Body dysmorphia is commonplace for many people where it can distort their perspective of their body image, including negatively affecting the way they workout and eat.
Being stuck at home more often the days have allowed more time for everyone to be in front of the mirror and comparing themselves with others online.
While attempting the juggling game of balancing fitness and general wellbeing in the mix, it can become rather complicated and even dangerous for those with the body dysmorphia who do not know when and how to stop.
What is Body Dysmorphia?
Body dysmorphia, also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition.
This condition can lead to a person nitpicking out a specific area of their appearance and see it as an enormous flaw that others may not even notice.
Thus, those with body dysmorphia usually act out repetitive and unhealthy habits such as obsessively assessing themselves in the mirror, also known as ‘mirror-gazing’.
According to a research paper regarding mirror-gazing by David Veale and Susan Riley, a study showed that a patient spent up to 6 hours staring at a mirror.
Additionally, they may also pick and pull at their skin, compare themselves to old photos or others, or receive cosmetic adherence or surgery to look the way they perceive as perfection. All of such is done excessively and regularly.
Those with BDD would detach themselves on the other facets of their life, which allows this ‘addiction’ to take over further.
When Fitness Can Become Excessive and Dangerous
While we may be acting out a healthy diet and active lifestyle, if you have body dysmorphia, you may feel like you still haven’t reached the finish line towards your ‘perfect’ body despite doing everything in your power to achieve this.
Those with BDD may feel like they are never satisfied with their body, and the results impacted by how they exercise and eat. This can result in overexertion and overworking their bodies which causes more harm than good.
In turn, the healthy lifestyle they were leading has turned into an unhealthy one.
The main issue here is the phenomena of ‘Exercise Addiction’. And because to each day, we witness society equating the perfect fit body as a successful life led, this can influence lower self-esteem and the urge to use shortcuts to get the same results.
Another strand adjacent to body dysmorphia, and connected to fitness specifically is Muscle Dysmorphia, which occasionally is coined as ‘Bigorexia’.
Those with muscle dysmorphia feel the urge to be more prominent in size and more muscular despite whatever their size may currently be.
A study published June last year found 22% of men aged 18-24 reported muscularity-oriented disordered eating behaviours.
Ultimately, it can further damage your physical health with over-exertion and pursuing other ways to rush towards the results you want.
People have also skipped meals, took dietary supplements or the overuse of thermogenic fat burners, or even used illicitly-enhancing drugs such as steroids.
There is no real culprit behind all this. Though social media itself isn’t the reasoning of why and how body dysmorphia came to be, it does, in fact hugely impact our reflection of beauty standards in society and it is fed to us daily.
Instagram and other social media apps have a consequential impact on how we compare and see ourselves. We may have more motivation to gain ‘vanity muscles’ rather than anything substantial or instead exercising with a positive intent such as investing in bettering your health and overall wellbeing.
The darker side of the fitness world is infamous for its push and drive to fitness-enhancing products that usually come with a misleading advertisement, claiming that it can almost instantly improve your appearance in a ‘safe’ way.
This fitness market is inadequately regulated. The estimation of between 26% and 46% of these products has been contaminated with biologically-active ingredients.
There is a push on the motivational fitness stance on Instagram in particular, and though this trend can and has also caused positive influxes, it can also lead many onto a downward path.
For example, the trending of #Fitspiraiton, where fitness influencers express the extremes of exercising with flashy quotes such as “No pain, no gain.” and marketing ‘quick fix’ schemes and products to a large set of eyes.
Subsequently, there is an eating disorder connected to overexercising and ‘healthy’ eating called ‘Orthorexia Nervosa’. This is not only bad for your mental health and can also lead to malnutrition.
Research carried out by UCL scientists in 2017 found that the higher use of Instagram has increased the likelihood of developing Orthorexia.
How to Build Recovery for Body Dysmorphia
There are several ways to start treating body dysmorphia. Talking to a GP will help you get the support that can also lead to further assistance that might look like a support group or therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). There are also self-help methods that can regain a healthy lifestyle:
- Using an exercise log: helps you revaluate your fitness and nutrition and better recognise and acknowledge when you are overworking or starving yourself.
- Surround yourself with body-positive people: who help with your mentality and perspective and positively influence your self-talk, including doing a clean-up on who you are following online.
- Focus and aim for healthier goals and habits
- Eating better and working out in a more beneficial and moderated way: Also include breathing exercises and yoga that specialises more in aiding in calming your anxiety down that may be brought by body dysmorphia
- Consume more BDD media: such as podcasts and reading to improve your self-reflection on body image.
Those struggling with body dysmorphia have a lifestyle of fitness and a healthy diet on a tightrope. Though fitness and healthy eating are taken to the extreme can lead to negative traits, fitness at its core, is the crux to a healthy lifestyle, given the right perspective and moderation.
Firstly, fitness is known to be a natural stress reliever. It can also help with your sleep, improve and heighten your mood and your self-esteem.
Additionally, it gives a reason to stay clear of mirrors as you’ll be preoccupied exercising. You’ll be doing something practical and practising in taking care of yourself in a positive manner. It is a matter of perspective and having the correct sense of drive and healthier set of goals that will help people recover.
When it comes to gyms, the hosts and personal trainers of the Mind Pump Podcast suggests to slowly introduce clients with body dysmorphia to a new routine to build their confidence gradually.
Secondly, they have also suggested encouraging the clients, who feel the gym is too intimidating, that anywhere you can be active is better than nowhere including at home and then building your way up.
When they go to the gym, possibly block off a small area of the gym away from prying eyes and reassure them that everyone there is there to encourage and help them.
Ultimately, You as their personal trainer are there to influence them positively.
Though body dysmorphia can influence fitness a healthy diet poorly, fitness and a healthy lifestyle can also be a huge positive and impactful way of creating a path to recovery.
If you’ve been affected by the issues brought up in this article, please contact one of the helplines here.
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