Most of us have experienced some level of anxiety in our lifetime. How it impacts us can vary depending on the severity of it, and what the anxiety is a reaction to. I’ve recently realised how anxiety impacts my perception of myself.
These past couple of weeks I’ve noticed I’ve been more judgemental and critical of myself. The shift came gradually, I went from feeling okay with my shape to obsessing about every little roll, squish, crease, or lump I saw in the mirror. Sighing at myself for suddenly being so bloated and convinced that I have gained weight. My thoughts have been preoccupied with what this shift in my body composition could be a result of.
Have I been eating more sweets than usual?
How much have I been exercising?
I bet I’ve gained weight, it sure feels like it.
I felt fine a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve not been eating more since then… have I?
Where is this sudden fat feeling and increased self criticism coming from?
The answer? Anxiety.
I’ve been stressed and increasingly anxious lately about some upcoming changes in my life. My mind has been running through questions, what ifs, and potential scenarios and outcomes for days. Our minds love to play tricks on us, and in my case when my anxiety (for whatever reason) increases, my mind starts messing with my perception of myself.
It’s so important to take a step back in these moments and try to pause our minds for a second. Instead of indulging in the conviction that I have gained weight, that I’m fat, that I’ve been eating too much, or that my thighs, belly, or arms are fatter than when I walked past the mirror and checked five minutes ago… stop. Stop and contemplate what this sudden onslaught of self criticism could be coming from. What’s really going on?
I decided to look at the hard facts. So, I weighed myself. By doing so I could see that my weight hasn’t shifted notably since I checked a couple of weeks ago (before anxiety hit). Now, I’d love it if it was that simple, that I could present proof and voila! the self deprecating thoughts are – poof! – gone! But alas, in reality, that’s not how it works.
Anxiety is expressed and feels different for all of us. It’s also different depending on what the anxiety is pertaining to. While, for me, anxiety often expresses itself as a feeling of being fat, others might sense a sad feeling when they’re anxious about something.
It’s a common misconception that eating disorders are an obsession with looks. When really – and what has very much been the case for me – it is about control. Granted, it may be expressed as a fear gaining weight, a fear of particular foods, or an obsession with body composition. But really what it boils down to is a fixation with having control of the one thing you can have complete control of – yourself. The eating disorder behaviours are a reaction to something, they’re that safety blanket that keeps the uncomfortable anxiety at bay. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise then that for me, the feeling of anxiety is something I associate to feeling fat and uncomfortable in my skin.
Here’s the thing about eating disorder recovery: it doesn’t have a finish line. It’s not something you do and then place your trophy of achievement on the shelf, pat yourself on the back, and never have a single thought, behaviour, or issue with food or your body ever again. It’s a lifelong dedication just like recovery from any type of addiction or obsessive behaviour. Going through therapy and recovery treatment helps you lay the groundwork for managing all those thoughts and behaviours in your life, but you’ve got to make that ground work thrive.
In this particular case, treatment is what helped me identify what it was that was suddenly making me feel fat and gross about myself. Although understanding the cause and acknowledging it won’t make it go away, being aware of it makes me stronger in continuing to fight against those thoughts and avoid falling back on old behaviours to deal with the anxiety.
Anxiety or worry is never fun or comfortable, but this too shall pass.