How Eating Disorders Affect A Person’s Body Image

An eating disorder is a mental illness that distorts your body image. What you see in the mirror may not be what other people see, which is a sign body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Like eating disorders, BDD is a serious mental illness that can have a devastating effect on a person’s body image and mental health. If left untreated, it can even lead to an increased risk of suicide.

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Many men and women feel unsatisfied with their bodies at some point in their lives, but BDD is a serious mental illness in which a person becomes fixated on or obsessed with their physical appearance. People with BDD become consumed with constantly thinking about one or more “defects” in their appearance that most people hardly notice or don’t even see. This obsession with their body causes significant stress, interrupts their life, and can lead to compulsive behaviors such as repeatedly checking their appearance in the mirror and avoiding situations that provoke anxiety.

BDD shares some symptoms with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and eating disorders. People with OCD have uncontrollable and recurring thoughts, fears or obsessions that compel them to perform certain rituals or routines in order to minimize their anxiety. Similarly, people with BDD have a preoccupation with their defects that often leads to ritualistic and obsessive behaviors, such as skin picking and repeatedly touching or measuring their perceived flaw. On the other hand, a person with an eating disorder worries about their weight and shape of their body, while a person with BDD is concerned about a specific body part.

What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

The exact cause of BDD is unknown, but there are certain risk factors for developing this disorder, including:

* Depression

* Physical or sexual abuse

* Experiencing a traumatic event or emotional conflict during childhood

* Having biological relatives with BDD

* Being picked on or criticized as a child

* Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

* Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

* Social Phobia

How is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treated?

Treatment for BDD often includes a combination of the following therapies, which are also successful treatments for eating disorders:

* Psychotherapy: This individual counseling focuses on cognitive therapy (changing a person’s thinking) and behavioral therapy (changing a person’s behavior) in order to correct the person’s false belief about their defect and minimize their compulsive behavior related to it.

* Medication: Sometimes antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are successful at treating BDD.

* Group and/or family therapy: Group and family support is key to treatment success. Group support allows individuals with BDD to connect with peers struggling with the same issues, and family support helps family members understand BDD and learn to recognize its signs and symptoms.

In addition to these therapies, people with eating disorders will receive nutritional support and counseling. This is often best done in a residential treatment setting that allows the person to recover under the care and supervision of medical professionals and without the stressful distractions of daily life. Holistic treatments for eating disorders are also highly effective in a residential setting, and can include yoga, mediation, physical therapy, art therapy, dance therapy, spiritual guidance, sensory integration, Reiki (energy) healing, EMDR, touch therapy, and EEG Biofeedback.

If you or someone you love is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder and/or an eating disorder, don’t wait. Delaying treatment could lead to serious health complications and even death. At Casa Palmera we believe that treating a person’s entire well-being — their physical, mental and spiritual health — is the fastest path to full recovery. Call Casa Palmera today and start the journey to healing today.

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