According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), also known as muscle dysmorphia, is a body image disorder characterized by persistent and intrusive preoccupations with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance. Individuals with BDD pay close attention to the flaws they see in their bodies, to the extent that it causes severe emotional distress and difficulties in daily functioning.
In particular, individuals with BDD tend to especially dislike their hair, skin, nose, chest, stomach, or even muscle size. As explained by Mayo Clinic, these thoughts are accompanied by intense obsession and repetitive behaviour.
Symptoms described by the ADAA include, but are not limited to, comparing body parts to others, seeking surgery, consistently checking a mirror or avoiding mirrors, skin picking, excessive grooming, excessive exercise, or excessively changing clothes. Guillermo Escalante, the co-owner of SportsPros Personal Training/Physical Therapy Center in Upland, California, mentions that muscle dysmorphia is sometimes referred to as reverse anorexia, due to the similar preoccupation with one’s body image.
According to Guillermo Escalante from bodybuilding.com, nonprofessional athletes in sports emphasizing thinness or muscularity, like ballet and bodybuilding, show a high degree of body uneasiness and inappropriate eating attitudes and behaviors. Studies conclude that disorders of body image, including both anorexia and muscle dysmorphia, occur most frequently in men who lift weights regularly. This does not mean that it only affects bodybuilders and individuals in this group. According to the American Psychiatric Association, BDD most often develops in adolescents and teens. In the United States, BDD occurs in about 2.5 per cent of males, and in 2.2 per cent of females. This study shows that muscle dysmorphia occurs almost equally among men and women.
As with any other case of a mental disorder, individuals who think they might have BDD, or know someone who does, should speak to a doctor or mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis.
BDD has been misdiagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder due to similar symptoms of obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviours. The ADAA states that the distinction between the two is that BDD focuses specifically on physical appearance. Also, individuals with BDD may choose to avoid social situations because of their embarrassment of their physical appearance, which can be linked to symptoms of social anxiety disorder.
An effective form of treatment, as advised by the ADAA, includes cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches patients to recognize irrational thoughts and change negative thinking patterns by replacing them with positive ones. In other cases, a doctor might recommend antidepressant medications, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which can help relieve the obsessive and compulsive symptoms of BDD.
Each person copes with muscle dysmorphia differently. For the best results, talk to a professional and find out if one or a combination of treatments would be suitable for you. Sometimes, even just acknowledging the fact that there is something that affects your ability to get through daily life is enough to get you started on a better path.