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Is Body Dysmorphia an Eating Disorder?

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The symptoms of body dysmorphia include a deep dissatisfaction with your appearance, but not the unhealthy eating habits or compensatory behaviors that are central to anorexia and bulimia. So, is body dysmorphia an eating disorder, or does it belong in another category?

What Is Body Dysmorphia?

Before we answer the question, “Is body dysmorphia an eating disorder?” let’s take a moment to review the diagnostic criteria for this condition.

Body dysmorphic disorder (which is the clinical term for body dysmorphia) is type of mental illness that is characterized by an obsession with what you believe to be flaws in your appearance. 

As established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the criteria for body dysmorphia include:

  • Being preoccupied with perceived defects or flaws in appearance, even though these supposed deformities are either slight or not observable by other people
  • Performing repetitive behaviors, such as excessive grooming, comparing yourself to others, and seeking reassurance, in response to these perceived flaws or defects
  • Experiencing clinically significant distress and/or functional impairments in one or more important areas of life as a result of your preoccupation with your appearance

People who have body dysmorphia often become hyper-focused on one or more specific aspects of their body, such as their skin, hair, nose, stomach, or teeth. The perceived flaws with these areas may involve shape, size, symmetry, or general appearance. The DSM-5 also includes a “muscle dysmorphia” specification for people who believe that their body is too small or lacks appropriate musculature.

While virtually everyone has aspects of their appearance that they are less than thrilled with, those with body dysmorphia will deal with what the DSM-5 describes as an “intrusive, unwanted, and time-consuming,” preoccupation. This preoccupation, the DSM-5 notes, will consume an average of three to eight hours every day.

Is Body Dysmorphia an Eating Disorder?

Is body dysmorphia an eating disorder? As we alluded to at the outset of this post, dissatisfaction with appearance indicates that it might be, while the lack of abnormal eating or compensatory behaviors suggests otherwise.

According to the DSM-5, body dysmorphic disorder is not an eating disorder.

In the DSM-5, body dysmorphia appears in the “Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders” section. Other conditions in this section include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), hoarding disorder, trichotillomania (compulsive hair-pulling), and excoriation disorder (compulsive skin-picking).

The main differentiators between body dysmorphia and eating disorders involve weight management. People who have body dysmorphic disorder may engage in a variety of repetitive or compulsive actions as a result of their negative body image, but denial of food or dangerous attempts to lose unhealthy amounts of weight are not among these symptomatic behaviors. 

An article on the International OCD Foundation website described body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders as “separate conditions that also have some overlapping features.” This article also noted that it is possible for someone to be diagnosed with both body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. 

In an article on the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website, clinical psychologist Lousie Stains listed the following similarities between people who have body dysmorphia and those who have various eating disorders:

  • Impaired self-perception
  • Appearance-related preoccupations
  • Repetitive appearance-related behaviors
  • Self-evaluation based on appearance
  • Personality traits such as perfectionism and sensitivity to rejection

In addition to these commonalities, Stains reported that people who develop either of these types of disorders also have an increased likelihood of certain co-occurring mental or behavioral health concerns, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and substance abuse.

Treatment Options for Body Dysmorphia

Treatment for body dysmorphia often involves a combination medication and therapy.

The medication component of treatment usually begins with serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a category that includes fluoxetine (Prozac) and paroxetine (Paxil). SSRIs are usually employed as antidepressants, but they can also be beneficial to people who have a variety of other mental health disorders, including body dysmorphia.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has proved to be one of the most effective therapeutic interventions for people who have body dysmorphia. 

CBT is based in part in the view that psychological distress is often the result of maladaptive thought patterns and negative opinions of yourself, the world, and the future. During CBT sessions, patients work to identify these problematic characteristics in themselves, then learn to replace them with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.

A comprehensive, personalized treatment plan for someone with body dysmorphia may also include individual psychotherapy, group and family therapy, trauma therapy, holistic therapies, and an array of other services. 

There is no single ideal course of treatment for this disorder. Instead, what’s most important is finding a provider who will assess your needs and then identify the medications, therapies, and additional services that are best for you.

Learn More About Body Dysmorphia Treatment in Atlanta

Peachtree Recovery Solutions is a trusted provider of life-affirming outpatient care for adults whose lives have been disrupted by body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and a host of other mental and behavioral health concerns.

Treatment options at our center in Atlanta, Georgia, include a partial hospitalization program (PHP), an intensive outpatient program (IOP), and an outpatient program (OP). We also offer gender-specific programs for both men and women, as well as robust aftercare support services.

To learn more about how we can help you or someone in your family, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Admissions page or call us today. We look forward to answering all your questions and helping you determine if Peachtree Wellness Solutions is the perfect place for you or your loved one.