Body Image

Body image is . . .

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind.
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move. How you feel in your body, not just about your body.

Negative body image is . . .

  • A distorted perception of your shape–you perceive parts of your body unlike they really are.
  • You are convinced that only other people are attractive and that your body size or shape is a sign of personal failure.
  • You feel ashamed, self-conscious, and anxious about your body.
  • You feel uncomfortable and awkward in your body.

Positive body image is . . .

  • A clear, true perception of your shape–you see the various parts of your body as they really are.
  • You celebrate and appreciate your natural body shape and you understand that a person’s physical appearance says very little about their character and value as a person.
  • You feel proud and accepting of your unique body and refuse to spend an unreasonable amount of time worrying about food, weight, and calories.
  • You feel comfortable and confident in your body.

People with negative body image have a greater likelihood of developing an eating disorder and are more likely to suffer from feelings of depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss.

Major Cause – Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are about feelings, not food.

Eating Disorders are not just about food and weight. They are an attempt to use food intake and weight control to manage emotional conflicts that actually have little or nothing to do with food or weight. Eating disorders do not occur in an otherwise satisfied, productive, and emotionally healthy person. People with eating disorders are struggling with a number of emotional problems. This may be a hard concept to accept. Many people with eating disorders appear to be functioning at a high level, such as enjoying success with school or work. Often, the only problem appears to be with eating. However, healthier eating habits or stronger willpower are not the missing ingredients that will make the problem disappear. AN EATING DISORDER IS AN EXTERNAL SOLUTION TO INNER TURMOIL.

Psychological Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of inadequacy or lack of control in life
  • Depression, anxiety, anger, or loneliness
  • Interpersonal Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders
  • Troubled family and personal relationships
  • Difficulty expressing emotions and feelings
  • History of being teased or ridiculed based on size or weight
  • History of physical or sexual abuse

Social Factors that Can Contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Cultural pressures that glorify “thinness” and place value on obtaining the “perfect body”
  • Narrow definitions of beauty that include only women and men of specific body weights and shapes
  • Cultural norms that value people on the basis of physical appearance and not inner qualities and strengths


Other Factors that can contribute to Eating Disorders:

  • Scientists are still researching possible biochemical or biological causes of eating disorders. In some individuals with eating disorders, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion have been found to be imbalanced. The exact meaning and implications of these imbalances remains under investigation.

Eating disorders are complex conditions that can arise from a variety of potential causes. Once started, however, they can create a self-perpetuating cycle of physical and emotional destruction.


All eating disorders require professional help.

The ideas below present some alternatives to patterns of eating disordered behavior. Remember, changes make a difference, no matter how small you believe those changes are.

  • If you feel the urge to binge, try taking a few moments (it may be seconds at first) to identify feelings. You can still binge later – remember you are simply trying to change the usual patterns of behavior.
  • Get a journal where you can write your feelings throughout the day. You may want to focus on meal times or even one meal at first.
  • If you are afraid of eating, make a list of “safe” foods for you. Supply your home with these foods so that you are prepared to let yourself eat.
  • Grow your support system. The point is to find safe people to help you feel supported.
  • Start calling safe people. As you become more accustomed to making calls, you will find yourself turning to others more easily.
  • If you live with someone, plan a discussion about your needs. There may be changes the other person can make to help you.
  • Make a list of safe people with phone numbers. Carry the list with you.
  • Get a list of feelings if you have difficulty identifying your experience. Refer to the list throughout the day, especially meal times.
  • Notice meal times and content. If you record your level of satiety, urges to binge/restrict/purge, you may learn if there are foods that trigger you or length of time between meals that triggers you.
  • Notice the way you speak to yourself about your food, body, or behaviors. Begin to add positive statements, gradually letting go of the negative. No eating disorder was ever cured through self-blame.
  • Consider your spiritual life. Spirituality means different things to different people. Find out what it means for you and start to draw upon this part of you.
  • Do you let yourself have needs and limits in your work or personal life? Holding back anger and resentment and stifling your needs leads to self-punishment through more eating disordered behavior.
  • Find your voice. Practice with safe people. Start by telling them you’d like to practice saying “NO” to them about something that doesn’t matter. Let yourself start in a comfortable way.

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