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Body Image

A Common Root Cause of Various Eating Disorders

An individual’s body image has a significant effect on his or her overall health. A negative body image can lead to a variety of different problems, including the development of eating disorders. Below is some basic information about body image and how it can impact an individual’s life.

What Is Body Image?

Body image is defined as the way an individual perceives himself or herself in his or her mind. Body image also affects what an individual sees when he or she looks in the mirror. Some specific examples of body image include:

  • How an individual senses his or her body when moving
  • How an individual feels about his or her shape, height and weight
  • What an individual believes about his or her appearance

An individual who has a healthy body image will have a clear, accurate perception of his or her shape. He or she will also accept this natural body size and shape, feel confident in his or her body and recognize that his or her appearance isn’t the most important determinate of value.

An individual with negative body image, on the other hand, will have a distorted perception of his or her shape. People who have a poor body image often feel like their bodies are highly flawed when compared to other people. This leads to self-consciousness, depression, anxiety, and shame. In addition, body image issues may contribute to the development of other mental health problems, such as eating disorders. Although body image issues may not be the only cause of eating disorders, the connection between body image and eating disorders is supported by research.

Body Image Disorders

Most people will struggle with their body image from time to time. However, when this problem becomes more severe and is detrimental to the individual’s mental health, physical health or quality of life, it may be considered a body image disorder. Perhaps the most common example of a body image disorder is body dysmorphic disorder, which occurs when an individual develops a persistent preoccupation with a small or imagined defect in his or her appearance.

For example, an individual who is underweight or at a healthy weight may become obsessed with weight loss. Likewise, an individual may become preoccupied with building larger muscles, getting a smaller waistline or changing some other aspect of their appearance that is not abnormal or deficient.

How Do Body Image Problems Contribute to Eating Disorders?

For most people, body image problems begin at a young age. Even girls in early elementary school begin expressing concerns about their weight or body shape. As children age, the problem tends to become more serious. According to a study conducted in 2005, as many as one-third of teenage boys and one-half of teenage girls admit to using unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to lose or maintain weight, such as purging, smoking, fasting or skipping meals.

Although body image problems are commonly associated with young females, these issues can affect people of all genders, ages, and cultures. In many cases, body image problems develop because of societal and cultural pressures, such as unrealistic portrayals of the “ideal” body shape.

Treating Body Image and Eating Disorders

Body image and eating disorders often go hand-in-hand. In such cases, both disorders should be treated concurrently. For example, if an eating disorder is caused by body image problems, resolving these problems will make it easier to treat the eating disorder itself.

Treatment for body image disorders varies and should be customized to meet the needs of each individual patient. For example, some doctors recommend that patients join a body image therapy group to discuss these issues with other people who are going through similar problems. Psychotherapy can also be helpful to people struggling with body image disorders and/or eating disorders.

Resolving problems with body image requires ongoing treatment and a strong commitment to self-help on the part of the individual. However, with the right treatment, many people who have struggled with these problems are able to improve their mental health, physical health, and quality of life.