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Body Dysmorphia

by Patrick Reynolds

At Kenzai we aspire to get people beyond "not fat", taking them all the way to optimum health and peak performance. We all know the dangers and health risks of being overweight and under-conditioned, but most people aren't aware of the psychological pitfalls that can await the super-fit. If you've ever trained hard, with absolute dedication to the cause, you've definitely experienced the mental disorder known as body dysmorphia. Let's break it down.

Body Dysmorphia

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental illness in which the sufferer perceives his or her body to be unusually flawed, ugly, or in need of fixing. The most well-known example is a severely anorexic girl, all skin and bones, who looks in the mirror and says "Ugh, I'm so fat... it's hideous." She's not just saying that. Her body dysmorphia is so strong that she literally can't see her ribs and hip bones sticking out. She just sees a girl who needs to lose more fat.

Body dysmorphia creeps up on people in serious training. When you first start getting in shape, you're thrilled by all the changes. You might happily tell your friends "I can see a line where my abs are!" But the harder you work, the higher you set the bar for yourself. And where you were once happy with a little ab shadow, you're now want to see each ab outlined completely. So you nail your diet and do your workouts, and now you can see your individual abs. But by that point you've moved the goalposts. You want to see each ab carved out, so that you can dig your fingers between each lump. You get to that goal and by then you're not satisfied with the 6-pack, you want the elusive 8-pack, and so on.

Somewhere in that progression you've lost perspective on why you wanted abs in the first place. Visible abs means your body fat is nice and low, and that your diet and exercise are on point. If you forget that and keep on carving out your abs obsessively, you'll ironically become less healthy overall as your body fat plummets into the single digits. You'll tire easily, have trouble thinking clearly, and of course won't have a lot of friends because you're a fitness-obsessed weirdo.

Body dysmorphia isn't just about fat loss. A lot of men get dysmorphic about the size of their musculature. They're never satisfied with their gains, they keep pushing the envelope of what the human body can do, and when they hit those limits they exceed it by juicing with steroids. There's even a classic bodybuilding saying, "The day you enter the gym is the day you become forever small." (Bro Science star Dom Mazzetti [played by Mike Tornabene] outlined this process hilariously in the video Evolution of the Lifting Man. Warning: extremely crass) 

Almost everyone who trains hard suffers from mild body dysmorphia. When you're working everyday on your body, you spend a lot of time evaluating progress in the mirror. You get to know all the nooks and crannies of your physique, and as the body fat drops and the muscle tones up, you discover parts that you don't like. Everyone has an area of their body that stubbornly holds on to fat, and certain muscles that resist gaining size and shape. The problem comes when you ONLY see those problem spots and are blind to the body as a whole. To make matters worse, you walk around all day noticing the people who have the features you want, ignoring the fact that they too have less than perfect areas.

Here's an example from my own life. Below is a photo from a deep fat cut I went through during a training cycle. Pretty good, right?

I should've been pleased, but I remember when this photo was taken, I was so tunneled in that all that I really noticed was the dead-zone of skin which I always have due to the narrow width of my abdominals. What am I talking about? This.

I hated how I could never get any change from that part of my body. I kept cutting fat, trawled internet forums, and added a bunch of oblique exercises, all to no avail. It all seems pretty silly now, but at the time it was driving me nuts. Eventually an experienced fitness friend of mine explained that I was exhibiting symptoms of body dysmorphia and needed to get some perspective. (I think the actual advice was "chill the fuck out bro.")

And just like that, the spell was broken. That's the power of giving a name to the phenomenon. You instantly get out of your head and see that you're being kind of ridiculous. For anyone dealing with mild body dysmorphia, the cure is knowledge.

Knowledge that it's a normal thing, it happens to everyone, and that you can opt out of it. Dragging your body dysmorphia out into the light weakens and eventually kills it. And you can get back to the important things in life.

If your diet is tight and your workouts are consistent you've earned the right to chill out about your physical imperfections. Going down the dark tunnel of body dysmorphia will squander all the satisfaction and happiness you worked so hard for. And what's the point of being in shape if it doesn't result in a happier life?

For anyone dealing with mild body dysmorphia, the cure is knowledge. 

Kenzai members, if you've got your own story of body dysmorphia tell us about it in the comment section! The more we bring it out into the open the less power it will have!


Image credit: 'ello 'ello 'ello by Jes

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