Body dysmorphic disorder is tied to serious body image concerns, something most people who have an eating disorder also suffer from. So, given its impact on the way someone feels about their body, does that mean that body dysmorphic disorder is an eating disorder?
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders are actually two different types of mental health conditions.
About 1 in 50 people in the U.S. struggle with body dysmorphic disorder, a condition that causes a person to feel extreme emotional distress over concerns about their appearance . Like with an eating disorder, this can include body image and weight concerns, and this often blurs the line between these two mental health conditions. However, this is where the similarities between these two disorders end.
Beyond a person’s weight, someone who has body dysmorphic disorder may worry about how their skin, hair, nose, teeth, or eyes look, and they may believe that certain features or parts of their body are lopsided. But others who have this condition might not focus on how specific parts of their body look. Instead, they might feel like they are generally unattractive and see something hideous when they look in the mirror .
These concerns create intense feelings of shame, anxiety, and disgust. To try to alleviate these feelings, people who have body dysmorphic disorder typically repeat the same behaviors over and over again. They might pick at their skin, keep checking their appearance in mirrors, continually reapply makeup, or constantly seek reassurance from others.
Some who have this condition even go so far as to seek cosmetic surgery to try to correct these perceived flaws, but most people who have body dysmorphic disorder end up feeling dissatisfied with the results of these procedures. Without appropriate treatment for the underlying mental health condition, many get stuck in a dangerous cycle of seeking cosmetic procedures in an effort to alleviate their suffering .
How Is It Different from an Eating Disorder?
So, how do eating disorders differ from body dysmorphic disorder when both illnesses impact the way someone feels about their body?
Like someone who has body dysmorphic disorder, a person who has an eating disorder may try to ease body image concerns by frequently checking the mirror or looking to others for reassurance about the way they look. But the body image concerns related to an eating disorder typically have to do with a person’s body shape or weight rather than physical features like their hair and skin.
And rather than feel the compulsion to fix certain physical features like blemishes or the way their nose looks, people who have eating disorders feel a different kind of urge. Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder cause people to focus on their relationship with food and the way they eat, like how much they’ve eaten each day or whether they’ve eaten enough of the “right” foods.
This relationship with food can be complex, and it doesn’t always have anything to do with the way someone feels about how their body looks. For many people who are battling eating disorders, things like restricting meals or bingeing in the middle of the night might be the only way they know how to manage overwhelming anxiety and painful emotions. They likely feel intense shame and guilt afterward, but the urge to engage in these behaviors is often just too overpowering to resist.
Getting the Right Treatment
Because body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders are distinct illnesses, it is possible to suffer from them individually. It’s also possible to have body dysmorphic disorder and an eating disorder at the same time, which is known as co-occurring disorders.
The best way to know which conditions you are facing is to get a professional assessment. If you think that you are struggling with a mental health condition like body dysmorphic disorder or an eating disorder, reach out to your primary care provider, a mental health provider, or an eating disorder treatment center.
When you work with a healthcare professional, they’ll thoroughly evaluate your medical history and current symptoms, and they’ll also conduct a physical exam. After completing this process, they’ll discuss with you the type and level of care they recommend.
There are many treatment options for mental health conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, the healthcare professional you work with might recommend inpatient treatment, a residential program, or outpatient treatment.
Body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can severely impact a person’s quality of life. But with appropriate treatment, it’s possible to find lasting healing.
 Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2021). Body dysmorphic disorder. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/body-dysmorphic-disorder.
 Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. (n.d.). Feelings and symptoms. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from https://bddfoundation.org/information/feelings-and-symptoms/.
 Gorbis, E. & Jamero, J. (2019). Comparing and contrasting body-dysmorphic disorder and eating disorders. Journal of Aesthetic Nursing. 8(3). doi: https://doi.org/10.12968/joan.2019.8.3.123.
McCallum Place is an eating disorder treatment center with locations in St. Louis, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas. We provide comprehensive treatment for adolescents and adults. We also offer a specialty treatment program for athletes who are living with eating disorders. Our experienced treatment team works closely with each patient to ensure that they play a central role in their recovery process. We offer a full range of services to meet the unique needs of each patient and address all issues related to the treatment of eating disorders.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published July 27, 2022 on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 27, 2022, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC