Theodore Roosevelt said that comparison is the thief of joy. Is it also the gateway drug to eating disorders?
Have you ever heard of a placebo effect?
It’s when somebody experiences the effects of a medicine or treatment that they don’t actually receive.
For instance, if you take water pills but think it’s a special trial heart medication. You’re healed from your heart problem, but not because of these pills. That’s probably the worst definition of the placebo effect on the planet… but I’m not a scientist, K?
The placebo effect is one of the coolest discoveries in modern medicine.
If you need further proof, read the hair-raising stories in You Are The Placebo by Dr. Joe Dispenza.
But the placebo effect doesn’t always work for good. You see, sometimes when people aren’t sick but believe they are, they will actually manifest the sickness they’re afraid of (which they didn’t have all along until they believed in it.)
You’ll read about this in Dispenza’s book, too.
After learning more about the Placebo Effect, I’ve learned that there’s a horrifying illness that afflicts primarily women that creates a dark mirage in their minds and in the world around them.
You see, women are afflicted by something like a Placebo that causes them to see something that doesn’t exist.
Then, they manifest this misery in their lives.
It isn’t merely the scientific community that witnesses the Placebo Effect. Philosopher and renowned spiritual teacher Don Miguel Ruiz states in his seminal work The Four Agreements that our words have the power of life… and death.
“An example: I see a friend and give him an opinion that just popped into my mind. I say, “Hmmm! I see that kind of color in your face in people who are going to get cancer.” If he listens to the word, and if he agrees, he will have cancer in less than one year. That is the power of the word.”
Is Ruiz overstating the power of the word? Does he give too much credit to our mind’s ability to manifest, both for good as well as bad?
I think not.
There’s a type of Placebo Effect that drives women to the point of misery, and even death.
It causes an otherwise bright, beautiful and healthy woman to feel gross, ugly, and sick.
It drives millions of women to hate themselves and to see what isn’t actually there.
This affliction is so widely accepted among the scientific community that it’s been given a name. It’s called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
For years, I struggled with BDD myself. I looked in the mirror and saw a gross, overweight, beleagered person.
Today I look at pictures of myself during that time and see a stunning, bright, vibrant young girl who allowed this sickness in my mind to manifest into physical sickness.
People who suffer with BDD hate the way they look. They are generally normal in appearance, but when they look in the mirror, they see something that isn’t actually there.
They may hate their waistline, their hair, their ears, their nose, or even their feet. When they walk into a room, they think everybody is staring at their perceived imperfections.
Brain imaging studies of patients with BDD reveals, however, that this isn’t an emotional manifestation. In fact, these patients’ brains actually trick them into seeing something that isn’t there.
Scientists showed subjects three images of faces; some were high-frequency and very detailed and others were low frequency and blurry. When the images were blurry, subjects without BDD were able to identify more details because their right brains analyzed the photo as a whole.
Patients with BDD, however, were unable to look at the faces with their right brains to make sense of the details in the blurry photos.
Psychiatrist James Feusner surmised that those with BDD don’t have defective vision, but lack an “extended visual processing network”. What they see is distorted beneath the level of emotion or conscious thought.
What Does This Mean For Women With BDD?
Well I know what it meant for me. I didn’t just look in the mirror and see myself as 50 pounds heavier and 18 times less attractive than I was; but I even harshly judged the women in the world around me.
Women who were actually healthy and vibrant looked to me like “wide hips”, “arms too flabby”, and “that hair… don’t get me started”. It was like the late Joan Rivers had literally hijacked my brain and it was cruel, unyielding, and frankly ridiculous.
My BDD happened to be centered around weight, although not all BDD does. I’m writing about my experience as a woman. However, BDD affects men, too.
However, most eating disorder experts will agree that BDD goes hand-in-hand with eating disorders. And we know that most people who suffer from eating disorders are women. So in this article, we’re going to focus our energy on how BDD affects women.
As the science suggests above, somebody who suffers from BDD can’t heal without a complete rewiring of their brain. That’s because BDD is a lie. You don’t see the real world accurately.
Sadly, millions of women with BDD spend years torturing themselves, even becoming victims of eating disorders before their brains begin to perceive the world accurately again.
If you walk into a restaurant and think everybody is staring at your crooked nose or muffin top: you might have BDD.
If you obsess over little things without seeing the big picture (a beautiful, lovable person), you might have BDD.
Ultimately, the best way to shed BDD from your psyche is through cognitive behavioral therapy or another doctor-prescribed treatment.
If you have the ability to receive treatment, you should *always* do it!
I wish I had; I would have saved myself years of pain. Alas, I did it the hard way.
And because I actually came out alive, I’m happy to share a few things that helped me heal.
Again, this is not a prescribed healing plan and if you have BDD, it’s always best to seek professional help!
But in addition to that professional guidance, here are a few things you can do to heal.
Ignore The Devil On Your Shoulder…
Remember the cartoon image with a good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel or devil on the other?
For many years, I only heard that nasty devil on my shoulder and completely shut out the voice of light, truth, reason, and love on my opposing shoulder.
After suffering for years with BDD and other life-threatening disorders that occurred subsequently, I got sick of being sick.
I got sick of caring what the waistline of every woman in the room looked like or what the irrelevant and usually inaccurate number on my jeans read.
