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Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Why It’s So Dangerous

It 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 can lead to Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

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 Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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].

Woman judging herself in the mirrorResearch has found that body dysmorphic disorder affects approximately 2.4% of the general population in the United States, which means that up to 7.5 million individuals struggle with this mental health condition [3]. These numbers are likely an underestimate of the true population size of those impacted by body dysmorphic disorder, as many individuals with this condition are often hesitant to reach out for help or reveal their struggle.

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

Some of the most common preoccupations with body dysmorphic disorder include anomalies on the skin, such as acne, scarring, spotting, etc., nose size or shape, and hair, such as baldness or excessiveness. Preoccupations can be focused on any body part, and physical anomalies are usually imagined defects in appearance [4].

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.

Body dysmorphic disorder can cause a severe impairment in overall quality of life, making daily activities difficult. Many individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are unable to attend school, hold a job, or even engage in relationships. Studies have found that more than 40% of individuals with BDD had been psychiatrically hospitalized [4].

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.

Woman judging herself in mirrorForms 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.

 


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]: 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
[4]: Bjornsson, A. S., Didie, E. R., & Phillips, K. A. (2010). Body dysmorphic disorder. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 12(2), 221–232.


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 July 19, 2017.
Edited And Updated By: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC.
Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on July 19, 2017.
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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