Today, we’re continuing with our three-part interview with Maggie, who struggled with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Maggie is the creator of Sprout Yoga, a fantastic organization that teaches yoga to individuals healing from eating disorders and trauma.
Below, Maggie talks specifically about her recovery, yoga’s role in that recovery and what she’s learned in general.
See here for part one of our interview. Please come back Monday to read the final part of the interview!
What helped you in recovering from BDD?
Yoga, yoga, yoga. No really. I had a wonderful therapist who explained to me that my yoga practice was necessary for my recovery from BDD as well as my long-term recovery from anxiety. Exercise was part of my medicine, she said, because I needed to feel myself in space and time. Yoga was part of therapy in the sense that I could learn to tolerate somatic feelings, but also because of the integration of the body and mind that comes from yoga.
In fact, yoga was so much a part of recovering from BDD and my related disordered eating, that I started a nonprofit so other people could get access to it called Sprout Yoga. The goal in treating BDD is to have the sufferer integrate the body part or body size into a whole, a unit. In yoga, you explore what your body can do, where you are in space and time, and understand that how your body moves and feels is a component of your experience on earth.
To paraphrase the Baghavad Gita, the body and the mind operate like a chariot and horse. But the spirit and self are the drivers. Understanding that experience through a weekly practice let me get a glimpse out of living with BDD. I also know, that like many people, my yoga practice can wax and wane. And I know how I experience myself and the BDD during the wane times. There are times I definitely have to tell that inner voice to shut the (insert expletive here) up. And that sense of learning how to talk to yourself with compassion is at the core of healing from BDD.
You can learn it through yoga, through developing a spiritual practice or through support groups or therapy like cognitive behavioral therapy. The goal of all of those disciplines is to learn, ultimately, that you are loved beyond measure by a higher power no matter your perceived flaws. Once you understand that, the BDD really does shut the (insert expletive here) up.
What were the toughest parts of your treatment?
That’s hard to say. I think surrendering that I really didn’t know or couldn’t perceive my body and also accepting that my judgment about my body was pretty much permanently flawed. Recognizing that I’d lost big parts of my life to silently struggling with BDD – keeping away from meaningful relationships because I couldn’t handle intimacy or couldn’t understand how someone could be attracted to me or even love me if I was so clearly flawed by being so huge. Obviously, depression is a black hole that sucks the energy out of you and can leave you stuck swirling away from your family and friends for years.
Do you still struggle with BDD-related thoughts and behaviors? If so, how do you work to overcome them?
I definitely still struggle with BDD-related thoughts. These thoughts crop up most often when I start a new job, or begin a new relationship. They also pop up like the furry puppets in a whack-a-mole game anytime I transition in my life. Usually, I can catch the thoughts as they start to rise and address them as they are, saying to them “you aren’t welcome here,” or “you are lying,” or even “give it a rest for today.”
But sometimes they do get overwhelming. I attend meetings for other people who are recovering from compulsive eating and restricting and am blessed to have them in my life because no matter how good I am at hiding the thoughts and behaviors from others (who really sees if you’ve skipped breakfast and lunch?) I can’t hide from them!
However, those friends are unable to stop me from behaviors. In healing from BDD, you reach a place where you know you aren’t acting rationally, but need some sort of concrete proof that you are smaller than you think or less ugly than imagined. That has sometimes been the scale for me (i.e., if I feel like a whale but step on the scale and it is the same number as the day before, clearly I have not mysteriously gained 20 pounds overnight), though the scale is not my friend. It is like fertilizer for the disordered eating. Or crack.
Other times that comes in the form of the tape measure. If I measure my waist, for instance, and see that it measures a healthy 29.5 inches, then I can say to myself that rationally I am a healthy weight. And after I have that “rational” discussion with myself, I then sit down and listen to my thoughts and see where they are coming from and what in my life I need to learn to accept and what I need to ask for the courage to change.
What are some insights you’ve learned about BDD that you’d like to share with readers?
That BDD is sneaky, and mean. Just like the eating disorder/disordered eating that can follow it, or its friends compulsive shopping or drug addiction. If you think you have an easy way out of BDD – restricting your food, going under the knife, staying away from social events – you’ve only fed the beast for one day. If you don’t access the power to tolerate your body and ultimately yourself, you will be slave to the beast forever.
My friend Sue Jones of yogaHOPE put it best when she said “people who survive trauma or other negative life events often live with the sense that they suck and are terrible people. Addicts take this to the inside core level of their selves, you gave it a concreteness in your BDD.” Understanding that the BDD stems from a reaction to something allows you to make progress in dealing with that something, rather than constantly going to war with the BDD.
Thanks so much, Maggie, for sharing part two of your story. Remember that part three will be posted on Monday.
Have a wonderful weekend!