The truth about body dysmorphia

Imagine being so anxious about your appearance or particular body part that you become fearful to leave your house. The simple act of looking in the mirror produces feelings of hatred and ugliness and you obsess daily about the negative image you see. This imagined defect in your physical appearance has taken over your life and you try to convince yourself that there is nothing wrong. You can't control these intrusive thoughts and you don't believe people when they tell you that you look fine.

Most of us have something about our appearance that we don't like, but people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day. According to The Mayo Clinic, BDD is a mental disorder in which you can't stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance - a flaw that, to others, is either minor or not observable.

When you have BDD, you obsess over your appearance, particular body parts, and body image, sometimes for several hours each day. The perceived flaws and the repetitive behaviours cause significant distress and often impact one's ability to function in one's daily life.

BDD is a severe and relatively common psychiatric disorder that occurs around the world. It is a chronic (long-term) disorder that impacts men and women equally and typically begins during the teen or early adult years. Even though it is a recognised disorder that affects 1.7% to 2.4% of the general population - about one in 50 people (International OCD Foundation) - it usually goes undiagnosed in clinical settings.

While BDD shares some features with eating disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder, it tends to focus more on a specific body part and overall appearance, rather than body weight and shape of a person's entire body.

Researchers have found that the most common areas of concern include skin imperfections, body weight, facial features, and hair. If you are concerned that someone you know might have BDD, keep an eye out for repetitive and time-consuming behaviours (looking in a mirror or trying to cover up the body part), asking for constant reassurance and feeling self-conscious about going out in public and being around people.

Many people do not seek treatment for BDD because it is so often misunderstood. People suffering from this disorder feel shame and isolation, as they try to hide from others what they are dealing with daily. When someone is ready to get help, treatment for BDD will most likely include a combination of medication and psychotherapy.

Sara Lindburg has a B.S. in Exercise Science and an M.Ed. in Counselling. A 41-year-old wife, mother, and full-time secondary school counsellor, she combines 20-plus years' experience in the fitness and counselling fields and she has found her passion in inspiring other women to be the best version of themselves on her Facebook page, FitMom. Her inspiration for writing comes from her 6-year-old son, Cooper, and 8-year-old daughter, Hanna. Follow Sara on twitter.