Once I realized that caring so much about my looks was causing me to experience relational, professional, financial, and emotional suicide, I simply grew weary of caring.
Before I healed from my BDD, I used to take note of every woman in every room I walked into. I noticed their shoes, hair, legs (especially the thighs), makeup, arms, waists, and more.
It was exhausting!
I idolized supermodels and wanted to look exactly like the most absurdly plastic ones. I even dyed my dark hair platinum blond!
During that time I began starving myself for days at a time to achieve that stunning taught waist and those slender thighs I admired.
I’m 5’1″ and full of curves right down to my toes; slender is not my M.O.! I nearly killed myself trying to find that out.
However, in my mid 20’s I had my first miscarriage and it changed my life. I wasn’t ready for a baby, and certainly not with my partner at that time.
But even though I wasn’t ready for a baby, I mourned that loss. I left my partner of eight years within a few months henceforth.
I knew intuitively that my body wasn’t healthy enough to create a life. And that was my wake up call. I needed to get out of my old life.
Thankfully, with careful use of habit formation and willpower, I began slowly ignoring the devil on my shoulder. He formerly spent his day whispering things like, “you aren’t enough”, “you aren’t lovable”, and “if only you were thinner and more beautiful…”. I told that nasty voice to go back to hell.
It took years, but I finally kicked him to the curb for good.
Find New Role Models…
Many years ago I began a professional and familial relationship with a female mentor. She is one of the most self-assured and brilliant women I know.
This was wildly helpful in helping me heal from my BDD.
In order to fight BDD, you must ignore what you see in the mirror or in your mind’s eye and start to focus on what’s in your spirit.
(In fact, to this day I associate mirrors with negativity and spend as little time looking in them as possible. I literally have my makeup and hair routine down to less than 10 minutes directly from a shower.)
Shifting the focus to women I admired helped me rewire my brain. I began ignoring my looks and focused on my spirit. I began focusing on the work I could do to impact those around me and the world at-large.
Most importantly, I began taking stock of women I wanted to be like.
I found that I admired these women for anything but their beauty. I admired business professionals, mothers, awesome wives, bestselling authors, and revolutionary speakers alike.
And coincidentally, these boss babes were all free from the perpetual self-sabotaging I had experienced with my own BDD. All of them were, in fact, the most confident women I knew in their bodies.
Not all successful women are confident and secure within themselves. But by the grace of God, I had just enough strong, fierce, intelligent women around me to rock my world and help me retrain my distorted vision.
Focus on Healthy & Happy, NOT Perfect…
My husband once dated an effervescent, wickedly intelligent woman who was a fitness expert and model. She told him something that impacted me and well-summarizes the change that took place during my healing. She said, “I count chemicals, not calories.” Good word, sister!
In a sense, this is how my new idea of healthy sounds. Instead of jean size, I began to see my worthiness based off of how well I treated myself.
Well, I didn’t have to do anything, really.
Instead of reading numbers on a scale, I began to read books that strengthened my mind.
Instead of focusing on purging my dessert splurge with running, I began to live a balanced and genuinely healthy lifestyle.
Instead of wondering how many calories I ate, I wondered how many nutrients were in my food.
Instead of worrying about fat, I became committed to eating satiating food that would give me the brain power to conquer my world and fortify my “idea muscle”, as James Altucher calls it.
What’s more, my worthiness was no longer contingent on whether or not I worked out, ate less than 1,200 calories that day, or even treated people well.
Whether or not I “behaved” that day, I chose to see myself as God saw me: and he loves me endlessly no matter what.
In fact, I didn’t count calories, chemicals, reps at the gym, or even good deeds.
I just simply stopped counting.
My New Obsession
I developed a new, healthy obsession in my life and it’s the basis for my next book on overcoming beauty lies with calculated, balanced brain exercises every day.
I began to see beauty for what it was: a lie that women are told to enslave them.
I began to see my life for what it was for ten years: a mindless consumer with very little control over my own desires. (C’mon, who really wants to give a sh&$ about their jeans size?!)
I began creating habits in place of stepping on scales, counting calories, overexercising and taking laxative pills.
To replace these unhealthy habits, I formed new ones. I began exercising diligently but moderately. (Read a little about my awesome, liberating exercise plan here.)
Once I formed new habits, they were an effortless part of my day, like putting my contacts in every morning or remembering my wildly awesome deodorant after a shower.
I began to experiment with not caring about what I ate for breakfast. Then lunch. Then after a few years, I never considered what I should or shouldn’t eat ever.
I began eating what I truly wanted to eat without a single mention of fat, calories, weight, or guilt.
Every day I forced myself a little outside of what had become my comfort zone, BDD, and into a new normal.
At first it took enormous acts of willpower. I would cry in the shower and beg God to heal me.
Then little by little, these little acts of discipline actually strengthened my willpower muscle and a healthy, happy life became second nature.
Instead of obsessing over looks, I could now focus on my life’s bigger picture. What was my purpose? Who should I share this life with? What does the most amazing mother on earth look like and how can I become more like her?
I went from spiraling out of control at the mere site of a cookie to having complete dominion over my actions and thoughts as they related to beauty.
Above all, I loved my new normal.
I didn’t just feel beautiful.
I know now that I am.