Body dysmorphia plays a key role in anorexia and other eating disorders. People may be afraid of gaining weight and believe that their body is larger than it actually is.

Body dysmorphia is a distorted perception of one’s body that can negatively affect their body image.

In some people, body dysmorphia is severe enough to cause body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which means someone has ongoing significant distortions in their body image. This may cause them to get excessive plastic surgery, feel afraid to appear in public, or obsess over perceived but nonexistent flaws.

Read on to learn about the connection between anorexia and body dysmorphia.

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Numerous factors affect the development of body image issues that can lead to body dysmorphia or a distorted body image. They include the following:

  • Socialization: Experiences throughout life, especially exposure to messages suggesting a person must be thin or conform to a beauty standard, may affect body image. Commercials, social media, bullying, dieting pressures, and numerous other social messages may influence body image.
  • Body mass index (BMI): People with a higher BMI may fear judgment and pressure and may develop a distorted body image. Having to weigh themselves at the doctor’s office and other forms of weight pressure may contribute to this problem.
  • Family history: Family culture can influence body image, especially if a person experiences weight-related bullying or pressure to look a certain way. A family history of eating disorders may also be a risk factor, both because of biological processes and environmental influences.
  • Biases: A person may have cognitive biases that shift their body image. They might pay more attention to negative information, remember only image-based bullying, or be less apt to notice positive body messages.
  • Body perceptions: Research suggests that interoception, which is the sense of the body in space, may be different in those with eating disorders. Changes in a person’s physical sensations may be a risk factor for body image distortions.
  • Abuse: Abuse, particularly sexual abuse, may change a person’s perception of their body.
  • Illness: People with a history of chronic illnesses may develop distorted perceptions of their bodies.

Body dysmorphia is a distorted body image. Severe body dysmorphia may be a sign of BDD.

The symptoms of BDD include:

  • Obsessive and excessive preoccupation with a perceived physical flaw: The flaw might be nonexistent, or a person may fixate on it to a degree that disrupts their life.
  • Repetitive or compulsive behaviors related to a person’s appearance: Someone may spend hours investigating their appearance in the mirror, be unable to leave the house without makeup, or seek frequent reassurance about their appearance.
  • Preoccupation in general with a person’s appearance: The preoccupation disrupts daily life and may cause significant distress.

There is a significant overlap between anorexia and BDD.

Anorexia, by definition, includes some degree of body dysmorphia because those with anorexia have distorted perceptions of their weight. However, a person can have both anorexia and BDD.

Some important distinctions between the two conditions include:

  • People with anorexia have body dysmorphia about their weight, while those with BDD may have other image distortions, such as a fixation on their nose or hair.
  • Anorexia includes attempts to lose weight, while people with BDD may have other fixations, such as getting plastic surgery or compulsive grooming.
  • People with body dysmorphia may fixate on their weight, but they often have other fixations as well.
  • Body dysmorphia is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. A person obsesses over their appearance and then engages in compulsive behaviors, such as excessive grooming, to relieve the anxiety.

People with anorexia generally have a distorted body image. However, this distortion centers around their weight or body fat.

While anorexia generally causes body dysmorphia, which is a distorted body image, not all people with anorexia have BDD.

Treatments for BDD are similar to treatments for obsessive-compulsive disorder. It includes therapy to relieve anxiety and address body image issues.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and metacognitive therapy, both of which work to address negative thoughts, may be especially effective. Medication, usually selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are a type of antidepressant, can also help.

In some cases, a doctor might prescribe other medication, such as antianxiety medication.

In an image-conscious society, people face ongoing negative messages about their bodies. The right support can help them counter these messages and cultivate healthy self-esteem.

Some places to find support include:

A person can contact a doctor if they:

  • have symptoms of anorexia or BDD, such as restrictive dieting, obsessing over their appearance, or being unable to be happy because of perceived appearance flaws
  • rapidly lose weight
  • relapse after eating disorder or BDD treatment
  • are worried about a loved one’s BDD or eating disorder

Body dysmorphia, a distorted body image, is one characteristic of anorexia and other eating disorders.

However, while anorexia centers around weight, body dysmorphic disorder is a more widespread distortion of body image. Both disorders can cause significant harm, including life threatening health issues.

Treatment can offer relief, and early treatment can reduce the risk of serious health issues.