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  • Writer's pictureKatie Porter

Other Types of Body Image Disorders, Part I

Updated: Jul 9, 2021

When we think about eating disorders or body image disorders, I’m sure that a couple of key words come to mind- like Anorexia, or Bulimia, or even Binge-Eating Disorder. But today I wanted to talk about some of the more “hidden” or lesser-known conditions under the disordered eating and body image disorders spectrum.

This will be a two-part blog, each discussing two disorders under the eating disorders/body image disorders umbrella.

Other Types of Body Image Disorders

1) Body Dysmorphic Disorder

2) Activity Disorder

3) Orthorexia

4) Reverse Anorexia, or Muscle Dysmorphia

In this Part I of the blog, I will talk briefly about how Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Activity Disorder play into our current society, and go unnoticed and are even discounted. Keep an eye out for Part II coming soon if you are interested in reading about Orthorexia and Reverse Anorexia.

Body Dysmorphia or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

This is one that you may have heard of. Unfortunately more of us in today’s society are unhappy or dissatisfied with our bodies than happy or content with our bodies. To a certain degree, body dissatisfaction has become so wide spread that it has generalized and developed into the “new normal”. But BDD goes beyond generalized body dissatisfaction.

BDD is a clinical term referring to one being persistent and preoccupied with their appearance to the point of it interfering with their daily lives.

Those who suffer from this body-image disorder have a very difficult time controlling the invasive negative and critical thoughts which end up causing severe emotional distress. Someone with BDD might even avoid work or school, avoid social situations and even isolate themselves due to a fear that others are scrutinizing them or judging their perceived flaws. Some even go as far as to have corrective or plastic surgeries to correct these flaws, despite still not having satisfaction with the results.

Those with BDD become obsessive with searching for flaws about their physical appearance, which can either be real (and often exaggerated in one’s mind) or perceived/nonexistent. Interestingly enough, BDD has been found to effect women and men equally. With overall eating disorders still on the rise, males with BDD are no exception to this rule.

How to Distinguish Between Body Dissatisfaction and Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Those with BDD can obsess about their appearance for hours every day, illustrating repetitive or compulsive behaviors to hide their flaws or attempt to perfect themselves.

Behaviors Include:

Frequent mirror or window checks when passing by

Or the opposite- avoiding mirrors and windows

Comparing body types to models, peers or strangers

Seeking corrective or plastic surgery

Excessive exercise

Excessive grooming habits

Frequent clothing changes or indecisiveness about what to wear

Skin picking (especially on face)

Common comorbidities with BDD include anxiety, OCD, depression, and other eating disorders (particularly anorexia or bulimia).

BDD is a clinical disorder that is to be treated by a professional. It is not something to be discarded by the wayside as being insignificant or “no big deal” by any means. If you know someone who may be suffering from BDD they are not alone. Early intervention is key to recovery and can also be helpful in addressing the comorbidities that lie within it.

Activity Disorder

Some might refer to it as “runner’s bulimia”. Activity Disorder is a clinical term referring to a loss of control when it comes to excessive exercise regimens.

What Activity Disorder is NOT: AD is not an individual who exercises moderately or even intensely as a means to be healthy, strong, and fit. Even those who avidly exercise seven days a week do not meet the criteria for AD.

So What Is Activity Disorder?

Those who can be diagnosed with AD have a very different agenda, and it comes at the cost to their health. Exercise becomes the utmost top priority, seemingly addicted to it. And addicted might be a good term for it. Research is showing that those with AD are addicted to physical exercise in the same way and for similar reasons that individuals become addicted to anything else- meaning, despite the adverse consequences.

It influences their daily lives, missing out on social opportunities and exercising even when injured or exhausted. It’s about a pursuit of accomplishment and sense of control. Again, in today’s society there is an overwhelming message that suggests, “to be thin is to be successful, attractive, driven, and in control” of our lives, whereas “to be fat is to be weak, puny, out of control, and low functioning”.

AD is especially common among female athletes. Research has shown that as many as 66% of all U.S. female college athletes have irregular or nonexistent menstrual periods and poor bone density integrity.

75% of this misuse of excessive exercise is used as a method of purging or reducing anxiety, just in the form of exercise. Not surprisingly then, other eating disorders are commonly found to coexist with AD, along with OCD, depression, trauma history, low self-esteem and self worth, and anxiety.

With AD, the individual feels compelled to move around in order to maximize caloric expenditure, such as moving ones legs while sitting, standing while eating, or even walking while reading. The amount of exercise outweighs any usual training regimen, which then ends up being a detriment to their health rather than a healthy way of life and well being.

Some Other Important Components of AD Are:

-The individual may depend on their activity levels for self-definition and mood stabilization

-Their sense of achievement, independence, self-control, perfectionism, persistence, and drive is dependent on their exercise output.

-There is something to feel accomplished about with the effects of extreme exertion, rigid dietary restrictions, as it maintains the disorder.

-There is an intense quality to the activity that becomes self-perpetuating and resistant to change, making the individual feel like there is a lack of control to stop the exercising behavior.

Common Symptoms and Consequences of Activity Disorder

Decreased anabolic response (testosterone)         Higher tolerance to starvation and pain

Increased anabolic response (muscle wasting)      Breakdown of bone density 

Increased compulsivity                                            Depression

Soreness and stiffness                                            Fatigue

More prone to injuries                                             Suicidal ideation

Decreased concentration                                        Lack of intimacy

Reduction in performance                                       Lack of social life

Black and white thinking                                         Rigid eating patterns

Obsessive-Compulsive behaviors

Similar to other disorders on the eating disorders spectrum, there are underlying contributions and predispositions that could trigger Activity Disorder, so it is important when in treating AD that a professional is able to work with the individual to address these root causes and to explore ways to replenish the body in a healthy way from the inside-out.

So that’s it for Part I. Although not extensively explained here in this blog, these disorders need to grab your attention. They are serious and can cause a lot of physical and mental harm to someone engaging in these behaviors. Early intervention is best for a more positive prognosis and outcome.

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