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St. Paul, MN 55108
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Eating Disorders We Treat

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) in the DSM-5, is a mental health condition where people obsessively focus on perceived flaws in their appearance, often minor or unnoticed by others.  This can be a very distressing experience, leading to significant time spent checking mirrors, seeking reassurance, or trying to hide perceived flaws, sometimes resorting to cosmetic procedures.

Body dysmorphia is not about vanity; it’s a serious mental health issue that necessitates professional treatment. It can have a profound impact on daily functioning, extending far beyond mere dissatisfaction with one’s appearance.

Call 855-875-5812 to get help with an eating disorder.

What causes body dysmorphia?

The exact causes of body dysmorphia are not fully understood, but a combination of biological, psychological, and environmental factors is believed to contribute to its development. These may include:

  • Genetic Predisposition: A family history of body dysmorphia or similar disorders
  • Brain Differences: Abnormalities in certain areas of the brain related to processing visual information and emotional regulation
  • Psychological Factors: Low self-esteem, perfectionism, or experiences of bullying or teasing, especially about appearance
  • Cultural and Societal Influences: Exposure to societal pressures and ideals regarding physical appearance, often propagated by media and social platforms

Body dysmorphia is a complex disorder influenced by a range of factors, rather than a single cause.

What are the risks of body dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia carries several risks, including:

  • Mental Health Issues: Increased risk of developing anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Social and Relationship Problems: Avoidance of social situations and strained relationships due to excessive preoccupation with appearance
  • Health Risks from Cosmetic Procedures: Repeated surgeries or treatments which can lead to health complications.
  • Substance Use: Use of  alcohol or drugs to cope with the distress of perceived body flaws Impact on
  • Quality of Life: Significant interference with daily activities and overall life satisfaction

Considering the potential risks involved, it is crucial to treat body dysmorphia with the seriousness it deserves. Professional help is often necessary for effective management.

Understanding Body Dysmorphia

To grasp body dysmorphia, it is important to understand its complexities. This condition is closely tied to eating disorders, self-image, and weight concerns. Here’s how these connections generally work:

Inaccurate Self-Image and Body Dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia involves a preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s appearance, which can include specific body parts or overall body shape and size. This distorted self-image can significantly overlap with the core aspect of eating disorders: a negative body image.

Focus on Weight and Appearance with Body Dysmorphia

In some cases, individuals with body dysmorphia might fixate on their weight and body shape, similar to those with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. This fixation can lead to unhealthy eating behaviors as the individual tries to alter their body to fit an idealized image.

Eating Behaviors Associated with Body Dysmorphia

While body dysmorphia is not solely focused on weight, the distress and obsession over perceived physical defects can lead to disordered eating patterns. This is particularly true if the individual’s concerns are related to body fat or muscle size (as in muscle dysmorphia).

Overlap of Body Dysmorphia with Eating Disorders

There is a clear connection between body dysmorphia and eating disorders, as both share a strong emphasis on appearance. This heightened concern can have significant effects, causing emotional distress and impairing overall functioning. However, it is important to differentiate body dysmorphic disorder from eating disorders, as the preoccupation with appearance in body dysmorphia cannot be explained solely by the presence of an eating disorder. There are distinct factors and nuances specific to body dysmorphia that contribute to its preoccupation with appearance.

Mental Health Impact of Body Dysmorphia

Both body dysmorphia and eating disorders can lead to severe psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. The intense focus on body image concerns can severely impact an individual’s quality of life and mental health.

What is the relationship between body dysmorphia and weight?

Body dysmorphia and concerns about weight often intersect, but they are distinct issues. Individuals with body dysmorphia may fixate on specific body parts or their overall body shape, which can include weight-related concerns. However, body dysmorphia focuses more broadly on perceived physical flaws, not exclusively on weight. In contrast, weight-related concerns are more central in conditions like anorexia or bulimia nervosa. It’s important to differentiate between these conditions, as they each have unique characteristics and require different treatment approaches.

Muscle Dysmorphia

Muscle dysmorphia is a type of body dysmorphia that can affect people of all genders, but is commonly associated with men. It is a condition where a person is maladaptively concerned with the composition of their body in terms of muscle and fat; they experience their bodies as lacking in muscle.

People in such a mindset aren’t necessarily focused on being as thin as possible. More often, they will express a desire to build muscle and lower body fat. Working out, bodybuilding, and/or taking supplements are usually a prime preoccupation, as they try to reshape their bodies and bulk up. Those with muscle dysmorphia desire to become bigger and leaner; it’s a difference in emphasis from people who want to be just thinner in general.

