Beat Body Dysmorphia in the Gym

May 16, 2023

Body dysmorphia is an anxiety disorder which involves a distorted and distressing perception of your physical appearance.

Sufferers report feeling "trapped in their own heads". Many experience intense feelings of shame, which can feed into self-isolation and seriously disrupt of daily life, work, relationships, and self-esteem.

Therapy and counselling are typically needed to recover from this condition. This is especially true if you are also struggling with disordered eating, an eating disorder, or other comorbid conditions.

This condition can be incredibly isolating.

Social media is commonly a catalyst for body insecurity and it also worsens body dysmorphia.

As of 2019, a survey by Alcon found that the average Canadian spends nearly 11 hours per day looking at a screen. 11 hours! Screen time has increased since 2019, so 11 hours minimum.

We now know that social media consumption is positively correlated with poor body image - the more you use it, the worse your body image is expected to be.

Reducing social media usage has a significant positive impact on body image and satisfaction with one's body, appearance and weight. So, what else can improve your perception of self?

Can I go to the gym to improve my body image?

Absolutely, you can. The gym is an incredibly valuable resource when you're healing and working on self-acceptance.

Here are four ways that regularly attending the gym can help build you into a happier, healthier person:

1. Cultivate a Positive Mindset

Regularly exercising at the gym can help you cultivate a more positive mindset! Positive thinking is essential for combating body dysmorphia.

Physical activity releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that elevate mood and reduce anxiety. You can create the conditions to feel better within... by taking physical action, without.

Instead of your physical body and perceived flaws, exercise diverts your focus to physical sensations. Not only that, but you can focus on the sense of achievement that comes with each workout - one day at a time.

Hard work feels good!

On our social media (@chopshopphysiques), we asked you about the main reason you work out at the gym. A handful of you DM'd us and shared a similar experience:

"I started working out for my appearance, but I stayed because of the way the gym helps my mental health."

So: you took action to change yourself, and you stayed to preserve yourself.

Your intentions are sometimes more important as your actions!

By adopting a stronger mindset and the intention to take good care of yourself, you can shift your attention away from body dissatisfaction.

2. Develop a Better Connection with your Body

Take this opportunity to develop a healthier and more positive connection with your body - go to the gym! Try something difficult. Try something new. By challenging yourself, you learn about your capacity for growth, strength, and resilience.

While you work towards any fitness goals you may have, you'll become more attuned to your body's needs and strengths.

You may begin to feel at home in your body.

Improve Appetite

Regular exercise, specifically strength training, can change the composition of your body. As you build muscle, your hormones change, and this affects your appetite.

Usually people find they are more in tune with their hunger and fullness cues because they're more connected with their bodies.

Improve Sleep

Not only does exercise improve your appetite, it also improves sleep duration and quality. Poor quality sleep, or too little sleep, puts you at risk for exacerbating or even developing mental illness.

If you can only change one thing, change your sleep patterns. This change is easiest to make along with getting regular exercise - simply because of the positive impact exercise has on sleep.

3. Become Part of a Supportive Community

One of the most significant benefits of the gym is the potential for joining a supportive community. If you're not keen on training solo, Chop Shop Physiques partners with a host of incredible local trainers that can guide and support you through training sessions.

Even if you're not looking for a trainer, you're still welcomed into the community by the people around you! Nothing is as motivating as being surrounded by people who also want to learn, grow, and take care of themselves. Good energy is contagious!

Join a community that celebrates your successes!

Surrounding yourself with people who share similar goals and aspirations helps you foster a sense of belonging and camaraderie. You'll also feel less isolated - an experience most people with body dysmorphia know intimately.

You're not alone in your struggles - hit the gym, join a community of people who appreciate you, and gain a new perspective.

4. Let Physical Progress Empower you

When you think of an 'empowering environment' - think of the gym! 

Here, you can make tangible, measurable achievements. When you pick up a weight or load up a machine, you accept your freedom to focus on improving your strength, stamina, balance, flexibility, mobility, and overall physical performance.

Value your body for what it can DO, not how it looks.

Solely focusing on appearance feels terrible. Running a longer distance or increasing your mobility, well! Those things feel incredible.

Valuing your body for what it can DO rather than how it LOOKS directly challenges the limiting beliefs of body dysmorphia.

Set non-appearance-based goals, achieve them with consistent effort, and embrace a healthier, more balanced and empowered perspective.

In conclusion!

Poor body image is often an externalization of internal and emotional issues and can sometimes be part of a trauma response. A lot of deep work and time is required to heal the wounds you can't see, so try to be patient with yourself.

If you're struggling with a severe psychological disorder, make sure you seek out and receive any and all appropriate treatment.

In the meantime, arm yourself with the gym and continue fighting negative, unhelpful, and intrusive thoughts.

Grow a stronger connection with your body, improve your mindset, join a great community of like-minded, supportive people, and let the progress you make in the gym shift your priorities to something more beneficial.

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