We all have something in our physical appearance we wish we could change; the crookedness of my teeth, the length of my hair, my feet are a half-size too big, oh, and that small layer of fat that never seems to leave my abs. Chances are you’ve experienced something similar if you’ve ever looked into the mirror and that little voice between your ears starts raving about all the things that could look better on your body. Yes, that’s it – Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Now, most of us may only fret slightly about our unique imperfections and then move on; however, there are numerous individuals out there who worry about their imperfections for multiple hours throughout the day – every single day.
You might be asking, “What is BDD?” According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, BDD is a body-image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. For someone with BDD, a perceived flaw or imperfection is significant and very noticeable, though it may be unseen by the general public. This perceived flaw is not only extremely stressful for the individual suffering from BDD, but it can also lead to emotional breakdowns and difficulties functioning in normal daily routines. The ADAA also recognizes that one-percent of the United States suffers from BDD, in men and women equally.
With social media at an all time high, there are innumerable amounts of content and pictures that can instantly be accessed through our smartphones. This can be especially dangerous for youth, men and women just getting started in a fitness routine and/or anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder in the past. Instagram is an amazing tool for branding and sharing content; however, it can also be a subconscious tool for self-destruction. Just as I turned 20 years old, I started a fitness journey that was inspired by a bikini competitor I saw on Instagram. What started as inspiration to “Get Fit” quickly turned into a downward spiral of comparison, weighing foods and obsessing over meals, and extremely negative self-talk because I didn’t have a six-pack like my Instagram famous friend. Practically every thirty minutes, my fingers would subconsciously make their way down to my midsection, pinch an inch of fat (what was actually just skin) and I would make some sort of hateful comment to myself. This went on for months. The scariest part was that I went from loving myself to hating myself in what felt like nanoseconds. I had never been the girl that resented her body; in fact, I had always genuinely loved my slim, petite frame. Looking back, it wasn’t until I had gotten my hands on social media that I started to experience BDD. Thankfully one afternoon, my observant and loyal friends had a sit-down with me (more or less an intervention) to help me see in myself what they saw in me; I regained my clarity and began to pursue fitness the healthy way.
Though my mindset was reset, Body Dysmorphia didn’t go away over night. Like anything, BDD took work and effort to overcome. Those who greatly struggle with this disorder are recommended to connect with a therapist or physician; however, if ingesting prescribed medications to alleviate anxiety and/or depression isn’t ideal, there are a few other routes you can take. According to Everyday Health there are therapists who work with BDD patients in a more holistic approach using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in which the patient works towards becoming desensitized to their anxieties.
Of course, if your case is less extreme, there are other methods of recovery that you may want to try:
Meditation: Allow yourself 10-20 minutes of meditation time each morning. Meditation is an extremely positive way to remove mental clutter, reduce stress and boost cognitive performance. I recommend starting out with guided meditations provided by free aps like Headspace.
Remove yourself or others from social media accounts: If there is anyone on social media that contributes to your negative behaviors and BDD, remove them from your feed immediately. Think of it as an, ‘its me not you’ type of break-up. For example, the bikini competitor I followed was simply sharing her success with the world; however, my obsession with comparing myself to her was very unhealthy – bye, bye, bikini competitor. You can always revisit these profiles once you are in a healthy frame of mind.
Shift your focus: Something that really helped me was eating to feel good, instead of eating to look good. Once I shifted gears in this direction, I found that my aesthetic appearance improved ten-fold. I focused on eating foods that made me feel the best and gave me the most energy. I went from eating chicken and brown rice to delicious vegetarian dishes with an abundance of colors. Eating to feel good greatly contributed to my mental state. When I ate crappy, I often felt crappy about myself; but, if I ate healthy, whole foods, I felt great about my body.
Write: If you don’t already journal, you may find it helpful. If anything, writing is a great outlet for that constant stream of consciousness that can sometimes keep us up at night. Ultimately, it can help organize your thoughts and keep you clear-headed throughout the day. Also, write down your goals for recovery, your fitness goals, and your health goals to keep you on track each week. Remember: Body Dysmorphic Disorder is beatable.
About The Author
NASM certified Personal Trainer and Alliance 200-HR certified Yoga Instructor. My deep love for fitness and health has motivated me to live a mindful, healthy lifestyle and teach others how to do the same. I am blessed to have the opportunity on a daily basis to connect with people through exercise and yoga; I find it extremely empowering and inspiring to witness someone transform their body and mind in such a positive way. To be health-aware and teach health-awareness leads each of us down an enriched path to self-discovery, strength and fearlessness.