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What Exercising Is Like For Someone With Body Dysmorphia

What Exercising Is Like For Someone With Body Dysmorphia

What Exercising Is Like For Someone With Body Dysmorphia

The weird thing about body dysmorphia is that even the person who has BDD isn’t even sure themselves if they really have it.

Sounds confusing? That’s because it is.

I have body dysmorphia, but because of my complete and utter disconnection with my body image, I never truly know what my body actually looks like. On the one side, I have friends telling me, “I wish I was as slim as you”, “you have a great figure”, or even “you’re so skinny – but good skinny.” On the other side, is my reflection that I’m constantly checking in every reflective surface I walk past just to confirm that, yep, I’m still an ugly, awkward, wobbly mess.


I’m 5’8”, and according to my scales – which I step on multiple times a week – I’m 9 stone 4. I’m a healthy size. Yet despite the numbers, which don’t lie, I don’t believe it. I can’t trust it. Because my body is flawed in every and all ways, my self-worth is non-existent. Any positive trait I possess, that I’m a good friend, that I’m a hard-worker or that I’m funny, is cancelled out by how I look. Or rather, how I don’t look. The constant confusion and fear over what I really look like, in real life, is just as debilitating as the self-loathing.

I’m not in denial either – I know that I have an issue.

I’m aware that no girl is totally content with her body image. I live with 4 girls, most of my friends are girls – I can’t count the amount of times I’ve heard them complain that, “urgh, I’m SO fat” when of course, they’re not.

I hate how saying “I have body dysmorphia” makes me sound like I’m trying to be a fucking victim. But I also hate how much I’m aware that my relationship with my body is far from normal. Whilst my flatmates and my friends will still get dressed up and go on a night out after complaining about their fatness over a pizza earlier that day, my body controls my day. When I’m feeling especially ugly and enormous, I will let friends down. I’ll make excuses, and I’ll cancel. Once I’ve had one “bad” snack, I know the rest of the day is a write-off of over-eating and self-hatred. Putting makeup on and squeezing into a dress for a night on the town? No chance.


The same goes for exercising. If I’m feeling really low, or eaten bad, I won’t go out an exercise because what’s the point? No amount of cardio is going to undo all the mistakes my lack of self-control and failure have just made. That said, recently I’ve been trying to make more of an effort to change my relationship with exercise.

That’s where exercise comes into the equation.

Everyone knows the benefits exercise has on mental health and self-esteem. From the gruelling 10k’s I run every-so-often, I know I feel better after some exercise. But in my increasingly busy and stressful life, it’s hardly feasible to squeeze in a 10k every day like I was last summer. That’s why I’m trying to exercise at the gym as often as I can.
Whilst I knew finding – and maintaining – the motivation to go on my days off was something to anticipate, there’s a whole bunch of other things I hadn’t thought about that are all thanks to my low self-esteem that aren’t just limited to being self-conscious in gym-wear.

Not that that isn’t an issue. When I first started out exercising at the gym, I went with my flatmate, a girl who was well-versed in exercising for fitness (not punishment). She was an athlete, having spent most of her school career playing for every sports team at her school. Unsurprisingly, she has an amazing body, but having lived with her for months, I’d come to accept the inadequacy I feel when I’m around her.


As we planned our session, we got on to the topic of gym-wear, and I remarked how when I’m on the treadmill I often end up taking my top off and running in my sports bra. To that, she remarked how she “would never go to the gym in just a sports bra” and how she preferred oversized t-shirts and leggings. Whilst rationally, I know this wasn’t a criticism at me, I immediately felt disgusted at myself for having the audacity to take my top off in a public setting. If she didn’t do it, with her washboard abs and toned décolletage, how dare I? Ever since then, I’ve always worn tops at the gym, regardless of how hot and sweaty I get. I know it’s stupid – what you wear is a matter of personal preference, it’s not all about vanity – but I can’t break the habit.

Mirrors everywhere.

The thing about the gym is that there are mirrors, everywhere. When it comes to mirrors, I’m either staring at my reflection to scrutinise every single flaw on my body, or I haven’t got the courage to face it at all.

I know the mirrors at the gym aren’t only there for gym selfies. I know they have an important purpose revolving around checking and maintaining the correct form of an exercise to avoid injuring yourself. But that’s not what I’ll use them for, especially when I’m wearing skin tight leggings.

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But I won’t just be looking at myself. My exercise will be disrupted as I stare at the other people in the gym, the stronger, fitter, more attractive patrons around me, who I’ll compare my body to regardless of age or gender. Even the 60-yo overweight lady on the elliptical has better legs than me.

Feeling disconnected with your body.

When it comes to form in exercise, it’s not just about the mirrors. I once ventured into the notoriously male-dominated weights room with some girls I was close to so they could show me how to do a barbell squat.


Once they had helped me get the bar on my shoulders, they instructed me to “engage my core.” I nervously laughed that I had no idea what that meant, and they just sort of looked at each other as they struggled to find a way to explain it. One offered “tighten your abs” as an alternative, but I don’t have abs. I only have flab. How do I tighten fat?

In the end I just ended up sucking in my stomach in an attempt to engage something, but if it wasn’t the fact that my back ached more than anything else post-exercise indicated I was doing something wrong, it was that I realised I had no idea how to use any part of my body because I am so disconnected with it. I have literally know comprehension of how I my body should feel when I exercise because I’m too preoccupied with what’s going on inside my head.

I plan on sticking with the exercise anyway. I’m craving for the mental respite everyone raves about as much as the unlikely prospect that my physical body might change into a shape that is anything less repulsive than this. Evidently, there’s still things to work on.


If you feel that your negative body image is taking over your life, please seek help. Speak to your GP, a loved one, or if you’d prefer some more anonymous advice, consider the advice of Anxiety UK, the International OCD Foundation, Mind or Beat charities.

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