29 Apr Why Perception is Everything Whether You’re Banting, Keto-ing or Mid-Binge
by Victoria Webster, Clinical Psychologist
Are you a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person? Everyone knows that this is a question about perception – do you perceive the water level in the glass in a negative or positive way? This kind of question can be a sneak peak into a person’s general perception of the world. My question, although similar in concept, is not about a glass per se, but about glasses. What kind of glasses do you wear and view yourself, others and the world through (metaphorically speaking of course)?
Some people look at the world through rose-tinted glasses. These kinds of people will see the good in all situations and remain hopeful and optimistic; they will even sometimes perceive things as better than they really are. On the other hand, there are people who look at the world through dark-tinted sunglasses, and perceive things as darker and more dangerous than they really are.
Sometimes these kinds of people can’t see the light in a situation or, sadly, any colours at all. Each of us have a different pair of glasses that we put on and sometimes our glasses are horribly out of focus or they can be overmagnified, making life seem overwhelming with too many small details to manage. Sometimes, our glasses can lead to us being short-sighted (difficulty with planning and goal setting) and sometimes long-sighted (difficulty being present in the moment).
How we perceive, experience and react to the world around us is shaped by the unique glasses we wear. Sadly, we also look through a pair of glasses at ourselves and our bodies and often this particular pair of glasses has been dropped and sat on, is scratched and cracked.
The world in which we live and grew up can have caused bad distortions to the glasses we view our bodies with. The world tends to feed us toxic and distorted messages about how we should look, and reinforces the idea that an idealistic standard of beautify defines our worthiness. We were given the wrong information about how to take care of our bodies and told there was something wrong with us for not succeeding in our weight and health goals – how we view ourselves (our trusty glasses) became more and more scraped, cracked and out of focus.
Diet and beauty culture, food industry propaganda and advertising are metaphorically like the dog that got hold of your glasses and thought they were a chew toy (you can imagine the carnage). Sometimes we can be resilient to these messages about body, weight and beauty, but for most people it is very difficult to have a realistic and clear perception of our bodies, one of the things that we should be able to see clearly.
There is a psychological disorder called Body Dysmorphic Disorder that is an extreme version of this – something many of us experience on a day-to-day basis – a distorted perception of our bodies. A person with this disorder has glasses that have been so busted up that they can’t see through them anymore. This person will be so preoccupied with non-existent or slight defects or flaws in their physical appearance that it causes them significant distress and impairment in functioning. They will be so preoccupied with the perceived defect/flaw that they will obsess about it for a significant part of the day. They will show repetitive behaviours in response to these concerns, like mirror checking, excess grooming, skin picking, reassurance seeking and clothes changing. They will also constantly compare themselves with other people.
To some extent, I think many of us can relate to the symptoms of this disorder, because we have been taught to view ourselves in a critical and unloving way. If you find that you engage in some of these behaviours it might be useful to note that this is often not a problem with your actual body, but a problem with your perception of your body. Yes, there may be weight to lose or small flaws (we all have them), but often we exaggerate these flaws and our unhealthy perception of them can limit us in significant ways. For example, the perception of not being thin enough can ruin your ability to make new connections and maintain relationships.
When it gets to this point, it is time to have a look at our perceptions, rather than only focus on needing to change our bodies. Most of the time our bodies are not the problem! If it is a weight loss journey you are on, it might be helpful to first understand how you perceive yourself, understanding where the cracks in the glasses are, before you actually endeavour to make changes. Sustainable change starts with changing how we think and feel – changes in appearance follow suit.
Put on your reading glasses and think about how to incorporate these ideas around perception into your life:
- Connect with your body
Don’t just view your body, be in your body. Notice how it carries you around and continues to function when you are sleeping. Don’t just see it for its size and shape but feel the strength in your legs and the ability of your arms to carry heavy things. It is not just for looking at but for being present in.
- Let go of negative and critical self-talk
How you speak to yourself defines your perception of yourself. Change how you speak to yourself; be kind and compassionate about your perceived flaws rather than harsh and judgemental. Your body may not be perfect but it is yours.
- Listen to your body wisdom
If we can stop perceiving our bodies so negatively, we can listen to what they have to say to us. We can listen to what our bodies really need in order to make realistic changes.
- Develop your self-concept
Sure, what we look like forms one part of who we are, but only one part of many different parts. Who are you in this world besides just a body? What else defines you? Do not let your body be your only preoccupation.
- What are real measures of worthiness?
Is the specific body weight and shape you are aiming for the only measure of your worthiness? Will you be more valuable when you take up less space?
- Cut down on your visual diet
Cut down on toxic messaging that plays into your distorted perception about your body. Delete any social media that is unhelpful in this way. Find like-minded people who can see their own bodies in more realistic ways.
- Try on another pair of glasses
Get some perspective and surround yourself with people who can see you with fresh eyes and focused lenses. You can look into joining the RMR Coaching Program or Hero Group Support Group. Both programs allow you to engage in a real and honest way with others who know what it is like to have had broken glasses. They will have some tips and tricks to help you make the necessary glasses repairs and they may even let you try on their pair.
So, what kind of glasses do you wear when you look at yourself and your body? If you relate to the things spoken about in this article, it might be the case that your perception of yourself needs to change before anything else does. We can take our perceptions to great extremes that can impair our functioning and make daily life very difficult, and the longer we allow this, the harder it becomes to see things through a different lens. Time for a metaphorical eye examination and the fitting of some new prescription lenses to perceive you and your body in a different, much healthier way.