The Vicious Cycle of Body Image and Eating Disorders

A 2007 study focused on mental health issues revealed that people who have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) tend to have increased levels of anger and hostility. Sufferers also have lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of perfectionism. The authors add that there is a 33 percent higher rate of childhood trauma and abuse in people with body dysmorphic disorder when seeking treatment.

Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder


When someone has body dysmorphic disorder, they may experience social isolation and avoid friends and family. When going out in public, those with BDD may wear oversized clothing or an excessive amount of makeup to hide perceived flaws. Sufferers may show signs of extreme anxiety, such as restlessness, constant hair pulling or touching, skin picking, and excessive grooming behaviors. They may also comment about feeling insecure about their self-perceived flaws and seek continuous reassurance from loved ones. Men and women with BDD may also refuse to be in photographs and may exhibit an obsession with comparing themselves to those they deem as “perfect.”

People with BDD often spend a chunk of their time obsessing about physical characteristics they regard as ugly or unattractive. The most common body features people obsess about include the face, hair, skin and vein appearance, breast size, muscle size, and genitalia.

Eating Disorders

Distorted body image, also called negative body image, is a shared characteristic of body dysmorphic disorders and eating disorders. According to researchers at Brown Medical School, those who have anorexia (an eating disorder) develop obsessive body concerns similar to those who have BDD. They also believe cosmetic surgery can correct their perceived flaws.

Cosmetic Surgery Obsession

Each year, the United States spends a staggering 15 billion dollars on cosmetic surgery. The top five procedures in 2016 were:

  • Breast Augmentations
  • Breast Lifts
  • Liposuctions
  • Tummy Tucks
  • Eyelid Surgery

For many who have BDD, they struggle with shame, embarrassment, and self-hatred. Eating disorders and cosmetic procedures are a standard way to manage symptoms of BDD, which can sadly turn into a vicious cycle. One study notes that cosmetic surgery can increase a sufferer’s self-loathing and distorted body image, leading to multiple cosmetic enhancements that result in regret.

How They All Connect

Negative body image is the bridge connecting body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and cosmetic surgery obsessions. Those who struggle to accept areas of their body may have BDD, an eating disorder, or both, causing them to seek cosmetic surgery at an attempt to solve their issue.

The problem is, however, that cosmetic surgery will not correct the problem of either BDD or the eating disorder. As mentioned, it can exacerbate the issue even more. Undergoing treatments that include psychiatric management, nutritional consultation, therapy, and group support is the recommended solution. Through this pathway, the sufferer can rebuild and improve their belief structure, behaviors, and emotions that trigger the disorders and move towards recovery.

February 25th to March 3rd is National Eating Disorders Awareness and Screening Week. If you or someone you love is struggling with body dysmorphia, an eating disorder, or a combination of the two, seek help. Many treatment centers can help you break free of the torment.