Eating disorders typically develop as a result of a combination of different factors, from low self-esteem to depression. However, one of the most common factors that contributes to the development of eating disorders is poor body image. Body image issues cause individuals to feel negatively about the way they look, which may make them more likely to engage in food restriction, excessive exercise, fasting, and other unsafe behaviors. The connection between eating disorders among women and body image is especially strong, with more than 80 percent of women in the United States feeling unsatisfied with their appearance. Women with body image issues are at a particularly high risk of developing an eating disorder, as women are more likely than men to develop these conditions in general.
What Is Body Image?
The term “body image” refers to the way an individual sees him or herself in the mirror or in his or her own mind. If an individual has a negative body image, he or she may have a distorted perception of his or her physical appearance. The individual may feel too fat or not toned enough. On the other hand, an individual with a positive body image will feel satisfied with his or her appearance.
When body image issues become severe, the person may be diagnosed with a body image disorder. Body image disorders raise the risk of developing other problems, such as an eating disorder. For example, the individual may become so preoccupied with his or her appearance that he or she begins engaging in unsafe behaviors, such as food restriction.
Women and Body Image
Although body image is an issue for both men and women, females tend to experience more problems with body image than males, especially during adolescence. During adolescence, a woman’s body goes through significant changes in a short period of time. Because of these changes, adolescent women often experience problems with body image. In addition, the media plays a role in causing women body image problems. Women shown on television, in movies, and in magazines are often airbrushed to appear “perfect,” which causes women to develop unrealistic expectations for their own bodies.
Are Eating Disorders Caused by Body Image?
Most eating disorders develop because of more than one contributing factor, but body image often plays a role. For this reason, many eating disorder treatment programs include body image therapy, which is designed to help clients develop a more positive body image. When clients are satisfied with the way they look, they are less likely to relapse after treatment.
Treating Body Image and Eating Disorders
When a body image disorder has led to an eating disorder, treating both of these conditions at the same time is the best way to ensure a lasting recovery. Without the proper treatment for the eating disorder, the individual may experience a wide variety of consequences, including heart problems, malnutrition and much more. Likewise, failing to treat body image disorders raises the risk of the individual relapsing after eating disorder treatment is complete.
Issues with body image are usually considered a psychological problem. Thus, treatment programs usually focus on psychotherapy and other types of therapy designed to improve mental health. The goal of this type of treatment is to help the individual recognize his or her irrational thoughts and perceptions of his or her own body so they can be changed. Once the individual is able to develop a more positive body image, he or she will be much less likely to engage in disordered eating behaviors. In many cases, these programs also include education designed to help individuals recognize the role of the media in their perception of the human body so they can become wiser media consumers.
Seeking Treatment for Body Image and Eating Disorders
Oliver-Pyatt Centers understands the significant role body image plays in the development of eating disorders. At our facility, we design programs with this fact in mind, ensuring that every client has the opportunity to improve his or her body image and deal with any negative or irrational self-perceptions. Contact us today to learn more.