Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Why Don't I Recognize Myself At All: A Personal Narrative on Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Self-Image Issues
This post is going to be more of a narrative than an information-based article, just FYI. I find that during my worst moments I am able to feel at peace when reading someone’s story as opposed to cold, hard, facts, so hopefully this helps at least one person! Also, it’s good to know that others (namely, me!) have struggles and that a health journey is full of ups and downs and zig-zags and loop-dee-loops (sp? Haha…).
Imagine waking up one morning, looking in the mirror, and not recognizing the person staring back at you. Even worse, picture not wanting to look in the mirror because you are so disgusted with your appearance. Well, since dealing with heavy metal toxicity, adrenal fatigue, hormonal imbalances, an autoimmune disease, etc. my physical appearance has crumbled before my eyes. It has taken me over two years to be okay with looking in the mirror, taking selfies, getting my picture taken at all, and feeling confident in how I look.
Yet, it doesn’t take a myriad of chronic illnesses to make us feel this way. Plenty of people obsess over their physical flaws and experience Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) (“BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one's appearance” (adaa.org, 2015). So, I hope in reading a chapter of my story, or rather the sharing of my thoughts, that you can feel less alone and hopeful in our never ending quest to loving ourselves.
I’m going to take us through a little timeline of when my BDD began and what it escalated into and where I’m at today with everything. I’ll try to keep this as concise as possible…
For those of you who know my health story, you know that birth control has never been kind to me. I started taking the pill in high school, and was met with continuous spotting, which caused me to switch my prescription. The next pill made me gain crazy amounts of weight and gave me cystic acne, but I also had beautiful hair for about six months or so.
I ended up switching to Yaz because I heard that it helped with acne. This was true, as my skin was blemish free for the entire time I was on it (except for this one time where I was really stressed and ate copious amounts of gluten and dairy products and drank myself into a beer-induced coma… anyway…), but my hair started falling out in handfuls. I went from a full head of hair to not even being able to straighten it because it was super thin, greasy, and lifeless.
I had no clue what to do. I didn’t want to leave the house, I would have panic attacks and break downs over my appearance, I became depressed, and spent HOURS obsessing over how to fix my problem. That’s when I came across information stating that birth control could cause your hair to fall out because of hormonal imbalances. Flash forward to me getting an IUD because it was “hormone-free.” As you can see, I based my entire decision on purely vain reasons – karma kicked me in the butt for that one!
With the IUD in my appearance (in my eyes) was completely destroyed. I gained close to 40 lbs. and couldn’t fit into any of my clothes (yet refused to buy new clothes because God forbid I had to go up in sizes or go into a dressing room), I had cystic acne all over my body, my face looked like a giant tomato all the time, my hair actually started falling out even more to the point where I could only wear it up, and I lost all my muscle mass that I worked so hard to build from high school throughout my senior year of college.
I was literally devastated. I avoided mirrors, didn’t want my picture taken by anyone under any circumstances, and felt worthless. I took advantage of my appearance before this point in time, and I was truly paying for it.
When I finally got the IUD out I made it my mission to lose the weight and figure out my acne issues (I had since given up on my hair – it’s fine, that’s what wigs are for am I right?). I saw immediate success with my weight, but my acne has stuck around for upwards of three years and continues to drive me crazy to this day if I let it.
As I read the description of BDD, it is me to a T when it comes to my skin: avoiding mirrors, constantly comparing my skin to other people’s, picking at my face, continually staring at blemishes in the mirror, and thinking about it during all waking hours. I was consumed by each and every blemish that popped up on my face to the point where I couldn’t think straight. Just like with my hair, I would work myself up so much that I would have an anxiety attack and completely shut down.
I have spent hours (probably more to be honest, I'll have to conduct a study... ;-)) crying over my skin, avoiding selfies/pictures with my friends (because I would actually feel nauseous when I would see myself on camera… oh Julie…), not letting a loved one kiss my face or touch my skin; I essentially built a wall around me because I felt disgusting and unpretty. Yet, thankfully, my obsessive behaviors are productive at times, and the research that I continuously conduct has led me to clearer skin through dietary changes, supplement implementation, and hormonal balancing... finally (I will post about this at some point in time – it’s more useful than this rambling haha)!
Even so, I have slip ups, whether it’s taking a supplement that messes with my hormones, eating food that I’m intolerant to,
attempting to celebrate my thesis defense by drinking wine, etc.
and without pause, up pops a cyst, and my anxiety skyrockets.
If I could, I would put a paper bag over my head on those days,
because I feel so vulnerable and yucky.
