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August 11, 2017

Binge Eating Disorder & Body Dysmorphic Disorder Connection

Woman struggling with body image

For the countless individuals who struggle with binge eating disorder (BED), low self-esteem and poor body image are common experiences. However, for some individuals, body image concerns may become so intense that a person’s overall wellness and quality of life becomes severely compromised.

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a type of mental illness that is characterized by extreme concern about one or more perceived defects in one’s physical appearance [1]. A person with body dysmorphic disorder may experience such overwhelming distress about their perceived defect that they are unable to focus on anything else in their life.

In some extreme cases of body dysmorphic disorder, a person will suffer through hospitalizations, social isolation, and increased risk of suicide.

Commonalities Between BDD and BED

Body dysmorphic disorder impacts approximately 7.5 million people in the United States alone. However, this mental health disorder, much like binge eating disorder, is sadly stigmatized and grossly misunderstood.

Many individuals who are dealing with body dysmorphic disorder often face shame and guilt about their struggles and may feel isolated about the challenges they are facing.

Similarly, binge eating disorder is commonly misunderstood and thought of simply as a “lack of self-control” around food, when the reality is a far different story.

People who are dealing with binge eating disorder often feel ashamed about their abnormal eating behaviors, avoiding social interactions or relationships with others due to fear of someone discovering what they are struggling with.

Girl with BDD standing near rocksAlthough binge eating disorder is three times more common than anorexia and bulimia combined, less than half of people who are struggling will receive the eating disorder treatment needed for recovery [2].

Both eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder are connected with low self-esteem and depression.

For some individuals, binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder are co-occurring disorders, meaning these two mental illnesses are both present and active.

Dealing with both of these mental illnesses can be overwhelming and complex to face; however, understanding the connection can better help a person seek out the professional treatment needed for recovery and healing.

Understanding the Mental Health Connection

For a person who is facing both binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder, typically one mental illness will proceed the development of the other. For example, in an individual who is dealing with body dysmorphic disorder, there may be a hyper-focus on a certain aspect of their appearance, commonly a flaw that most people would not notice or identify.

The resulting distress that a person with body dysmorphic disorder might experience may trigger them to engage in maladaptive coping mechanisms.

For an individual who is susceptible to developing binge eating disorder, the body dysmorphic may trigger the onset of the eating disorder.

A person who is unable to cope with the anxiety, depression, and stress they feel about the perceived body defects may engage in behaviors associated with binge eating, such as eating large quantities of food when not physically hungry and to the point of discomfort.

The difficulty is that the maladaptive eating behaviors of binge eating disorder often worsen feelings of depression and shame, often influencing feelings of guilt and disgust during and after binge eating episodes. This can be problematic for a person who is also struggling with body dysmorphic disorder, often intensifying the pain and suffering they are already experiencing.

Seeking out Recovery and Support

Co-occurring binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder are extremely complex mental illnesses, and seeking out professional help and treatment is vital to recovery.

It is important that both binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder are addressed in treatment at the same time, so working with specialists who are versed in both areas can help maximize the effectiveness of treatment.

Woman sitting on rock ledge struggling with Body Dysmorphic DisorderMultidisciplinary treatment can offer the comprehensive care needed to address the many complex issues that are involved with both binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder, including psychiatric care, medical nutrition therapy, psychotherapy, medication management, and more.

Some of the treatment approaches that might be utilized for both binge eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) [3].

If you have found yourself struggling with these mental illnesses, know that you are not alone and that there is hope for recovery and healing.


Crystal Headshot 2About the Author: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Contributing Writer for Eating Disorder Hope.  Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her work with EDH and nutrition private practice.


References:

[1]: International OCD Foundation, “What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder”, https://bdd.iocdf.org/ Accessed 5 July 2017
[2]: National Eating Disorder Association, “Binge Eating Disorder – Overview and Statistics”, https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/binge-eating-disorder Accessed 5 July 2017
[3]: Phillips, K. A. (2004). Body dysmorphic disorder: recognizing and treating imagined ugliness. World Psychiatry, 3(1), 12–17.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on August 11, 2017.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on August 11, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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