Distorted body image is common in people with anorexia. Instead of an ideal body shape, they see a fat person. This can be due to cognitive distortions, or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), where the mind is not able to see and interpret things correctly.
Distorted body image is fairly common in several different types of eating disorders. It is also taken into account when factoring eating disorders statistics, and referenced in many articles on anorexia symptoms.
What someone with a distorted
body image sees in the mirror.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)
It's imperative that body image and self esteem issues are addressed in treatments for anorexia.
Risk factors for developing an eating disorder are often predicted by the degree of body image distortion and preoccupation with appearance. In cases of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), this 'preoccupation' becomes an obsession to the point where everyday living is affected.
How does someone with a distorted body image act, and how can you recognize it?
Honestly, you may not be able to recognize it unless you're paying very close attention.
A lot of people with eating disorders learn to become very secretive about their activities and some are not outwardly verbal about what they see when they look in a mirror.
I was particularly quiet and isolated, and I kept everything inside.
I rarely made comments to others about how fat I thought I was, but inside I was torturing and beating myself up for being the disgusting person that I saw in the mirror every day.
Because of their distorted body image, excessive weight loss is usually noticed first by friends and family members of the anorexia sufferer, and not by the anorexic themselves. Families are baffled by their loved one's perception and fear of being fat, and they struggle with how to respond. It's clear to them that this individual is dangerously thin.
Whatever you do, please do not respond with, "You're so thin!" or "You're so skinny!"
To someone with anorexia, words such as "skinny" and "thin" are associated with success. Statements like the above only serve to drive us further into our disordered eating thoughts and behaviors.
Similarly, if it appears as though the individual has gained some weight - (i.e. when they are in recovery) - complimenting them on this is a very touchy subject.
Like other anorexics, I am very aware of the slightest ounce of weight gain and to have this pointed out to me is tormenting, even if it's in the form of a compliment. I understand that people want to help and be encouraging, but it's a very tough call.
Everyone with an eating disorder has different sensitivities, and what bothers one person may not have a huge impact on the next. Your best bet is simply to love unconditionally and learn all you possibly can about eating disorders and the anorexic's thought processes.
To even better understand distorted body image and what's going on in your loved one's mind, please read my page on cognitive distortions.
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