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People struggling with an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder may be struggling with negative body image. For people with eating disorders, body image concerns tend to center around becoming fat. People with body dysmorphic disorder may be preoccupied with anything they believe is flawed about their body . However, people with eating disorders are more likely to suffer with body dysmorphia .
What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental illness . People struggling with this are extremely worried about any physical flaws. You might be wondering how this is a disorder since everyone struggles with body image from time to time. For people with body dysphoria, this insecurity is blown way out of proportion.
For example, someone with this disorder may be insecure about the shape of their nose. To everyone else, it’s not a big deal or they don’t even notice it . But for the person struggling, this insecurity might take over their life. This can cause a lot of emotional distress. This extreme worry about their physical “flaws” can lead to a cycle of compulsive behaviors that are harmful.
Going back to the example of the nose insecurity, compulsive behaviors may include constantly looking in the mirror or asking for reassurance from others about their appearance . This level of insecurity can interrupt someone’s life and cause a lot of harm .
In fact, someone may be so worried about their appearance that it’s all they think about . This can impact their ability to function at school, complete job responsibilities, or have satisfying relationships. Over time, this disorder can lead to anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts .
There are so many different things that someone may be insecure about, which means there is a wide range of behaviors that someone may compulsively engage in. Some other examples include wearing a lot of makeup, choosing clothes that conceal their body, over-exercising, or excessive plastic surgery . Some behaviors may be more harmful than others.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder & Eating Disorders: Are They Related?
Eating disorders and body dysmorphia often go hand in hand . In fact, recent research shows that people with eating disorders are 12 times more likely to struggle with body dysmorphia ! Not surprisingly, women are more likely to struggle with body dysmorphia than men . People with eating disorders are more likely to obsess about their bodies, especially about what they believe are physical flaws .
Even though these two conditions are linked and can significantly harm someone’s mental and physical health, there isn’t a lot of research about why they are related . While researchers continue to look into this, there are some treatment approaches that can be helpful .
Treatment for Eating Disorders & Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Mental health professionals and researchers have a few suggestions for addressing body image concerns. These include:
- Screening- Researchers suggest that healthcare professionals should be screening their clients with body dysmorphia regularly for eating disorder symptoms . This can help someone get treatment earlier, which could be lifesaving. Screening vulnerable populations, such as younger people, for body image distress can also help someone get help early for body dysmorphia or disordered eating .
- Self-Esteem Work- Therapy for self-esteem can help someone struggling with body dysmorphia . This can also be helpful for people who are more likely to develop this disorder .
Body dysmorphia and eating disorders often go hand in hand. It’s important for everyone to be aware of the risks of these two conditions. If you’re struggling, please reach out for help. Relief and healing are possible.
Resources: Fishman, I.V. (2018). Kim Kardashian mentions body dysmorphia concern—Here’s what it is and how to get help. National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/kim-kardashian-mentions-body-dysmorphia-concern-heres-what-it-and-how-get-help  Angela Ruskin University. (2020, October 13). Study links eating disorders with body dysmorphia. ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/10/201013124119.htm
About the Author:
Samantha Bothwell, LMFT, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, writer, explorer, and lipstick aficionado. She became a therapist after doing her own healing work so she could become whole after spending many years living with her mind and body disconnected. She has focused her clinical work to support the healing process of survivors of sexual violence and eating disorders. She is passionate about guiding people in their return to their truest Self so they can live their most authentic, peaceful life.
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 May 11, 2021 on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on May 11, 2021, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC