Chances are, there’s something you don’t like about your body (if not, that’s awesome!). A scar you find unsightly, a body part that hangs on to excess weight, a large forehead (or fivehead as I so lovingly call mine). Most of us can name a thing or two that we could do without; that’s human nature. But when those passing thoughts become constant sources of worry is when the problems begin. It’s at that point we start to worry about Body Dysmorphia.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body Dysmorphia, or more accurately Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is an anxiety disorder in which one constantly obsesses about their real or perceived flaws. They become shrouded in negative self-talk and can focus on little else. This disorder can cause the afflicted parties to sink into a depression, limit their social engagement due to discomfort with their appearance, and go to extreme measures to correct the perceived flaw while never finding satisfaction.
Someone without BDD may decide to wear a t-shirt over their swimsuit at the pool because they are uncomfortable with their body in a bathing suit, or push through their discomfort and wear the swimsuit anyway. Someone in the throes of Body Dysmorphia might decide not to go to the pool because their discomfort is so severe.
Who is Affected by Body Dysmorphia?
When we think of self-esteem and body image issues, our society tends to attribute these concerns to women. However, Body Dysmorphia has been proven to affect men and women equally. While the parts of the body men and women become preoccupied with may vary, it’s evident that Body Dysmorphia is a human condition. The stats show that about 1% of Americans have a diagnosed case of BDD. However, because Body Dysmorphia is so under-recognized, it’s hard to say what the true numbers are. 43% of men in America are dissatisfied with their overall appearance. How many of these gentlemen have true Body Dysmorphia is uncertain.
Body Dysmorphia in Children
Body Dysmorphic Disorder has been discovered in adults as old as eighty, and children as young as three. The symptoms of BDD tend to show before a child turns 18. This indicates a long history of this disorder in adults who find themselves affected. Children with BDD are at risk for social anxiety and depression. Signs of BDD in children include:
- Excessive grooming and cosmetics
- Refusal to appear in photos or look in a mirror
- Obsession over a perceived flaw
- Constantly comparing themselves to others.
Body Dysmorphia in Fitness
Fitness and nutrition have a positive effect on anxiety and depression levels. However, anyone can experience body dysmorphia, even the fastest and fittest of athletes. Studies have shown a flux of BDD type behaviors in weightlifters and physique competitors. In many cases, it’s the Body Dysmorphia that drives the individual to start their training journey. While many individuals begin training and eating well and feel the positive effects of the endorphins offered, those with BDD are never satisfied with their results. This, in combination with perceived happiness and success on social media platforms, is a dangerous mix for newcomers in the fitness industry.
How Can I Prevent or Overcome BDD?
There’s no way to prevent BDD. However, if you find yourself (or someone you care about) suffering from this disorder, consider cognitive behavioral therapy. Being vocal and spreading awareness about BDD will help people with this disorder understand that they are not alone. If you are entering a physique competition or another competitive fitness event that requires restriction and drastic weight changes, I highly recommend investing in a nutrition coach experienced in this field. This isn’t my area of expertise, but I’d be more than happy to point you in the right direction!
As always, I’d love to hear from you. Comment below with questions or stories about BDD.