Body Dysmorphic Disorder (Obsession with Perceived Flaws) in Eating Disorders

Lady sitting on a beach

New research published in the Eating and Weight Disorders journal reveals individuals with eating disorders (ED) are 12 times more likely to have an obsession with perceived body flaws than those without an ED [1]. While an obsession with perceived body flaws is harmful on its own (often leading to compulsive behaviors and reduced quality of life), body dysmorphic disorder can become life-threatening when coupled with an eating disorder.

An obsession with perceived body flaws in eating disorders can result in worsened ED symptomatology, increased stress and anxiety levels, and may interfere with ED treatment outcomes.

What is Body Dysmorphia?

An obsession with perceived body flaws, otherwise known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), is the disease of imagined ugliness. BDD affects approximately 1 in 50 people in the general population, meaning anywhere from 5 to 10 million people suffer from BDD in the United States [2]. Individuals with this mental condition obsess over small or imagined “flaws” in their appearance–flaws which are not even noticeable to others. Common BDD obsessions include the following:

  • Hair
  • Skin
  • Chin
  • Nose
  • Freckles
  • Waist and hip size
  • Breast symmetry and size (females)
  • Genital size (mostly males)
  • Muscle tone and size (mostly males)

Woman picking apart her appearance due to her body dysmorphic disorderThis fixation on specific body parts or “problem areas” often leads to compulsive and time-consuming behaviors that interfere with one’s day to day life and cause stress, anxiety, and reduced quality of life [3]. Some of the behaviors and compulsions associated with BDD include:

  • Frequent mirror checking
  • Skin picking
  • Compulsive grooming
  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Excessively exercising
  • Seeking medical procedures (e.g., plastic surgery)
  • Obsessively changing outfits
  • Camouflaging (attempting to hide “flaws” or body parts with hair, clothes, hats, etc.)
  • Seeking constant reassurance about appearance from others
  • Comparing oneself to others
  • Attempting self surgeries

Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Eating Disorders

While an obsession with perceived body flaws (or body dysmorphia) is its own separate disorder and is not considered an eating disorder, research published in the Eating and Weight Disorders journal revealed BDD and eating disorders often go hand in hand [4].

In fact, in their survey of over 1,600 health club members, the researchers discovered that 76 percent of participants with an eating disorder also suffered from body dysmorphia [5]. This means people with eating disorders are 12 times more likely to suffer from BDD than those without an eating disorder.

Why do these new statistics on body dysmorphia and eating disorders matter? First, this study sheds new light on the complex relationship between eating disorders and body dysmorphia.

With so many individuals with eating disorders also suffering from BDD, it may be worthwhile for ED specialists to make BDD screening and treatment part of the ED treatment process. Second, with such a strong correlation between eating disorders and body dysmorphia, these findings suggest “healthcare professionals working with people with body dysmorphia should screen them for eating disorders regularly,” states lead author of the study Mike Trott, a Ph.D. researcher in Sports Science at ARU [6].


References:

[1] Study Links Eating Disorders With Body Dysmorphia. Neuroscience News. (2020, October 13). https://neurosciencenews.com/body-dysmorphia-eating-disorders-17157/.

[2] Prevalence of BDD. BDD. (2019, January 10). https://bdd.iocdf.org/professionals/prevalence/.

[3] Study Links Eating Disorders With Body Dysmorphia. Neuroscience News. (2020, October 13). https://neurosciencenews.com/body-dysmorphia-eating-disorders-17157/.

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.


About the Author:

Sarah Musick PhotoSarah Musick is a freelance writer who specializes in eating disorder awareness and education. After battling with a 4-years long eating disorder, she made it her mission to help others find hope and healing in recovery.

Her work has been featured on numerous eating disorder blogs and websites. When she’s not writing, Sarah is off traveling the world with her husband.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a 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 November 11, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on November 11, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.