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Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Why It’s So Dangerous

Article Contributed By Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

2062338340_75b3fc2259It is not uncommon to hear someone complain about their body or express dissatisfaction with a particular body part. As a culture, we are entrenched with the faulty ideas of body perfection, living in a society that continually reminds us that we are not good enough.

Self-demoralizing phrases like, “I look so fat in this”, or “I hate my body”, have become all too commonplace. Generally, we are harsh on ourselves, judging our appearances rigidly against incomparable standards, viewing ourselves only in terms of how we appear instead of what we can do.

The Damage Goes Beyond Just Feeling Bad About Your Body

Research has revealed the damaging consequences of this mindset. It has been observed that when individuals experience poor body image, they will often turn to dieting as a solution. A disturbed body image is a significant component of eating disorders and plays an important role in the development and continuation of eating disorders [1].

Research has also shown us that low self-esteem is often connected with health-compromising behaviors in adolescence such as disordered eating problems, substance abuse, suicide-ideations, and early sexual activity [2].

The Red Flags for BDD

With many negative implications associated with poor body image and low self-esteem, it is important to be aware of red flags that can reveal a more serious problem. How can an individual discern poor body image from a more serious mental illness, like Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a chronic mental illness in which individuals cannot stop from thinking or obsessing about a perceived flaw in their appearance. This mental illness is classified as an “obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder”, as obsessions over body image are involved, and compulsions to act on thoughts are repeatedly done to reduce anxiety [3].

This obsession often becomes incapacitating, in that the sufferer is unable to function normally due to the shame they feel about their appearance. This may lead to severe disruptions in one’s life, such as loss of job, financial distress, severed relationships, and more.

There Are Many Signs That Someone May Have BDD

If you suspect that you or your loved one may be dealing with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, be aware of these following signs and symptoms:

  • Avoidance of social engagements and situations
  • Extreme self-consciousness and preoccupation with physical appearance
  • Repeated cosmetic procedures with minimal satisfaction
  • Excessive or redundant grooming habits
  • Deep fear that others are judging you based on your perceived flaw
  • Unable to normally function in other facets of life, such as in a career or within a family unit
  • Constant need for reassurance from others about appearance
  • Corresponding anxiety or depression
  • Hyper focusing on a particular body part or face

Why These Signs Should be Taken Seriously

These signs and symptoms may indicate a more serious problem is at hand rather just being unhappy with a part of one’s appearance. Body Dysmorphic Disorder can affect countless individuals, including males and females from a multitude of backgrounds, races, and cultures.

If left untreated or unaddressed, Body Dysmorphic Disorder can lead to serious consequences, including suicidal ideations and attempts, increased anxiety and depression, and eating disorders.

Assistance Is Available for BDD

Perhaps your fixation over your perceived body image flaws has become intensely destructive in your own life. Fortunately there is assistance available and forms of treatment that can help you overcome Body Dysmorphic Disorder. A recommended plan of treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder would include a combination of psychotherapy and medication.

Forms of therapy that have been shown to help alleviate symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP).

If you or your loved one is suffering with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, take the steps today toward seeking the help and treatment you need to overcome this struggle. You can find freedom from this overwhelming burden of self-destruction as well as hope and healing for recovery.


 

References:

[1]: Stice, E. (2002). Risk and maintenance factors for eating pathology: A meta analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 59, 1105-1109.
[2]: American Psychological Association. Task force on the sexualization of girls. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: www.apa.org/pi/wpo/sexualization.html
[3]: International OCD Foundation. Body Dysmorphic Disorder, http://www.ocfoundation.org/uploadedfiles/bdd%20fact%20sheet.pdf

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