Bariatric surgeons rarely discuss or adequately prepare their patients for the metal aftereffects of VSG or gastric sleeve surgery. Body Dysmorphia after weight loss surgery is more common than you think, but something that is not widely discussed, even in support groups for bariatric patients.
Personal experience with body dysmorphia after weight loss surgery
In a strange series of events, taking out the trash made me face my weight loss and mental issues surrounding it. You can read the full story here, but the Cliff Notes version is that I severely sprained my foot and couldn’t put any weight on it.
When the injury happened, my husband was trying to help me into the house. He said, “Put your arm around me and I’ll support you.”
I resisted and said that I didn’t want to hurt him. He replied, “I could carry you instead.”
My first thought was, “Is he crazy? There is no way he could carry me!”
Please don’t misunderstand; my husband is strong and healthy. But during the twenty-five years that we have been together, I have always weighed more than him.
When we started dating, I was pleasantly plump. As the years passed and I had three babies, the pounds packed on until I weighed significantly more than him. That is why the mere thought of him carrying me sounded completely insane.
Until I remembered that for the first time in twenty five years, I weighed less than him. I almost weigh what “normal” people weigh. He probably could pick me up and not worry about me squashing him like a bug or rupturing discs in his back.
What is body dysmorphia?
This is one of the strangest things about losing weight; that my mind has not caught up with my physical appearance yet. I see myself in pictures or catch my reflection in a mirror and don’t recognize myself. Or someone compliments me on my weight loss, but all I can think about are my flaws, instead of how far I have come.
Most people in the weight loss surgery community refer to this as Body Dysmorphia. I think this is close, but not entirely accurate. Body Dysmorphia is clinically defined as a mental disorder categorized by an obsessive focus on a particular flaw.
For example, someone diagnosed with Body Dysmorphia may focus on a scar or the size or shape of a certain body part, like their nose or kneecap. The perceived flaw can be minimal or nonexistent to other people, but the person with body dysmorphia becomes obsessed and can only see the flaw.
I talk to many other people who have undergone weight loss surgery and I don’t think any of us are at that point, but most of us have a distorted body image. For me, it’s little things, like folding the laundry and wondering how someone else’s pants got mixed in with mine. Or going into a store and automatically walking toward the plus size section.
It’s like my brain can’t fathom that I can fit into regular sized clothing. Not wearing plus size clothes is something I could never have imagined a year ago. And it appears that my mind is still struggling to recognize the new reality.
Is body dysmorphia after weight loss surgery common?
I have searched for official statistics regarding body dysmorphia after weight loss surgery and couldn’t find anything from reliable sources. From my own, non-scientific research (basically talking to other people in support groups), I can tell you that it seems like almost everyone struggles with a version of body dysmorphia.
My friends who have also had weight loss surgery say that they still wear clothes that are too big for them or worry that chairs will break when they sit down. Regardless of age, sex or race, most people seem to have a distorted body image for a little while after weight loss surgery.
I think that when you have spent years being heavy and dealing with all the worries and self loathing that comes along with it, learning to love yourself again and accept the changes in your life will take a little while. The problem is that people with distorted body images feel alone because no one is talking about it.
How to cope with body dysmorphia after weight loss surgery
Again, the research is lacking or non-existent on this topic, but I can tell you what worked for the people I know. It boils down to two things: time and talking.
Over time, your brain will accept the new version of you. Once you see yourself in enough pictures or mirrors, you will begin to see what other people see and let go of the fat version of yourself in your mind.
Also, don’t be afraid to talk about it. If your problem is severe, you could consider seeking professional help.
At the very least, talk to your family and friends about it. Join support groups online or at your local hospital and don’t be afraid to bring it up.
Chances are that if you are feeling this way, there are other people who can relate. Sometimes, just knowing that you are not alone is enough to start the healing process.
I’ve been told that my brain will eventually catch up with my body. In time, I will be able to see what other people see. For now, I continue to work on the small things, like being able to take a compliment and giving away clothes that no longer fit. Eventually, my brain will see the truth and I will be able to recognize the new, thinner, healthier me.
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