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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Looks can be deceiving

It's been a little more than two years since I had Roux-En-Y gastric-bypass surgery. Most days, I'm at home in my new, smaller body. I'm braver about scooting through tight spaces and I no longer look for armless chairs in public settings. But other days, something will happen that jolts me with the realization that my brain still hasn't caught up with the changes my body has undergone.

For instance, I was visiting some friends after work a few weeks ago when I was confronted by the reality of my size. I was helping my friend in the kitchen, and she offered to let me borrow a dress so I didn't wreck my work clothes. When I went to put her dress on, I held my breath for a moment in anticipation of it being tight. Instead, the knit dress hung off me like a burlap sack. She laughed; I was shocked. Looking at her, I could not see the difference in our sizes but there was no arguing with reality. I'm no dummy. I know what size I wear, but I've apparently lost perspective when it comes to judging the size of others in relation to me.

The disconnect between how one looks in reality compared to how they see themselves is called body dysmorphia. It's a condition that's commonly experienced by those with eating disorders (it's why anorexics rarely see themselves as thin). It's also common among those who've experienced rapid weight loss. The brain seems to have a hard job catching up with the drastic changes. I have heard that it can take some of us up to five years after gastric-bypass surgery before what we see in the mirror matches what the rest of the world sees when they look at us.

One of the best weapons agains body dysmorphia is photographic documentation. Pictures taken throughout the weight loss process help the brain make the leap from "before" to "after." This explains to me why I sometimes perceive myself as a size 14 or 16 instead of the 28 I used to be or the 10 I am now. I think I'm lucky, though. At least I'm getting closer to a realistic view of myself.

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