What is ‘Body Dysmorphia’??

Steph Wagner

September 11, 2014

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What is Body Dysmorphia after Weight Loss Surgery

If you are a postop weight-loss surgery patient, you may have heard the term “Body Dysmorphia.” If you haven’t heard of this term, you will quickly know what it is as I describe it to you.

The Mayo Clinic® has defined “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” as this:

a type of chronic mental illness in which you can’t stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance – a flaw that is either minor or imagined. But to you, your appearance seems so shameful that you don’t want to be seen by anyone.

After weight-loss surgery, I see my patients struggle with ‘body dysmorphia.’ Often my patients are not used to the changes their bodies are going through. Clothes shopping has become more stressful than before. Out of habit you may go to the women’s section of the department store you when you no longer need larger sizes.

s180828918You may look in the mirror and swear to yourself “I don’t notice a difference” when in fact, you’ve lost over fifty pounds! Comments from family, friends or co-workers that are meant to be compliments make you feel really uncomfortable. You don’t accept the compliments but instead make an excuse as to why you can’t receive what they are saying. “I have so much farther to go…” 

You check your reflection obsessively OR

You avoid mirrors altogether.

You feel more self conscious than ever before. I feel like I’m always on display…
When you feel preoccupied about how you look, it’s so hard to be present in the moment you find yourself in. You lose out on a great conversation or a social event. You feel a little withdrawn because you’re too distracted about how you look. It can create stress on relationships with family and friends. They may grow frustrated with you because you don’t believe them when they
tell you how good you look. 

Isn’t it a little on the funny side that we want weight off AS FAST AS POSSIBLE, and yet when the weight comes off so fast, our minds can’t keep up with the changes and we mentally struggle in a whole new way?? We spent time dreaming about what it would feel like to be smaller, and then fight a whole new mess of emotions when in fact…you are smaller. What the heck?!

My first encouragement to you is to remember that your family and friends love you, because you’re YOU. They’ve never thought of you as how you looked but how special you are to them. Receive their compliments kindly and use phrases like “thank you for saying that” or “that’s always great to hear!” But avoid rejecting the compliment altogether. Even if you are struggling to see what they see, you will both feel better if you respond kindly and receive their words.

My second encouragement is to take a break from your scale. Chances are if you are struggling with some body dysmorphic symptoms you are weighing yourself too often and putting a lot of focus on your weight. How did I know?? I’ve been specializing in weight-loss surgery since 2009. I see patients all day, every week…and I see who struggles with these feelings. Obsession leads to anxiety. It never leaves you feeling better or more successful. The best thing you can do for yourself is 1) step away from the scale 2) move your mind to new things.

mirror-on-faceSupport groups (both online and in person) are a wonderful too but avoid comparison at all costs. Comparison is toxic and will never lead to anyone feeling better. Your journey is your journey. Be excited for others and celebrate in their victory! Remind yourself often to chose gratefulness and remember how far you have come. If you find yourself looking in the mirror so often you feel embarrassed, chose an accountability partner and share this with them. Make a strong effort to walk past mirrors, put away mirrors in your home that aren’t necessary and tell yourself it’s time to move on. If you find yourself avoiding mirrors, spend a moment in the mirror in the morning and say out loud a scripture or an encouragement to yourself.

When it comes to shopping, ask yourself a question. Will I have a more enjoyable time shopping by myself or with a close friend/loved one? It is absolutely okay if you would
rather go alone. You can utilize a clerk at the store to grab different sizes but can spend some quiet time figuring out your bodies and new clothes. For others, a best friend would be more comforting in that situation. Ask yourself which  you feel is best for you. If you aren’t sure, go alone once and go with a  friend once. Figure out which is the best scenario for your success.

If you feel issues with ‘body dysmorphia’ are getting extreme and keeping you from social settings or hindering your relationships, I strongly encourage you to find a counselor in your area. If possible, find someone who has worked with bariatric surgery patients in the past. Either way, find someone you feel comfortable with who can coach you through a healthy emotional journey to health.

I urge you to put some time/energy/effort into finding a healthy balance with your weight-loss progress. Body image issues aren’t fun ever whether it’s when you are at your heaviest or at your smallest in years. One of my biggest goals for my weight-loss surgery patients is to establish a healthy relationship with food. Struggling with body image issues makes it difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with food, your body and even with those around you. Put some time aside for soul searching on where you need to make peace with yourself.

As a believer in Christ, I recommend choosing scriptures to stand on to guide you through your journey.

I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Psalm 139:14

You created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31

Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Our worth is not in our bodies. Our worth is not in other people’s view of us. Our worth is found in our creator and our savior Christ Jesus. He created you, he died for you, and he will never leave you or forsake you! (Deuteronomy 31:6)


– Steph

2 thoughts on “What is ‘Body Dysmorphia’??”

  1. Thank you for sharing this…I have had WLS in Feb of this year. I started at 150kg and after six months I have lost 50kgs. I feel that I have lost a little bit but nothing substantial. I still have about 30 kgs to lose. I weigh myself about 5 times a day. (Eg. Before I go to the toilet then after) I don’t like the fact that I am no longer ‘Invisible’ People look and I do worry that my hair is not tidy or my makeup is messy. I have to plan way ahead what I am going to wear and often try several outfits on before I settle that I look ‘ok’ I am size 18 now and today I wore size 24 leggings to work and spent the whole day pulling them up. When one of the girls at work looked at them, she said “They are way too big-why did you wear them?” I said “Because they are mine..”..This story of yours is the truth and it is sooo right…I often want my fat ‘shell’ back cos I was safe then. Trouble was- my ‘shell’ was killing me….Thank You

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