My Body Dysmorphia Gets Worse During My Period, But Here's How I Manage To Cope
No matter how hard I’ve tried over the years, I cannot seem to sum up my experience with body dysmorphia in words more perfect than these from Dawson’s Creek: “Letting go isn’t a one time thing; it’s something you do every day, over and over again.” The mental health disorder has been an ongoing struggle for most of my life. It started in my preteens, following me like a cold shadow ever since, and even though I’ve made tremendous progress accepting the curves and quirks that make me who I am, my body dysmorphia gets worse during my period. I lucked out, in a way, seeing as how my body doesn’t plague me with physically crippling PMS symptoms too often, but mentally? My menstrual cycle takes a major toll on me in that respect.
In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, NYC-based psychotherapist, Dove partner, and life coach, Christine Gutierrez, explains that body image dysmorphia is “when an individual is preoccupied with small or non-existent ‘flaws’ in their appearance.” For me, this has always been my weight. In the morning, for example, I can look in the mirror and feel good about what I see, but sometimes, by early afternoon, I can barely even glance at the same woman reflecting back at me.
On my worst days, I’ll run from bedroom to bathroom, thoroughly examining my outfit choices in a fit of self-hatred, believing nothing I own looks right. Of course, it’s all in my head, which makes it even more upsetting and difficult for loved ones, like my husband and parents, to understand because, as doctor of psychology and licensed clinical social worker, Dr. Danielle Forshee, tells Elite Daily, “these flaws are not observable by other individuals.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, body dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), affects one in every 50 people, totaling about 1.7 to 2.4 percent of the population. And while I’m sure everyone has something about themselves they’d like to change (which is completely normal, BTW), Gutierrez tells Elite Daily that BDD is “classified as an obsessive compulsive disorder” in the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders. Combine that with the emotional turmoil that is a woman's period, and you really have a potential recipe for disaster.
Listen, I know myself, and Julia on her period is unlike any other Julia you’ll meet. What’s interesting about the mood swings I experience during my menstrual cycle, though, is that sure, once in a while, I’ll unintentionally take them out on my husband or a friend, but most of the time, that negativity is directed at my own body.
Laurence Orbuch, M.D., FACOG, a New York-based, board-certified obstetrician gynecologist, tells Elite Daily this is likely because BDD is “linked to mood disorders and other psychological conditions.” Mix in the unruly hormonal fluctuations during a woman’s menstrual cycle, he says, and it can “[worsen] or trigger BDD.”
So it's not exactly my actual period causing my body dysmorphia to spiral out of control; it's PMS symptoms like irritability, lethargy, and the physical changes that ensue and escalate things. Either way, like clockwork, the bloating starts, the mood swings take hold, and I'm miserable every time I look in the mirror for the next four to seven days. Of course, even if I were to gain extra weight, I know deep down it wouldn't devalue me as a person, or make me "flawed." At the end of the day, what matters most is being the healthiest, happiest version of yourself, so if you struggle with body dysmorphia on your period as well, here are a few expert tips that have worked well for me, and will hopefully help you, too.
1. Talk To A Therapist
Body dysmorphia is a very real, very serious mental health disorder, and if you're currently struggling with it, I highly suggest and encourage you seek professional help. This could mean seeing a therapist once a week, twice a month, or even downloading a therapy app, like LARKR, Talkspace, or Joyable, to name a few.
Regardless of where or how you go to therapy, it's a key component in working through BDD, according to Dr. Terez Yonan, an adolescent medicine specialist in Southern California, and fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health. She tells Elite Daily that working with a therapist can help patients "learn how to manage persistent negative self-images and associated low mood or anxiety." Plus, she explains, it really is just helpful to have a completely unbiased party to hear you out and weigh in on the situation.
2. Talk To Your OBGYN About Hormonal Birth Control
If your body dysmorphia comes on strong during your menstrual cycle, you might want to talk to your doctor about regulating your cycle with hormonal treatment, specifically by way of birth control.
Of course, birth control pills aren't for everyone, and that's OK, but hear me out: According to Dr. Yonan, hormonal birth control options, like the pill, can reduce PMS symptoms by keeping your hormones in check, and because rowdy hormones are most likely what's causing your BDD to feel so much worse during your period in the first place, as Dr. Orbuch explained earlier, it's definitely a viable option to consider.
3. Eat Delicious, Healthy Foods That Keep Hormones Stable
Food is everything. It's fuel, it's comfort, but it's also medicine, and that whole "you are what you eat" turn of phrase isn't wrong. That's not to say if you indulge in an entire Ben & Jerry's pint on your period that it's the end of the world, but all that sugar just might wreak havoc over your hormones and make you feel like crap.
Even though cravings around that time of the month can be brutal, Gutierrez says it's worth it to put in the effort to eat relatively healthy foods during that time of the month. Fill your diet with things like fish, bananas, almond butter — any food that will help PMS symptoms. Gutierrez even suggests talking with a trained nutritionist who specializes in women's health in order to narrow down "a diet to support your hormones."
4. Practice Meditation Or Yoga
Anything to channel your inner zen is going to be helpful during this time, Dr. Orbuch tells Elite Daily — specifically, meditation and yoga. Personally, I've tried both guided meditation (Headspace is my favorite resource) and yoga to help me through my body dysmorphia, and I can honestly say each has its benefits.
Guided meditation can be daunting at first, because unless your instructor is particularly chatty, most of the time will be spent with just you and your thoughts. The best advice I can give is don't give up at the first mental stream of negativity. Let these dark thoughts come and go. Don't judge them, don't try to solve them. Simply accept them, and move on.
Yoga, on the other hand, is a full mind, body, and soul experience. I've tried all sorts of vinyasas (I've even practiced yoga naked), and the results are different every time. Find what sort of classes, instructor personalities, and moves resonate with you, and just enjoy that one-on-one time with your body, and seeing what you and your body are capable of.
5. Confide In A Friend
It's easy to feel like you have to endure body dysmorphia alone because the disorder takes place inside yourself, but talking to a best friend, or anyone else you trust, can really help put things into perspective. Dr. Forshee tells Elite Daily it's a good idea to let your friends know what you're really thinking, and ask for their advice on how to transform those negative thoughts into positives.
"Make sure that when you're soliciting the help of your friends, you're not comparing your appearance with your friend's appearance," she warns, as this is a very common habit for people who have body dysmorphia, according to the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation.
6. Write It All Out
I know what you must be thinking: "Easy for you to say, Julia, you're a writer." That may be true, but when I'm deep into my body dysmorphia, my feelings are the last thing I want to be writing about — which is exactly why I do it.
Again, a lot of the time, those struggling with BDD often feel like they're suffering alone, because "other people do not understand" what they're really going through, according to the Anxiety and Panic Treatment Center in Oregon.
GoodTherapy.org, an association of mental health professionals from around the world, recommends journaling as a great way to maintain the privacy of your fears and emotions, while still physically placing them outside yourself.
This is especially helpful if you're seeking professional treatment, the organization explains, because you can reference how certain days made you feel, and together, you and your therapist can work to pinpoint why those emotions are cropping up.
Plus, around that time of the month, it's normal to have a lot of built-up frustration anyway. You have to let it out somehow, right?