In the last couple of weeks I’ve had 2 very similar conversations with clients – one male and one female. Both had lost significant amounts of weight, as evidenced by the numbers on the bathroom scale, clothes that were starting to fall off them, and those words everyone loves to hear from others as a confirmation that they’re not deluding themselves:
“Gee you’ve lost weight – you’re looking great!”
And yet both of them were suffering from what I call ‘body image lag’ – when they looked in the mirror, they still saw a fat person looking back at them. One, whom I’ll call Donna, had lost over 50 kg and dropped from a size 24 to a 14, but she couldn’t see the changes in her body. Granted, she still has around 10-15 kg to lose before she’s at her ideal weight (as far as we can guess, since she’s been overweight since childhood), but it doesn’t make any sense that she still quite literally sees herself as morbidly obese when these days she’s just somewhat plump.
The other client, whom I’ll call Brad, has gained and lost weight many times over since he first became overweight as a teenager. He confided in me that even when he’d been at his ideal weight, in his 20s, he still retained an internal image of himself as ‘a fat guy’.
So why does this matter?
At its extreme, this mismatch between someone’s internal picture of him or herself and the external reality is one of the key features of anorexia nervosa: the emaciated sufferer looks at herself in the mirror, and instead of seeing what everyone else sees – the scaffolding of her body practically protruding through her skin – she sees fat, which confirms that she needs to keep dieting.
In its less extreme form, with people who still do have some weight to lose but have made tremendous progress, the effects of body image lag are more subtle but still profound: it undermines the motivation to continue with healthy eating and exercise, since you can’t see any payoff for all the effort you’ve put in so far. We create our own reality through our belief system.
To borrow from Wayne Dyer’s book title, “You’ll see it when you believe it”: If you identify yourself as ‘a fat person’ then that is what your eyes will tell you you are, even though everyone who know you can clearly see that you’re slimming down.
And if, according to your distorted perception of reality, despite all your efforts you haven’t managed to lose weight, then why bother even continuing to try? Tragically, this is the point at which so many people start to self-sabotage and regain the weight they’ve worked so hard to lose, never quite reaching their target or managing to stay there for long.
Fortunately, there’s a powerful tool you can use to overcome body image lag, so that you are able to recognise the progress you’ve made, and appreciate what’s beautiful about your body instead of dwelling on what you hate about it. I call it the Mirror Exercise.
The first step in the Mirror Exercise is to imagine looking at yourself in a full-length mirror – naked. Using EFT, you then work through all your feelings about what you see: the tuckshop lady arms, orange-peel bottom, jiggly thighs, saggy stomach and everything else you hate!
The remarkable thing is that as you focus on the parts of yourself that you perceive as being unsightly and unacceptable, thanks to the miracle of the counterconditioning induced by EFT, that perception shifts.
Time and time again, I’ve watched and listened with awe as my clients shift from being in tears about how ugly they feel, to acceptance of their bodies as they are now and appreciation for their own beauty.
In case you were wondering, that acceptance of their current appearance does NOT mean resignation! It’s more a sense of “I’m already beautiful now, so I don’t need to lose weight to stop feeling ugly – I just want to honour my body by treating it with the respect it deserves.”
That’s a key plank in the philosophy which lies at the heart of The LEAN Program which I call “Loving yourself slim – instead of trying to hate yourself thin.”