When you stand in the front of the mirror, who do you see?
When we talk weight loss, we tend to focus on the physical: a declining number on the scale, a smaller waist size in the jeans, and all sorts of concrete, measurable stats. We rely on these numbers to monitor our progress, to keep us going through plateaus, and to have visible proof of our success.
But what about the person inside the body? What about our perception of ourselves — of our physical form — when we’re standing in front of the mirror wearing nothing but a smile?
The body image, I’ve discovered, is harder to change than the body itself.
That’s a sad truth, and it’s something I bet I’m not alone in having struggled with for years.
I’m an easy-going guy, for the most part, and not normally the type to carry the kind of secret, aching problems you read about in romance novels. So when a friend (jokingly!) accused me of hiding some deep emotional scars inside my heart, I had to stop a moment and see if I could even find anything.
Well. I did.
I’ve lost weight. I know that, and I’ve heard enough kind words from friends and readers to realize that I’m in dramatically better shape than ever before. I love that. My transformation is an accomplishment that I take a lot of pride in, and it’s a driving force in both my blogging here and my quest to challenge conventional wisdom regarding health and nutrition.
Sometimes, though, I still feel fat. Sometimes, though, I have to remind myself that I’m not the chubby one anymore.
Let me the be the first to admit, then, that my body image isn’t the absolute best it can — it should — be.
I still cringe when I see my reflection in a window. I still sigh and avert my eyes whenever I get a full glimpse of myself in photos. Not always, sure, and maybe not even that often, but I still have a tendency to beat myself up over how big I look. It’s a weird thought, and one I can usually ignore, but it still feeds into the bigger issues of body image I’ve been dealing with ever since I was a (overweight, glasses-sporting) kid.
But what about you?
Have you ever stood in front of the mirror and sighed, unhappy with your body even when every sign suggests you’re in the best shape of your life? Have you ever been reluctant to take your shirt off at the beach even when you know you’re in better form than the average guy or girl strolling along the sand? Have you ever had to take a moment to remind yourself that you look different now, and that you look and feel so much better than ever before?
I have. And while I’m (openly!) more vain than the average person, I doubt I’m alone in saying this.
So what can we do? When the body is lean, strong and fit, how can we fix the body image that comes with it? How, when the signs are all around us, can we overcome our body image issues and really, truly recognize how far we’ve come?
I have a few ideas. I use them myself on a regular basis, and while I still doubt myself on occasion, they’ve done a lot to gently change my perception of a subject very near and dear to my heart: me.
1. Break the scale!
I don’t know how much I weigh.
That’s a weird thing to realize. Sure, I have a general idea of where I’m at, but I’ve made a conscious effort to not know anything more. I don’t have a bathroom scale, I don’t try to find one in the rare moment I step into a gym, and I’ve been known to plug my ears and say “la, la, la” whenever the doctor tries to weigh me (that one might not be true).
Why do all this?
Weight is a useless number. And — this sounds dramatic, but bear with me — I think it’s one of the most damaging stats you can try and keep track of during your journey to better health.
Here’s the thing: weight fluctuates. Water retention can bump that number up and down on a daily basis, so it’s not unusual to find yourself — especially if you adopt a Paleo style of eating — five pounds lighter seemingly overnight. If you remember that fact, and realize too that the number on the scale has really no bearing whatsoever on how you look and feel, then I’d say go for it — hop on and hop off freely!
Most people can’t make that claim, however. Most people step on in the morning, see a number that’s higher than they like, and watch the rest of their day — let alone how they perceive themselves in the mirror — rapidly take a turn for the worse.
Drop the scale. Donate it, sell it, do whatever you need to do — just get rid of the stupid thing and make a vow to remove the number obsession as much as possible from your daily routine. And when you do? You might be surprised, I think, at what you’re left with: a body image determined solely by what you see staring back in the mirror. Even that isn’t a perfect system, I’ll admit, but it’s a huge step forward from letting some arbitrary number get inside your head.
2. Find your jeans!
There’s an old pair of jeans that I never really wear anymore.
