Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as body distortion, is a condition characterized by an extreme obsession over one’s weight or appearance. People with body dysmorphic disorder are mainly concerned with how others view them, even if the parts of their appearance they are concerned with are greatly exaggerated or perceived inaccurately. According to the Body Dysmorphic Foundation, the disorder can affect both men and women. Symptoms include intense feelings of distress and anxiety over body parts that are problematic, obsessive thinking, social isolation, and extremely controlling behavior. Here are eight ways to treat the disease.
Write Down Fears
Journaling is a good way to determine what the driving cause of body dysmorphic disorder is. For some people, it could be coming from a family history of obesity, anxiety, or being teased as a child for imperfections. The next step is to get rid of everything in one’s life that contributes to feelings of low self-esteem. This may include donating clothes that do not fit properly and creating distance between friends or relatives who increase feelings of not being good enough.
Set Realistic Expectations
A person with body dysmorphic disorder may constantly compare themselves to others or participate in crash dieting. Instead of trying to obtain unrealistic goals such as losing a certain amount of weight, focus on making better food choices such as eating more fruits and vegetables and less processed foods. Instead of hitting the gym for hours at a time, exercise three to five times a week by walking, bike riding or running outdoors. Over time these small goals will develop into significant results that are easier to maintain.
As anxiety is often an underlying disorder associated with body dysmorphic disorder, reducing stress may help take off some of the pressure of having a perfect appearance. High amounts of stress can be an unintentional trigger for low self-esteem, self-worth, and self-compassion. Focus on healthy ways to deal with stress that does not involve excessive exercise or other unhealthy habits that will worsen the disease. Meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, and practicing relaxation yoga may help. Studies show that earthing or spending more time in nature may also help.
Mindful eating is a technique used to focus on sustainable, healthy eating and body acceptance. Instead of restricting the diet or eating a tiny amount of food, mindful eating asks the person to eat their food slowly and chew each bit with purpose. This slowed method of eating enables the person to check in with their feelings and tune in with personal fears while eating. The goal of mindful eating is to support a healthier relationship with food by offering a realistic alternative to conventional weight-loss treatment.
The practice of holistic nutrition helps promote the overall health of the mind and body by focusing on the quality of food that is being eaten rather than the quantity. Holistic practitioners believe that food should be healing and enjoyable at the same time. Thinking holistically may help reduce the anxious feelings of being perfect by instead focusing on the well-being of having a healthy mind and body. Rather than focusing on counting calories, become familiar with eating feel-good foods that naturally promote health, happiness, self-acceptance, and cognitive function.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
A 2004 study conducted by the Official Journal of The World Psychiatric Association found that the best psychosocial treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is cognitive behavioral therapy consisting of responsive prevention, behavioral experiments, cognitive restructuring, and exposure. A study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital concluded that patients with body dysmorphic disorder who received four weeks of ninety-minute cognitive behavioral therapy sessions daily significantly reduced their symptoms. Another study found that patients who received thirty ninety-minute sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy along with six months of relapse prevention had improvements lasting for two years.
Recognize Early Warning Signs
Most diseases are treatable when they are caught early. Body dysmorphic disorder is no different. Becoming familiar with the symptoms of the disease is a major step in determining when self-improvement, restrictive eating, and exercise habits become extreme or obsessive. Body dysmorphic disorder may affect men and women differently. While women are more likely to obsess over their skin, hair, clothing, facial features, and weight, men are more liable to focus on their muscle size or strength. These symptoms usually occur within the teenage years and should be caught before they encourage additional obsessive behavior.
Determine Other Existing Disorders
One of the best ways to treat body dysmorphic disorder is by determining which other disorders coexist, if any. Many psychiatric and even some medical conditions tend to be present at the same time. Many symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder, including anxiety, depression, excessive exercise, insomnia, and substance abuse, can be determined by an evaluation from a medical professional. The initial step in treating body dysmorphic disorder to is to address the underlying causes of the condition to reduce obsessive behavior associated with one’s appearance.