And every morning when she looks in the mirror while getting ready for the day, she sees her former, heavier self. “My brain says, ‘Yep, still fat.’”I have been struggling a lot with body image this week, so when I found this article from MSNBC on so-called Phantom Fat, I felt a little less crazy for being so hard on myself. What is Phantom Fat, you ask? The article explains it as continuing to carry around and perceive the excess weight that is no longer there after significant weight loss. This has been something I can remember trying to figure out as far back as last year, right before reaching my goal weight. When shopping, I still grab clothes that are too large. I still get nervous about taking too much room in the back seat of a crowded vehicle.
When I look in the mirror and honestly don't see an enormous difference. I still have a belly. My cheeks are still chubby. I won't ever have a "bikini body." Sometimes I wonder if what I see is anything similar to what I look like physically. Last week, a friend exclaimed "You're so skinny!" after not seeing me for about six months and internally all I could think was She's just saying that to be nice.
When I was 270 lbs, I'd look at pictures and not recognize myself because what I saw in the mirror was actually smaller than what I saw in photos or videos. It was always shocking to me, so I avoided looking at photographs displaying my full body. (Note: I remember being thoroughly upset by the photo to the left, taken on a family trip to Gettysburg with my mom.) These days, the opposite is true. I see photographs of myself that others have taken and still don't recognize my body, but now it's because my self-perception is much larger than what I'm assuming I look like in reality.
I always feel like I'm looking in a fun-house mirror. My body is constantly changing and I still don't have a solid sense of what sort of space I'm taking up. The summer before beginning my weight loss venture, I vividly remember breaking not one, but two folding chairs while on on the beach. This was mortifying and has always been something I keep in mind when I don't think I can do another rep or run that final mile. Yet, the other day I found myself stressing out about my upcoming vacation, hoping that my family brings along beach chairs sturdy enough to hold my significantly smaller frame. This can easily be attributed to Phantom Fat. I spent about 20 years of my life being overweight and it's hard to break certain ways of thinking and feeling.
“We become numb to how mean we’re being to ourselves,” Ressler says.
I hope to learn to be a little nicer to my reflection in the future. I'm sure it'll take some work and time, but I think it can be done.