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What is Body Dysmorphia and how does it relate to binge eating? | Balance

Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Characterized by an irrational obsession with a perceived physical flaw, this disorder can severely impact an individual's quality of life. In some cases, body dysmorphia can coexist with other mental health conditions, such as binge eating disorder. In this article, we will explore the nature of body dysmorphia, its relation to binge eating, and the available treatment options for those struggling with these conditions.

Woman with body dysmorphia

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body dysmorphia, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), is a psychiatric disorder in which individuals become preoccupied with a minor or nonexistent physical imperfection. This fixation goes beyond occasional self-consciousness and can significantly interfere with daily functioning.

The perceived flaw is often invisible to others, and reassurances from loved ones may be dismissed by the person suffering from BDD.

Common areas of focus for individuals with body dysmorphia include facial features, hair, skin, weight, and body composition.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia

The primary symptom of BDD is an excessive preoccupation with one or more aspects of one's appearance. This fixation can lead to anxiety in social situations, low self-esteem, and problems concentrating at work or school.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Constant comparison of one's perceived defect to others

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Repetitive behaviors to conceal flaws, such as excessive grooming or seeking cosmetic surgery

  • Obsessive mirror checking or avoiding mirrors altogether

  • Compulsive skin picking (excoriation)

  • Frequent changing of clothes

In some cases, muscle dysmorphia, a subcategory of BDD, may be present. This condition involves a preoccupation with the belief that one's body is too small or not muscular enough, and is more common in males.

Binge Eating Disorder Overview

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a separate eating disorder characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amounts of food in a short period, often accompanied by feelings of loss of control.

Unlike bulimia nervosa, individuals with BED do not engage in purging behaviors to compensate for the binge episodes.

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

Some of the specific signs of binge eating disorder may include:

  • Eating large quantities of food within a short time frame

  • Inability to control eating behaviors

  • Eating rapidly during binge episodes

  • Eating until physically uncomfortable or sick

  • Eating despite feeling full

  • Eating secretly or in isolation

  • Frequent attempts at dieting with little success

  • Feelings of guilt, shame, or distress related to eating behaviors

  • Depression related to eating

The Connection Between Body Dysmorphia and Binge Eating Disorder

While body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder are distinct conditions, they can co-occur in some individuals. Both disorders are associated with low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety, which can contribute to the development of one or both conditions.

In cases where body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder coexist, one disorder may trigger the onset of the other. For example, an individual with body dysmorphia may use binge eating as a coping mechanism to deal with the immense distress caused by their perceived physical flaw.

Conversely, the guilt and shame resulting from binge eating episodes may exacerbate body dysmorphic thoughts and behaviors.

Seeking Help and Treatment for Body Dysmorphia and Binge Eating Disorder

If you suspect you or a loved one may be suffering from body dysmorphia or binge eating disorder, it is crucial to seek professional help as soon as possible. Early intervention increases the likelihood of successful treatment and long-term recovery.

Diagnosing Body Dysmorphia and Binge Eating Disorder

To diagnose BDD, mental health professionals rely on the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). These criteria include a preoccupation with a perceived physical flaw, repetitive behaviors related to the flaw, significant distress or disruption in daily functioning, and the absence of an eating disorder as the direct cause of the preoccupation.

Binge eating disorder is also diagnosed based on criteria from the DSM-5, which include recurrent binge eating episodes, feelings of loss of control during binges, and marked distress about binge eating.

Treatment Options

Recovery from body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder often requires a combination of treatments, tailored to the individual's unique needs. Treatment plans may need to be adjusted over time as a person's needs change. Some of the available treatment options include:


Intensive psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be effective in treating both body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns, improving self-esteem, and building a healthier self-image.

Support Groups

Participation in support groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals with body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder to share their experiences, learn from others, and develop coping strategies.

The Importance of a Compassionate and Professional Approach

Recovering from body dysmorphia and binge eating disorder can be a challenging journey. A professional and compassionate treatment approach is essential in helping individuals navigate the complexities of these conditions and work towards lasting recovery.

By understanding the nature of body dysmorphia and its relationship with binge eating disorder, individuals and their loved ones can better recognize the signs and symptoms of these conditions and seek appropriate help and treatment.

With the right support and resources, recovery from these disorders is possible, and individuals can regain a healthy and fulfilling life.

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