When you look in the mirror you don't see yourself. You see who you used to be. Or how you want to be seen. Seldom do you look at yourself and objectively see what others see – what strangers see.
Even your friends and closest intimates don't see the "real" you anymore. They are blinded by the same image-morphing problem that makes you not see them objectively. Past impressions, personality traits, and affection can get in the way of seeing what is plainly there to be seen.
You don't see your bottom
When you look in the long mirror trying on some new jeans, you see the jeans, and how they fit around your bottom. But, seldom are you looking at your bottom. Nor your waist.
Of course you are aware that your bottom and waist are not what you want them to be. So what you see is what they are "not". Not small enough. Not tight enough. Not attractive enough. What you see is frumpy where frumpy shouldn't be. What you see is too much of this and too little of that, all arranged in the wrong places.
But are you really seeing the body that others are seeing, unfiltered by your personal body judgments?
After a complicated pregnancy (the last 3 months seemed like 9 months all by themselves), and a difficult post-partum recovery, I was finally making real progress on losing my excess weight. I was walking past a row of stores on the way to an appointment. I noticed a woman's fleeting figure reflected in the window out of the corner of my eye. "I want to have a shape like that," I said to myself. When I saw the reflection again I stopped. I did look that way. The reflection was of me.
You have had a similar experience, right?
Phantom limbs and body image
My body image was still pregnant. I was thinner then, not exactly svelt, but a lot thinner. My mind kept telling me I was bigger, although I was trying on new, smaller clothes and feeling proud that I was smaller than I had been in a long time.
My husband had a friend who lost a leg below the knee in the war. He said his friend could feel the sweat dripping from the missing limb in hot weather. He could feel the cold in the Winter. And, at times when he fell asleep on the sofa, he would wake up with the absent leg feeling very much asleep. There were times when he would feel intense pain coming from his lost leg, which would only go away after taking Tylenol.
If phantom limbs can hurt, isn't it like when we don't see our true body image?
Why would it matter if it did?
Part of the problem with eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia) is an overpowering body image that sees cellulite where there is none, that sees the contours of fat-stripped-away muscles and sees excess fat. I am certainly no expert on the treatment of the tragedy that is eating disorders (the #1 risk factor for them is dieting as a young teen). But I see the logic of what my husband's friend was taught to do by the Army rehab people – they told him to bare his leg where the amputation occurred. Then rub the area where the removal scars were. They told him to rub it frequently and long. Over time the phantom limb went away (although it still goes to sleep once in a while).
Crossing the threshhold of 200 pounds
All of us hide our true shape from ourselves, from time to time. Sometimes it is deliberate. Frequently it is a strong hidden desire to see a different reality. Mostly, it is a deeply ingrained subconscious non-reality.
The difficulty is we act each day as if that non-reality is truth. We grow accustomed to what is not there, act in ways that ignore what is taking place in our bodies. It makes it easier to cross one of those psychological barriers – like going over 200 pounds, or moving up 2 dress sizes.
We say to ourselves, "200 doesn't look much different than when I weighed 199", or "I like the way this new dress looks on me." What we don't do is mentally compare ourselves to when we were only 175 pounds. And certainly not when we were impossibly slimmer at 150.
Try the string experiment here http://tinyurl.com/weight-loss-string, as it illustrates how far out of proportion your mental body image may be, versus your true size. And nearly always, if your weight is still moving up, or not moving down, the strings show you truly believe you are smaller than you are in fact.
Rub the phantom limb
Once you have a clear idea of your true scale, you can begin to "rub the phantom limb"– to convince your sub-conscious that your excess weight is really more than just about bathroom scales and dress sizes. You can take responsible steps to change your body shape.
If you don't do that, you will always be trapped in an illusion, an illusion that can prevent you from taking responsible steps to change what so obviously needs to be changed. (Or, in the case of 1 in 6 who cross the 250 pound line, become morbidly obese and need surgical help http://tinyurl.com/have-surgery).
How Leila lost her panties on the courthouse steps
Which leads us back to Leila on the courthouse steps in Honolulu. Leila was nearly 300 pounds when she really got serious about finding a way to healthily lose weight. A wonderful Hawaiian lady, with a great heart matched to an infectious smile, Leila was making great headway in losing weight, slowly, steadily.
Down almost 40 pounds, in a hurry, she decided to take the courthouse steps rapidly, two at a time, in spite of her bright red floral-printed mu-mu. On that crowded sun-lit day, when it seemed half the city had business at the courthouse, suddenly something grabbed at her ankles. As she fell forward, bewildered as to the cause, she realized her panties, her "old" panties, had fallen off and ensnared her.
"My first thought," she said, "was whether or not they had holes in them. My second thought was, 'I'm going to be late.'"
Leila quickly unraveled her feet, stuffed her over-sized panties into her purse, and resumed her rush up the stairs, unfazed by the dozens of curious looks.
Leila had lost weight. She knew it. But she hadn't made the complete shift in her mind. She still dressed as if she were 40 pounds heavier.
Acknowledge the size of your body
An important step in the consciousness raising process necessary for you to achieve permanent weight loss is acknowledging the size and dimensions of your body – how far it is from where it ought to be – where it can be, if you worked at it steadily. It is not an excuse for anorexic or bulimic behaviors. It is your personal call to action, to enliven your quest to unleash the wonderful human energy hidden behind your excess weight.
Be aware, however, that as you lose weight you will be constantly adjusting to the new reality of your slimming body. Watch your body regularly, "rub the phantom limb," and be aware of the real progress you are making. It will be your greatest motivator. And your protection from allowing yourself to regain it.
In the long run, would losing your panties on the courthouse steps really make your day lighter?
VP Programs Development, ScaleDown for Life
VP Education, GoZonkers Inc.
Founder, CelebrateLifeNutrition.com – Satisfy Your Hunger
©2009 Laura Gontchar. All Rights Reserved.