Thanks to social media, “men’s bodies are on display more than ever, and these pictures may be heavily filtered, photoshopped, or the best one out of hundreds of different shots and angles that didn’t make the cut,” Dr. Nagata says. In other words: If you’re constantly comparing yourself to muscular models, influencers, or celebs, it’s no wonder you feel like shit. And in the case of your IRL connections, you shouldn’t feel like you’re being judged or objectified by your own pals or dating partners.
So don’t be afraid to set boundaries (by changing the subject or flat-out telling someone you’re not cool with negative body talk), or to unfollow or mute anyone who leaves you feeling self-conscious, ashamed, or guilty, Dr. Nagata advises. The people you choose to surround yourself with should make you feel inspired and accepted, not like you’re in a never-ending competition and falling short.
Be honest with yourself about how your exercise and/or food routine really makes you feel.
Exercise has numerous health benefits and isn’t in and of itself an indicator of a problem, of course. However, an obsession with working out—to the point where you feel anxious or guilty when you take one rest day or use a trip to the gym as “punishment” whenever you eat certain foods—can signal that your regimen is actually hurting, not helping, your well-being, according to Dr. Nagata.
“You should be engaging in workouts that are fun or stress-relieving, but with eating disorders or muscle dysmorphia, exercise can be taken to the extreme and cause worry or preoccupation instead,” he says. The same goes for your diet: There’s nothing wrong with trying to incorporate a variety of nutritious foods in your meals, but if the way you eat is leaving you feeling drained or constantly hungry, health clearly isn’t the motivation.
That’s why Dr. Nagata suggests a more realistic routine that you can sustain in the long run—rather than “quick fixes” or extreme programs that zap your energy and make you miserable. That may look like learning to follow your body’s cues when it comes to hunger and fullness, or taking more days off when you’re feeling sore or just need a break. It can also be helpful to engage in a mix of different activities (like hiking, yoga, or swimming)—instead of sticking solely to strenuous strength training. Because underfeeding or overworking your body (and hitting the gym for the wrong reasons) kind of defeats the purpose of your “healthy” habits.
If you can’t get things under control on your own, call in the experts.
Asking for help and admitting that you’re struggling is easier said than done—especially for men, who have historically been taught that vulnerability is a sign of weakness. Bottling everything up, however, won’t do you any favors, because self-critical thoughts and behaviors thrive in the shadows, Dr. Nagata says.
“Speaking with a health care professional or therapist who specializes in body image issues can be incredibly beneficial, as difficult as it can seem,” Dr. Nagata says, adding that these experts are trained to be empathetic and offer personalized treatment plans to fit your individual situation. “Plus, they’re bound by confidentiality and will keep any information you share private.”