It’s hard not to talk about unrealistic expectations without talking about a condition that many people have to varying degrees… body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Everyone tends to have that one area of their body that they wish would be a little bit more muscular, a little less fat or a bit more toned. Whilst it’s good to strive to be better, it can become unhealthy if obsessed over.
The BDD foundation says that for a “slight concern” to qualify as BDD, you must be preoccupied with the problem areas for over an hour a day, cause significant distress and/ or interfere with at least one area of your lives. So, for most people it’s not necessary to worry about this disorder, but it has been shown to affect at least 2% of the population so it’s worth mentioning.
Nature vs. nurture
One of the best ways of understanding where people’s attitudes towards their own bodies come from is Cash’s general cognitive social learning model of body image disturbance (2002, 2008). Before your eyes glaze over, let us explain…
Cash’s model discusses how historical factors (interpersonal experiences, a person’s looks, and their personality) lead to, not just how you see yourself physically but how you see yourself emotionally and the behaviours that are then maintained via negative reinforcement. So, often people compare themselves to friends/family and how they appear. In these moments it is important to remember that they can have an almost completely different body structure to you, so no matter how hard we try, we will never look like them… and that’s not a bad thing!
People can also engage in social learning which occurs by “observing others being reinforced positively or negatively for a particular belief or behaviour” (Bandura, 1977). Long story short, likes on social media! Constant exposure to altered images, which is an increasing phenomenon, can lead to an unhealthy pressure to achieve unrealistic body types. This can then result in body dysmorphic behaviours. It is important to remember that, when looking at a lot of these images, they have been taken at exactly the right angle, in the perfect lighting, at the best time of day, when athletes/models are at the peak of their diets. In other words, they don’t look like that all the time!
The pursuit of perfection
Having said all this, it is important to point out that it is always good to try your hardest when aiming to make the most of your physiques/ performance abilities. What we want is for your goals to be within the realms of reality… not just because this means more consistent training, but also because your mental wellbeing is as important as your physical wellbeing.
Come see one of the fitness team for advice on making sure your goals are attainable so that you can avoid the disappointment of setting unrealistic goals and developing bad habits.