How to Tell if You Have Body Dysmorphia

How to Tell If You Have Body Dysmorphia

Do you love scrolling through your social media feed and seeing all your friends and family, but hate seeing pictures of yourself? Do you immediately zero in on your weight, crooked nose, or crow’s feet? Almost everybody has something we’d love to change about the way we look, but most of us don’t spend hours obsessing about it and don’t let it interfere with our day-to-day lives.

How can you know if you just have normal body dissatisfaction—everyone can feel a bit self-conscious in a bathing suit—or if you’re one of the approximately 1 in 50 people in America suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)?

BDD is a mental health condition that involves an obsessive preoccupation with physical imperfections that others view as minor or imperceptible. It can happen at any age but is most likely to develop during the teenage years or early adulthood. And contrary to what you might think, it’s almost as common in men as it is in women.

These perceived flaws often center around the face, such as the nose (too big, too pointy, too long), teeth (too crooked, not white enough, that gap), skin (big pores, pimples, too blotchy), or wrinkles (those lines above the lip, laugh lines, forehead creases). Other common areas of concern include body weight, breasts, or hair. If you have body dysmorphic disorder, you likely find the all-consuming thoughts about your appearance distressing and may be filled with anxiety.

Signs and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia

Look at the following signs and symptoms of BDD and see if you recognize yourself:

Obsessive preoccupation with perceived flaws

Do you spend hours thinking about what’s wrong with your face or body? Do repeatedly look in the mirror, think your physical defects make you ugly, feel like others judge you negatively because of your imperfections, or seek reassurance that your flaw isn’t as bad as you think?

Repeated attempts to camouflage your flaws

Do you engage in excessive grooming, pick at your skin, try to hide your imperfections with makeup, repeatedly change your clothing, frequently change your body position, or get repeated plastic surgery or cosmetic procedures?

Comparing yourself with others

Are you constantly judging yourself and sizing yourself up compared with others?

Your life suffers

Is your obsession with your body taking a toll on your job performance, relationships, or home life? Do you avoid social situations?

Emotional distress

Does your obsession with your flaws cause you to experience feelings of anxiety, depression, disgust, shame, or low self-esteem?

If these sound like you, it’s a good idea to seek an evaluation.

What Does BDD Look Like in the Brain?

Brain imaging studies reveal that people with BDD may have abnormal activity in one or more of the following areas of the brain:

  • Anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG): This brain region is known as the “gear shifter” and helps people go from thought to thought. Too much activity in the ACG can cause people to get “stuck” on thoughts, such as obsessing on physical flaws, and behaviors, such as mirror-checking or skin picking. It is often seen in people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
  • Basal ganglia: This area is involved in setting your body’s overall anxiety level. Overactivity in this brain region is associated with anxiety.
  • Limbic system: This brain area regulates the mind’s emotional setting. Overactivity here is linked to negative thought patterns and depressive symptoms.

Treating Body Dysmorphia

Research shows that with proper treatment, the recovery rate for people with BDD is good. In one study in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 76% of those with the body dysmorphia achieved a full recovery and had only a 14% chance of recurrence. Unfortunately, most people with BDD don’t seek treatment from a mental health professional.

Instead, they turn to sometimes costly fixes for their flaws only to discover that their feelings of anxiety, depression, and inadequacy remain. Understanding that the problem doesn’t lie in the perceived flaw but rather in the brain is the first step to getting the treatment you need.

In order to treat BDD effectively, it’s critical to know if there are brain imbalances and co-occurring mental health conditions at play, such as anxiety, depression, or OCD. That’s why it’s so important to look at the brain to identify underlying patterns associated with these issues.

Treatment for BDD often involves helpful forms of psychotherapy, as well as other solutions to optimize brain health, such as nutraceuticals, learning to eliminate the ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), and medication (when necessary).

 At Amen Clinics, we take a unique brain-body approach to evaluation to make an accurate diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder and any other co-occurring mental health conditions. We use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive assessment to diagnose and treat our patients. We also assess other factors—biological, psychological, social, and spiritual—that can contribute to symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. If you would like help finding integrative solutions for your symptoms, call 888-288-9834 today to speak to a specialist or schedule a visit online.

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