Furthermore, beyond the interest in muscularity, people with muscle dysmorphia  are sometimes obsessed with food. It is not uncommon for people experiencing muscle dysmorphia to exercise excessively, adhere to strict diets, and engage in other disordered behaviors.

Treatment and Recovery

How can you recover from body dysmorphia?

There is hope for recovery from body dysmorphia. Recovering from body dysmorphia typically involves a combination of therapies:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals identify and change negative thinking patterns and behaviors related to body dysmorphia.
  • Medication: Certain antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), can be effective in treating BDD symptoms.
  • Support Groups: Participating in body dysmorphia-specific support groups can provide understanding, shared experiences, and coping strategies.
  • Self-Care and Stress Management: Practices like mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and appropriate (not excessive) physical activity can support overall mental health.
  • Education: Learning about body dysmorphia can help individuals and their loved ones understand the condition better.

How does Veritas Collaborative help people with body dysmorphia?

At Veritas Collaborative, our approach is to focus on the individual as a whole, beyond just the symptoms of an eating disorder. Our skilled multidisciplinary team offers tailored, empathetic, and expert care. We see you as more than your condition, and we’re dedicated to treating every aspect of your well-being.

Veritas Collaborative’s Treatment Approaches to Body Dysmorphia

Treatment for body dysmorphia at Veritas Collaborative often involves a combination of psychotherapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy), medication, and other counseling focused on body image and self-esteem.

Weight Restoration and Body Dysmorphia

Weight restoration in eating disorder recovery is about getting to a stable, healthy weight. It’s finding a weight that’s right for the person, covering their nutritional needs. While living with a restrictive eating disorder, such as anorexia, reaching this weight can take time and usually involves a big increase in calories to gain weight safely. Treatment teams often tailor a meal plan to help individuals achieve this goal.

Challenges of Weight Restoration with Body Dysmorphia

When recovering from body dysmorphia, weight restoration is particularly challenging because it involves significant changes in both eating habits and mindset. Those recovering from restrictive eating disorders often struggle with their bodies’ adaptations to low food intake and nutritional deprivation, which can make following a meal plan difficult due to feelings of fullness or discomfort.

Physical symptoms such as bloating, constipation, and headaches are common as the body readjusts to proper nutrition. These symptoms, while distressing, are typically temporary and improve as the individual consistently follows their meal plan. As the individual restores weight, medical professionals can closely monitor nutritional needs, ensure adequate intake of nutrients, and guide them toward a balanced and sustainable approach to weight restoration for long-term health and well-being.

Recovery from body dysmorphia also involves dealing with mental and emotional challenges related to weight gain, such as dissatisfaction with appearance and increased body image concerns.  These complex emotions arise especially after prolonged periods of restriction. Eating disorders significantly alter self-perception, relationship with food, and body image, making these thought patterns difficult to change during recovery. Therefore, those in recovery should seek support from both dietitians and therapists to navigate these emotional complexities and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Support and Awareness

What should you look for if you worry that someone has body dysmorphia?

If you are concerned that you, a loved one, or your patient  may have body dysmorphia, look for these signs:

  • Excessive Preoccupation with Appearance: The person may be overly concerned with a specific aspect of their appearance, which might seem minor or unnoticeable to others.
  • Engagement in Repetitive Behaviors: Constantly checking the mirror, excessive grooming, skin picking, or seeking reassurance about their appearance, etc.
  • Avoidance of Social Situations: Avoidance of social gatherings or public places due to appearance-related concerns
  • Emotional Distress and Impaired Functioning: Significant distress and impacted ability to function in daily life, including work, school, or relationships.
  • Seeking Cosmetic Procedures: Frequently seeking cosmetic surgeries or procedures, yet seemingly never satisfied with the results.

If these signs are present, approach the situation with understanding and encourage the individual to seek professional help. Body dysmorphia is a serious mental health condition that requires appropriate treatment.

Hear from Someone Who’s Dealt with Body Dysmorphia

Sarah Churchward, a professional writer and makeup artist, was diagnosed with body dysmorphia and narcolepsy in her late teens. Listen to Episode 13 of our Peace Meal podcast to hear Sarah’s story. 

Body dysmorphia is a challenging but treatable condition. If you suspect you or someone you know might be struggling, there is hope. With professional help and support, you can develop a healthier relationship with your body and improve your overall well-being.

Ask for help. You are not alone. Begin healing today.