And while my skin is looking better and better lately, I am still hesitant to look myself square in the mirror because of acne scarring (my new hurdle to tackle… more on this at a later date!). There are still days where I feel so ugly that I don’t want to leave the house, or I think that my skin is never going to heal, but there are more and more days where I feel beautiful and I tell myself that. Out loud. Multiple times (it’s a funny image right? But sometimes you just need to compliment yourself and give yourself credit, because you are beautiful ;-)).
I have learned to self-love through my health pitfalls, because that was the only way I was going to get through. I’m not perfect with it, but I’m getting better with each and every day, and that’s all I can ask for. I must learn to be patient, as I am healing from so many ailments, both physical and mental. I grew up hating who I was, and now I am on a journey to self-love and acceptance all because of a t-shaped copper device… who would have thought?
Next week I will be giving you all a nice comprehensive list on how to learn to self-love during times of physical despair, so be on the lookout for that. In the mean time, try to compliment yourself at least once a day and truly believe those words if you can <3
Until next time!
It's Your Party, But I'll Eat What I Want To! Tips and Tricks to Surviving Social Events On A "Diet"
The weather is getting nicer, summer is upon us, and that can only mean one thing (well, probably more than one thing, but anyway…) picnics, cookouts, and social gatherings, oh my! While these soirees should induce happiness, they can make us experience some worry if we are currently on a diet or trying to avoid certain food groups. The opportunities to have a slip-up are seemingly insurmountable, as who wants to turn down Aunt Mary’s seven-layer taco dip, Grandma Helen’s magical peanut butter cookies, or mountains of pizza and wings?
I know that family functions and social gatherings were really difficult for me when I was first starting out with my new “diet” (first I went gluten free, then GF + dairy free, and I finally built up to the autoimmune paleo diet). Picture me posted up in front of the cheese platter shoving Pepper Jack by the handful into my face. I was supposed to be avoiding dairy at that point in time, but I had no self-control.
When I was able to exert some willpower, it all went out the window as soon as someone would press me about turning down food. I never thought I would be peer pressured into eating pasta salad, but low and behold, there I was, eating food off my plate knowing that my stomach would hate me for it moments later.
Looking back, there were a number of things I could have done in these scenarios to avoid feeling bloated, getting cystic acne flare-ups, brain fog, etc. Thankfully, I’ve figured out a good system to navigating fun events that are centered around food so I don’t have to miss out on the party and also won’t spend the rest of my evening in the bathroom as a result (sorry, it’s nearly impossible for me to go a post without making some toilet joke/reference ;-)).
Even if you don’t need to avoid certain foods like I do, I’ve witnessed countless people strolling into work after a holiday weekend upset about their food choices at the 4th of July party or graduation celebration. So, it might be advantageous to keep reading so you can feel proud of your choices and feel empowered as well!
Without further ado, here is my crash course to surviving parties, picnics, cookouts, and more!
1) See what food other people are bringing to the event/what the host(ess) has planned for the menu.
2) Bring your own food to the partayyy – food that is just for you to eat so you don’t have to worry about being hungry at all.
3) Make a dish that you can share with other people so that they can have a taste (ha ha ha) of what types of food you can eat.
4) Mentally prepare before you get to the party and come up with goals for yourself.
5) You may even want to practice what saying “no” looks like so that you feel confident in that script.
NEWSFLASH: not everyone who turns down food is doing so because they want to be ~skinny~. Some of us truly cannot tolerate certain foods, so show us some compassion or understanding please :-)
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you out as the party invitations start rolling in. Some of these notions are pretty self-explanatory and maybe obvious, but it does take some time to get in the habit of enacting them! At the very least, just know you always have my support in deviating from the norm when it comes to dining etiquette during the holidays (LORD the number of comments I got from some family members when I whipped out purple potato hummus…) and other functions.
Any of my readers have suggestions that can help us stick to our guns and feel comfortable in these settings? Let me know in the comments section!
Until next time!
Hi all! I have to apologize for neglecting my blog, as things have been pretty hectic with graduating, finishing up my independent study, and starting a new job. So, I haven't been generating too much content. Here is an old post that I wrote for Loudspeaker (click to check out my pal Chandler's blog/organization - it's good stuff!) on how to decipher ingredient labels. Read on for more, and I hope to get back to my regular schedule (recipes on Sunday and informational posts on Wednesday) this upcoming week. Thanks for being patient :-)
Have you ever experienced a food baby? You know, when you look about six months pregnant after eating a big meal (and believe me, birthing your double bacon cheeseburger and onion ring love child is certainly not as rewarding as the miracle that is child birth). Well, the same thing can happen if you don’t pay attention to ingredient labels on pre-packaged foods, which I’ve learned the hard way.
