Updated: Oct 6, 2019
Read onwards for Coach Jordans amazing thoughts and his own personal story with Body Dysmorphia. Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia are not a one size fits all problem.
It has been no secret that I have been focusing on my nutrition and fitness over the past few months. With the changes in these things I have been noticing some changes in my physique. I have also been getting some comments on my current physique. While I appreciate all this it does bring me back to a time where even a nice comment on my physique would upset me. What if I told you I have never truly been happy in regards to my body. What if I told you that I never really liked looking in the mirror with my shirt off, or the embarrassment I had in the change room before of after a workout. What if I told you body image isn't just a women's problem? It has taken me a few weeks trying to finish this post. There have been a lot of breaks and days where I didn't even what to finish this post. But, I'm glad I did finish it. So, here is my story on body dysmorphia and some background on what body dysmorphia is.
I think it is common to think that only women focus so much on their appearance. It is also common to think that the only men that really care about their appearance and can suffer from body dysmorphia are gay men or men who do not identify as straight. This is very far from the truth. Whether you have been unhappy with your skin, hair, face, body or genitalia you have experienced some sort of body dysmorphia.
Studies have found that there is the same percentage of men as women that are unhappy with how they look (Phillips & Castle, 2001). The studies that I got this data from however, were all from the early 2000's! The men to women ratio could easily be very different now. Body dysmorphia has been found to cause severe distress or impairment in functioning. Men are often preoccupied with their skin, (acne or scaring), hair, nose, body or genitals (Phillips & Castle, 2001). Many men spend a significant amount of time mirror checking, comparing themselves with others, camouflaging (hiding acne for example), reassurance seeking, and excessive grooming (Phillips & Castle, 2001). One of the most recognized body dysmorphic problem that occurs almost exclusively in men is muscle dysmorphia (Phillips & Castle, 2001).
So, why now? Why write this and post this now? Well, this can get a bit long! I mean most people's stories are! For me I have been doing a lot of reflection over the past while. Partly due to me trying to incorporate more mental health practices in my life and also due to some big changing that have been happening and are going to be happening in my life in the next few month.
With my physique changing recently due to me really focusing on my nutrition and training my mind has been going back to a time where these physique changes were everything to me! Some habits that I had could definitely be classified as body dysmporhia, anorexia and bulimia.
Growing up I was skinny. I mean imagine me skinnier that I am now! I think growing up teenagers experience a lot of hardships through puberty, I know I did. Being skinny and never being able to gain weight or muscle exposed me to symptoms of muscle dysmorphia. What we don't realize is the effect words and the media can have. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, "wow, your too skinny", "you need to eat more", "you looked good when you lifted weights". The thing is hearing those things for the first time may not have had a huge effect. But hearing them all the time for years from friend, and family, when you are already not feeling great about yourself is where a problem can start. Especially in your teenage years. I think the thing that sucked the most was that I knew all those things. I knew I didn't really like looking in the mirror with my shirt off. I Know that feeling lasted up to a few month ago, and I'm 24 now. That's a long time to have feelings like that!
When I first decided I wanted to change and look differently was the same time I first started my undergrad degree. It was when I first started CrossFit. It was also when things just progressed and got worse. I definitely compared myself to others. Shopping in stores like Hollister, Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle with shirtless males definitely did not help. Seeing muscular men looking a certain way in clothing and wanting too look like that was not healthy. Especially not really understanding things like the power of Photoshop! Fast forward to my early 20's starting CrossFit and working out routinely for the first time in my life. Watching the CrossFit games and seeing the athletes shirtless, ripped with what seemed like no body fat or skinniness definitely made things worse before they got better.
When you constantly see things in the media like this and already have body image problems there is definitely going to be some negative effects. Even without body image problems it can definitely cause some self doubt. Looking at shredded men in magazines with tittles "build your beach body" or images of only big muscular men in pages of men's health giving the illusion you need bodies like this to be "healthy" is not always right.
I never took into account anything other than that's how I needed to look. I never took into account that the athletes spend all day on eating, training and recovering hence the reason they look like that. They have teams and people that do everything for them basically. I never took into account the actors or models in magazines have spend months or years training sometimes just even for that men's health shoot. For me I felt that this is what you had to look like in the gym, this is how you needed to look to be considered healthy. Because of all this I was definitely afraid of going to the gym. I remember when I first started CrossFit for the first few weeks I would purposely attend the 7am class instead of 6am because I would be the only one in the 7am class. I was to embarrassed to workout with others around. I would do this even though attending 7am would make me late for class every morning. I remember only wearing long sleeved shirts and pant when I went to a normal gym because I did not want the muscular men to see me, and not having the confidence to workout in the open. I would always migrate to a corner out of sight.
