A universal question with regard to the body distortion that is common in anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder is “how can we change our perception of body image?” One possible answer may be found in a recent European study that tested what happened to volunteers who saw a virtual image of their own bodies in front of them, along with a visualization of their own heartbeat.
The study was conducted by Jane Aspell of the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK and Lukas Heydrich from the Swiss Federal Institute in Lausanne.
Study participants were given a set of “virtual reality goggles,” that allowed to see their own body in front. The participants’ heartbeats were recorded using electrodes, and superimposed over the virtual body. The researchers demonstrated that being able to view the internal state of the body allowed people to experience and connect more with their own body and self.
The researchers hope that this method might provide a tool to allow people with anorexia and body dysmorphic disorder to better connect with their bodies, and change distortions in body image.
Anorexia is a disease characterized by food restriction and an irrational fear of gaining weight, as well as a distorted body image. Body dysmorphic disorder is a disorder in which an individual is obsessively concerned with his body image and finds his body to have defects, causing psychological distress.
Ms. Aspell notes that people with anorexia have a sort of disconnection from their own physique. "This may be because their brain does not update its representation of the body after losing weight, and the patient is therefore stuck with a perception of a larger self that is out of date," she said.
Ms. Aspell hopes that if this type of experiment could lead people to “reconnect” with their current bodies, it could become a pathway to helping those suffering from body image issues to identify, connect, and understand their bodies.
Other ways to increase body connection:
• Taking a mindful bath
• Gentle exercise that connects with the body, such as yoga
• Mirror affirmations