That might offend your minimalist sensibilities, but there’s a pretty good reason to keep it around: comparison. Even before I gained all the weight, this pair of jeans fit just a little too snugly. It goes without saying that I had to retire them to my closet during my final year of college. A few weeks back, however, I dug them out of the closet and decided to try them on.
They were loose. I can’t even describe the shock I felt when they slid on easier than they had even when I’d first purchased them years ago. This ratty pair of jeans, in a strange way, might have had the largest impact on how I perceive myself.
I look in the mirror, sure, and see improvement. I can always take a glance at my before and after photos, too, to get a great sense of how much has changed. Even those two methods, however, can get bogged down with doubt, and here again the jeans come in handy: I can’t deny them.
My mind literally cannot complain about how well these old jeans fit me now. Sliding them on leaves no doubt whatsoever that I’ve dramatically changed my body, and seeing how they look in the mirror has left a huge mark on how I perceive my body ever since.
Find your pair of jeans. Find a piece of clothing that you remember being able to wear before you put on weight, and use that as a means of comparison as you progress with your weight loss. It’s easy to doubt how far you’ve come, but the way that clothing fits on your body doesn’t leave a lot of room for interpretation — and certainly no room for that nagging little voice to pop up and start downplaying how much your body has changed for the better.
3. Share a picture (or two)!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting everyone throw pictures of themselves (in various stages of undress) online. I’m still a little embarrassed that I did it, but enough time has passed where I can say that I’m glad I did it, too.
But maybe I was lucky. The Internet giveth and taketh away, and I’d hate to encourage someone to do the before and after photo shoot and invite any kind of troll into the comment section of their post. That said, I think it’s a worthwhile step to take if you can find the right community to work with — and, if you’re into the Primal/Paleo thing as much as I am, I can already name one group of people worth checking out.
The Success Stories forum (or, more specifically, the “Before and after pics” thread) over at Mark’s Daily Apple is one such place. It’s an inspiring thread to read, of course, but the real value is in the community — the hundreds of people who frequent that forum and genuinely work to encourage each other as they all progress towards better health.
If you’re willing to try it, putting up before and after photos in that thread might be one of the best things you can do. You’ll get honest feedback from people who understand better than most how difficult it can be to lose weight, and you’ll also get a second set of eyes on something the first set tends to criticize more often than it should.
4. Be kind to yourself!
One more time: be kind. Be nice to yourself each time you look in the mirror, and strive to remember, each time, that good health isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity — it’s a life-long pursuit. You need to remember, accordingly, to observe how you look (and how much you’ve progressed) over time, not just on a daily basis.
Remember: weight fluctuates. Especially now that I’m inching closer to a six-pack (the Ab Quest is going strong!), I find myself far more sensitive to any slight variations in how I look — to the point where I can find myself feeling down for not being at the level of leanness I want. This, I suspect, is not healthy behavior.
When this happens, though, I do one thing: stop. I take a step back from the mirror, unfocus my eyes a little bit, and try to see the bigger picture — the slimmer, leaner person in front of me, the guy who is in the best shape of his life. Sure, I’m not exactly where I want to be yet, but that’s no reason to forget just how far I’ve come.
Don’t forget that. Be kind to yourself whenever those body image issues rear their ugly head, and make every effort to remember the changes you’ve already made in your life. Doing this has helped tremendously in the slow process of coming to accept my body for what it is — a huge improvement in every possible way, and one that I should always be proud of.
Wrapping It Up
It’s a long process.
Again: changing the body image is harder than changing the body itself. I don’t know when, yet, but I sincerely believe there will be a time when I’m fully comfortable with my body — or at least comfortable enough to not hesitate for a second before running half-naked around the beach. That’s the sad product of many years as the “fat kid,” I guess, but there’s a silver lining, too: it’s a goal to work toward.
And not just for me, either. You want to be healthy. You want to be lean. But you want to recognize that you are those things whenever you look in the mirror, too, and you know that’ll happen eventually. You just need to give it time. Time, patience, and plenty of understanding, all three of which are incredibly important as you steadily approach strong, vibrant health.
Thanks so much for reading!
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