly increases at times. These fluctuations are normal and to be expected but nonetheless can cause a lot of distress. During the latter stages of weight loss, patients may become self-conscious about excess skin. They may see it as more severe and unsightly than it appears to others.
Battling body dysmorphia involves a multi-faceted approach. Patients should be educated about what to expect. If they know from the outset that weight fluctuations are normal, it can lessen many of their anxieties. Counseling and/or support groups can also be beneficial. Patients can learn to reframe their perspective. Instead of seeing loose skin as an unsightly reminder of their previous weight, it can be viewed as tangible evidence of their hard work and success. Body positivity exercises can help increase mindfulness and self-acceptance. Education about body dysmorphia itself is also helpful. Knowing that this is a common pitfall may help patients self-identify if they are becoming preoccupied to an unhealthy degree.
If this sounds familiar, don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional. You may feel like this is a failure, but it most certainly isn’t. In fact, getting help is very much a success after bariatric surgery.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of body dysmorphia, know that there are resources available to you. Tell your doctor or therapist so that they can help get you connected to the right resources. Remember, weight loss surgery is just as much a mental transformation as a physical one! To be successful, both mind and body need to be healthy.
Amy is a 39-year-old gastric sleeve patient of Dr. Tsuda, living In Las Vegas, NV. She is almost 2 years post-op and has lost over 145 pounds. Through this weight loss journey, Amy has discovered a passion for health and fitness. Now, she enjoys sharing her experiences to help others on their own journeys.