Is your mind playing tricks on you?
Yes, the mirror does lie! Sometimes we actually are “fat heads.” That’s when being fat is in our brains, not our bodies. No matter how much weight we lose, it doesn’t seem like enough. But, it isn't your fault! It's just how our minds work.
Sometimes perception doesn't match reality
Sometimes we actually are "fat heads." That’s when being fat is in our brains, not in our bodies. No matter how much weight we lose, it doesn’t seem like enough.
Our perceptions don’t match reality because of the automatic associations of our memory networks, which is the basis of how we perceive the world. When something happens in the present, it must link up with our existing memory networks to be interpreted. So, when we look in the mirror, the image of our body links into memory networks that contain earlier experiences involving our physical appearance, which colors our view of it.
When something disturbing has happened in the past, it can get stored as an "unprocessed" memory that contains the emotions, physical reactions and beliefs that occurred at the time. For example, if someone once made a hurtful comment about how you looked, no matter how much you have changed since then, the old feelings can arise.
How to handle hurtful remarks
The research is clear that many kinds of eating disorders emerge because of hurtful remarks that were made during childhood or adolescence. Women can develop anorexia because of being teased by peers or because of disapproval by family members. When someone with anorexia looks in the mirror, she sees "fat" while she looks skeletal to those around her. For others, hurtful remarks can cause them to feel fat even when they have reached their healthy weights.
It’s important to have professionals advise you about the weight that is healthy for you. If you keep feeling "too big" despite hitting that target, take steps to change your "head" so you can see yourself clearly.
Body distortions come in all forms
"Body distortions" can appear in many different ways. Merely because of a passing observation by someone, people can look in the mirror and believe that body parts are misshapen or there is something else wrong with them. For instance, one client believed she was covered by unsightly hair because of a remark made by an aunt about her underarm hair when she was 16. For 20 years afterwards, she couldn’t leave the house before pulling out every visible hair on her body. Our body images can also be colored by childhood or adolescent experiences with adults who referred to us as "chubby" or media hype about "glamorous models."
Change the way you see yourself
When you’re told by a medical professional that you’ve reached a healthy weight and yet you still feel "fat," it’s time to take steps for your own well-being. Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy will provide you with specific techniques for changing your current thoughts and negative feelings about your body. You can use other techniques in the book to identify earlier experiences that are causing these negative reactions, which may be enough to make the appropriate memory connections to permanently shift out of it. If not, you can get the help you need from an EMDR specialist to process the memories so you are no longer in the grip of the past.
The important thing to remember is that self-image is built on memory networks. If they are not processed, it’s often like looking into a distorted mirror. We deserve more than that in life, and we can get it.
Dr. Francine Shapiro is the author of Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy and the originator of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).