Since giving up gluten and dairy, I’ve had to read over ingredient labels to evade consuming additives that make me look comparable to Big Bertha (you know, the arcade game where you threw plastic balls into Bertha’s mouth as she yelled “FEED ME, FEED ME!”. That was my favorite game, so it’s no wonder I eat three jars of almond butter a week… anyway, I digress) and I’m still in the process of educating myself on what to avoid to this day.
Even if you aren’t looking out for certain allergens, it is highly beneficial to know what ingredients are in the food that you eat, because in today’s world food can contain harmful substitutes, additives, and chemicals (oh my!) that make you feel yucky and bloated, and diminish your health all the same.
Before delving into certain types of ingredients that you should avoid, let’s go over some general tips and tricks to deciphering this whole label reading process. For starters, if there are ingredients that you aren’t able to pronounce (unless if phonetics just aren’t your thing) or aren’t familiar with, you should put the package down. This typically means that the product contains an unnatural ingredient that isn’t the best for human consumption.
Placement of ingredients on the label is also important, as “ingredients are listed in descending order by proportion or quantity” (Hyman, 2012; Wilder, 2012). Therefore, if you were buying salsa, you’d want tomatoes, onions, and peppers as the first ingredients on the label, because that would mean that the product has more natural ingredients as opposed to preservatives and additives.
Another rule of thumb is, as the ingredient list gets longer, the less healthy that product is (unless if you’re buying a pre-packaged salad with lots of veggies in it, that’s definitely an exception to the rule!) (Hyman, 2012). Some people suggest not buying anything that has over five ingredients, but that may be hard to start off with at first. Remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint (yes, I already used that analogy in a previous post, but I think it’s appropriate. Or maybe it’s an all-night bender, not a power-hour… no, that’s definitely worse), but these few tips will have you well on your way to buying healthier pre-packaged foods in no time!
Here’s an example of what I mean…
Now that we have a better idea of where to start when checking out a label, it’s time to tackle additives and substitutes, because doing so will make for a happier and healthier you! But before I dive in here, I will warn you that avoiding all of the ingredients I’m about to mention might knock out a good portion of your current diet. Fortunately, there are typically healthy versions of whatever snack you love (and if not, it’s okay to splurge or treat yourself here and there).
Anything with high-fructose corn syrup should be avoided, as it is a liquid sugar that your body quickly burns, and may contain mercury (heavy metals = BAD!). High-fructose corn syrup provides your body with no nutritional value yet slows down your metabolism and makes it easy to put on weight (Dolson, 2014).
The same thing goes for anything that has hydrogenated tacked on to its name. This means that the product includes trans fats and vegetable oils, which are very susceptible to turning rancid at room temperature (Hyman, 2012). Therefore, the food is already damaged goods on the shelves at your local grocery store, and when you eat these products, free radicals will find their way into your body.
Another ingredient to be wary of is highly refined cooking oils, such as corn, soy, safflower, etc. These oils can cause inflammation in your body, among other effects (more on that at a later point in time!), but it is best to use olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, etc.
Lastly, (at least last in this post, there is still more to be covered, but information overload doesn’t help anyone), artificial sweeteners of all kinds should be avoided: aspartame, Splenda, sucralose, and sugar alcohols (but again, cheat here and there, because we all need a drink to celebrate various birthdays and holidays with a nice cold brewski or vino, especially ones involving romance… blech). As Dr. Hyman notes in his 2012 article, “they make you hungrier, slow your metabolism, give you bad gas, and make you store belly fat.” I don’t know about you, but none of those side effects sound desirable to me, especially as bathing suit season is upon us.
While there is some solid information in this post (not to toot (speaking of gas…) my own horn here), I urge you to be an informed consumer and take to Google, the classroom, your library, or whatever other medium speaks to you the most. Do some exploring and see what else is out there to further educate your noggin’. Challenge yourself to read more labels each time you go to the grocery store (if you’re like me, that’s at least three times a week. Oh God, I’m turning into my mother).
Most importantly, maybe you have some tips of your own or exciting information to share with the masses — please leave a comment if you do! I’m always down to learn more, and the ultimate goal is to use information to heal as many people as possible.
Dolson, Laura. “How To Read a Nutrition Label.” Weblog post. About.com Low Carb Diets. N.p., 16 May 2014. Web. 10 June 2014.
Hyman, Mark. “10 Rules to Eat Safely for Life (and What to Remove From Your Kitchen).” Web blog post. The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 04 Feb. 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.
Wilder, Andrew. “Really Reading the Ingredients.” Weblog post. Attune Foods Daily Digest. N.p., 17 May 2012. Web. 10 June 2014.