I remember spending hours in the gym, I remember barely eating, or tracking every single thing I ate. I remember it being so obsessive. I would only eat things that I could log into my fitness pal. I remember being so obsessive in eating "healthy" that I would be in tears if I feel off track and ate a cookie. I remember if I did have a cookie or chocolate bar I would eat it in the bathroom or out of sight as I was so embarrassed. I thought of people saw me eat badly they would then come to the conclusion that it was the reason why I wasn't muscular or shredded. The mind is powerful and its amazing how delusional we can be when we are insecure. I remember hitting an all time low where I would eat something like a cookie or something that was not considered healthy and head to the gym literally right after and jump on the treadmill and not get off until I saw the calorie count on the treadmill match the calories I just ate. I would head to the gym or on a run even before the food I ate digested. Yes, This was an all time low and it happened for a good 4-6 month. Some could even say this was exercise bulimia. I was so wanting a body that was shredded simply because I thought that it was going to make me happy. I thought that once I had this body I would like myself more and all my problems with self confidence would go away. I thought that if I looked in the mirror and saw someone who looked fit and saw nice abs and nice biceps and nice quads then I would be happy. I thought if I went to the gym all the time and ate clean all the time and got my goal body then I would be happy. I think there are others out there that feel this same way. They feel that if they looked muscular and "fit" then they will be happy with themselves and get everything they want. If they join a gym and get this dream body then all their problems would go away. I think this is the biggest mistake anyone can make!
I can honestly say when I started to see changes with my body and when I reached my so call "goal", I was no more happier than when I started. I got to the point where I had nice abs and could see veins popping, I had nice biceps and cut quads and all the musculature around my body was pretty nice. I would get comments on how I looked shredded and how I looked like I put on a lot of mass. I even got a body dexa scan done that confirmed I was "shredded". My muscular percentage was above average and I had all the things I thought I needed. With all of that though, I was no happier with myself than I was before. I still looked in the mirror and thought it could be better, I was not happy with my self, and I did not get the confidence I thought I would get. I remember I was on a vacation in California at the same time I had all this and I still did not feel happy and have the confidence I thought this would give me. I still compared my self to others and I still got a bit jealous if I saw a guy in the gym who was completely shredded. I still felt that I wanted more and that I needed more. I was still not happy.
So what changed? Why am I able to tell my story now? And how long did it take for me to get more comfortable in my skin? Well, a lot has changed. I am happier, healthier and better than I was just a short 6 months ago even. It took a while and a lot of reflection, but I am happy with myself right now. I have the confidence in myself to share this. I think that’s the most important at the end of they day. People need to be happy with themselves. People need to have the confidence in themselves and know that there is not one shape or size you need to be. I know easier said than done!
For me I think several things changed. The most important thing being the realization of the importance in health. Not just physical health but mental as well. I started looking into ways to work on mental health and clarity. In doing so I started to meditate and write in a journal. I write about my experiences from the past 24 years. I also purposely focus on the negative experiences as I feel they are what make me vulnerable. They also make me who I am today. I have a lot of stories about my hardships growing up, in school and in sports, like many others do I’m sure. All of these have played a huge role on my body insecurities, I am sure of it! I have a tattoo on my left arm stating “Stay Strong” which means a lot to me. Maybe I'll make a post about all that in the future but not quite yet. I think one extremely personal post is good enough for the time being. But looking at these things and writing them down in a journal has just opened my mind and allowed me to reflect on some of my habits and personalities. It has allowed me to reflect and come to conclusions on why I never had confidence, on why I am so guarded all the time, on why I am so independent and why I have the feeling of needing to do everything for myself. It has allowed me to see that I could allow all these negative things to keep me scared, keep me quite, keep me from having confidence, Or I can say “Fuck it”. I’m going to do what I want, I am going to be what I want and I am going to fly. I have goals and aspirations and I know that the only thing that will hold me back from all my goals is myself. I know if I continue to feel negative about my body and myself then I will never be happy, I will never reach where I want to be.
I wish I could tell you that my confidence and views on my body changed after reading a book or watching a movie but it didn’t. Joining a gym and getting shredded did not make me happy or give me confidence. There was not one thing that changed my views and gave me confidence. It was not that simple. But, starting to work on myself and starting to take care of myself and put myself first has been the best thing I have done. Not caring about others opinions, and what they may think of me has changed everything. Don’t get me wrong it was hard at first but it did changed everything. I can now hold my head high when walking into a room. I can now voice my opinions, I can now post half naked pictures of myself on Instagram and not care! I do not think that there is a shape or size that we need our bodies to be at to make us happy. I now know that. I now know as long as I am healthy both physically and mentally I will be happy. Loosing body fat, gaining muscle or changing your body will not make you happy unless you start working on your mental health. Unless you start to self reflect and get to the route of your unhappiness I can tell you now that you will not ever be fully happy and confident. Take it from me, someone who has gained 20lbs of muscle, who saw changes to my body every week, after all this it did not change a thing. Until I got to the route of my insecurities nothing changed. I know finding the route is hard, and not everyone can do it on their own like I did. You can talk to someone, write in a journal but however you get to mental clarity I hope you do. Once you do, I can guarantee you will start looking at the world differently. You will start achieving what you thought you could not. Heck, I'm moving to the other side of the world next year, something I never thought I would be doing. But I am, because I believed I could!