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We have all had discouraging thoughts about ourselves every so often, which is normal. When this transitions into a mental health problem, it can become severe. The disorder can cause changes in a person’s behavior that can impact their life. This is called body dysmorphic disorder. Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health problem where a person’s reaction to “flaws” in their appearance is overwhelming. Negative thoughts about a person’s body become hard to control, and a person fighting this may spend hours each day worrying about how they look. It can be so persistent that sometimes it can create suicidal thoughts. While everyone may think of a flaw in their bodies, BDD is a more severe reaction to these thoughts and can create problems.


Multiple factors, including environmental, psychological, and biological, cause this. Being bullied or teased may create feelings of inadequacy, shame, or fear of ridicule, which may lead to BDD. The exact cause is unknown, but it usually begins in a person’s adolescence or teenage years. It is believed about 1 in 100 people have BDD, with both men and women being affected equally. A family history of this or a similar mental disorder, abnormal levels of brain chemicals, personality type, and life experiences are all believed to be risk factors for body dysmorphic disorder. 


It is most common for people to become obsessed with their face, hair, skin, chest, and stomach, specifically when fighting through this disorder. People fighting this may constantly check themselves in the mirror or avoid it altogether. They may attempt to hide body parts under a hat, scarf, or makeup. While exercising is good to do, becoming obsessed with it and constantly working out can be a symptom of BDD. People may avoid social activities and leaving the house, especially during the day. Fighting BDD can also include always asking others if they look “okay” and then not believing it when they are told they look fine. Looking out for these symptoms is vital in helping someone you think may be dealing with BDD.


To be diagnosed, a mental health professional must be brought in to evaluate symptoms and how much they affect a person’s life. This professional will see if someone is abnormally concerned about a small or nonexistent body flaw. The person being evaluated will have thoughts of a body flaw that is severe enough to interfere with the ability to live normally. Finally, other mental health disorders must be ruled out as a cause of these symptoms. 


There are ways to treat BDD that are based on the extent of the problem.  The age and health of the individual, their tolerance for specific medicines, and the opinion of the healthcare providers involved may all play a role in the treatment plan. Different types of treatment can include talk therapy or medicine. The best treatment is most likely a combination of these options. The most effective talk therapy for BDD is cognitive behavioral therapy. During this, the individual will work with a professional to replace negative thoughts and patterns with positive thoughts. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a specific type of antidepressant, tend to be the most effective medicine to treat this. 


Body dysmorphia can be a severe problem someone may deal with. In a gym environment, this can be common as many people work on their physical appearance. A gym contains people of all different body types and sizes, which can fuel feelings of inadequacy in appearance. It is important to remember that the flaws a person sees in themselves may not be there and may not be actual flaws. It is essential to see overall health and focus on that rather than appearance. Simply looking at a person can’t necessarily reveal their overall health. There is so much more that goes into health than how a person looks.