BDD and Eating Disorders: The Stranger in the Mirror

Posted by on Aug 20, 2014

Have you ever wished your nose were smaller, or your hair were straighter, or your hips were narrower? Have those thoughts ever consumed your entire day? Have they ever kept you imprisoned in your own home?

Feeling self-conscious about one’s physical appearance is not uncommon. But if it becomes a self-loathing so intense that it interferes with your daily life, it might be another beast altogether. Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental illness in which sufferers fixate on their flaws, whether these flaws are real or perceived. Body-centric, critical thoughts are intrusive, consuming, and unremitting. Sufferers may forego work, school, and social events to hide these perceived flaws from others, and may undergo multiple cosmetic surgeries to fix what they think is flawed — always to no avail.

Body dysmorphia and BDD might help explain one of the most puzzling aspects of eating disorders such as anorexia: how a patient can become dangerously underweight, yet insist on losing more. Some say that malnutrition caused by restriction impairs brain functioning and foments the cognitive distortions that lead to body dysmorphia. But malnutrition isn’t the only potential physiological contributor. Research coming out of UCLA recently found that people with BDD have abnormal visual processing, even when looking at inanimate objects. In other words, they aren’t seeing what is really there.

The experience is equally as bewildering for eating disorder patients. My peers and I constantly struggle with the dissonance between what we hear from our supporters and what we see in our mirrors. When you have an eating disorder, you see with an entirely different set of eyes.

Click here to read the rest of my article on BDD and eating disorders on Healthy Minds’ blog.