Self-Image and Eating Disorders; What You Need to Know

Self-image is an important part of anyone’s mental health. However, for some people, a negative self-image can lead to serious problems. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, you may wonder whether self-image is part of the problem. Below is some information to help you understand the concept of self-image and how it comes into play when someone has an eating disorder. Information about treatment options for people with eating disorders, such as residential or inpatient treatment programs, is also included.

What Is Self-Image?

Self-image is the way in which someone perceives himself or herself. This image includes the individual’s perceptions of his or her physical appearance, likability, relationships and abilities. This outlook also includes beliefs about the individual’s personal and career fulfillment.

An individual’s self-image can be positive or negative. Some people may also have a self-image that is distorted or inaccurate. Someone with a positive self-image will believe he or she is capable, likable, appealing, attractive and fulfilled. However, someone with a negative self-image may feel inadequate and unloved. Someone with a negative self-image may also have specific complaints about his or her appearance and/or personality.

If someone has a negative self-image and is also unhappy with specific aspects of his or her appearance, the development of an eating disorder may be more likely.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are serious illnesses that result in disordered eating thoughts and behaviors. The most common eating disorders are bulimia nervosa, anorexia nervosa and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by extreme calorie restriction in an attempt to lose weight or avoid weight gain. People with anorexia nervosa usually have an extreme fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image.

Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder both include episodes of binge eating, which occurs when an individual consumes an unreasonably large amount of food within a short amount of time, such as within a couple of hours. However, while people with bulimia nervosa will engage in specific behaviors designed to eliminate the extra calories from their body, people with binge eating disorder do not.

Any eating disorder can lead to severe consequences if it is not treated properly. For example, someone who has anorexia nervosa may eventually begin to deal with serious health problems as a result of malnourishment, including heart failure, brain damage and more. Someone with bulimia nervosa may develop dangerous electrolyte imbalances, tooth decay and intestinal problems. All eating disorders can co-occur with mental health problems, such as depression or even suicidal thoughts and attempts. For this reason, it is essential for anyone who has the signs of an eating disorder to enter an appropriate treatment program immediately.

How Self-Image and Eating Disorders Are Related

An individual with a negative self-image may be more likely to develop an eating disorder, especially if aspects of the individual’s negative thoughts are related to his or her weight. Likewise, most people who have an eating disorder often have a negative self-image. For the majority of people with an eating disorder, a negative self-image is only one contributing factor. However, because negative self-image may be one of the primary reasons an individual chooses to engage in inappropriate eating behaviors, and because a negative self-image can help to maintain the disorder, it is a causative factor that cannot be ignored during diagnosis and treatment.

Other possible causes of eating disorders vary and may include genetics, a history of trauma and imbalances in chemicals in the brain. People with certain personality characteristics, such as a tendency toward compulsive behaviors, may also be more prone to develop eating disorders.

Self-Image and Eating Disorder Treatment

Not all eating disorder treatment programs are the same. However, during the treatment process, most day treatment, outpatient and residential treatment programs will make an effort to determine what factors led to the development of the eating disorder for that specific patient. In many cases, self-image will be one of the factors identified.

If self-image is identified as one of the factors that caused the eating disorder to develop and/or is causing the eating disorder to continue, one of the goals of treatment will be to improve the patient’s self-image. In many cases, this process will involve helping the patient identify negative or irrational beliefs that contribute to their negative self-image. Once these beliefs have been singled out, the patient can work to challenge them. One of the treatment approaches used most commonly in these cases is cognitive behavioral therapy. This evidence-based treatment approach has been shown to be effective in helping patients change their way of thinking, which can be beneficial to anyone dealing with a negative self-image.

Once the patient has improved his or her self-image, the desire to engage in disordered behaviors may be lessened. Improving self-image throughout treatment can be a difficult part of recovery, one that may continue to be a struggle after leaving care.

Choosing a Treatment Program

If you have an eating disorder and you know self-image is an issue, selecting an eating disorder treatment program that will address self-image effectively in the treatment process is very important to your recovery. It is also important to consider all of the other characteristics of the treatment program before you enroll. Some of the areas you should consider when you are selecting an eating disorder treatment center are listed below.

1. Is the program residential?

Eating disorder treatment programs may be residential in nature, or they may operate as day treatment programs. If a program is residential, patients will spend their days and nights at the treatment facility. Inpatient treatment programs and residential treatment programs tend to be more comprehensive and intensive for the patient, while day treatment programs allow for more responsibilities and freedom. The type of program you choose will depend on your needs and preferences for treatment.

2. Will the program address self-image?

Both outpatient, residential and inpatient eating disorder treatment centers vary with regard to their therapeutic approaches. While some treatment centers may focus most of their efforts on changing the patients’ behaviors, others will address thought patterns as well. If you believe a negative self-image is playing a role in your eating disorder, you need to make sure that you select a program that will help you deal with this issue.

3. What services are available?

Both outpatient, residential and inpatient eating disorder treatment centers offer different services to patients. The more services available, the better your chances of recovery. For example, if you are interested in inpatient anorexia treatment, you will have a better experience in a facility that offers a range of different therapies than you would in one that focuses only on individual counseling. Some of the services that may be available from eating disorder treatment centers include care from medical professionals, psychiatric care, individual counseling, group counseling, services for family members, educational services and aftercare planning.

4. How long is the program?

Eating disorder treatment programs vary in length. The length of treatment can change for programs in inpatient eating disorder treatment centers, residential or day treatment programs. Be sure the program you choose will provide you enough time to fully recover from your eating disorder.

  5. Will the program continue to provide support when treatment is complete?

Even after transitioning out of a treatment program, many patients will continue to deal with certain aspects of their eating disorders. In some cases, patients may even be tempted to return to the behaviors they have worked to eliminate if they are faced with stress outside of treatment. Some treatment programs provide aftercare planning and support services that can make it easier for patients to adjust to their normal lives after the program is complete. If you are concerned about maintaining your recovery after completing an eating disorder treatment program, look for a program that provides these supportive services to its patients.

6. What are other patients saying about the program?

One of the best ways to find out whether an eating disorder treatment program is right for you is to read reviews from patients who have already completed the program. If other patients are reporting a positive experience and believe the program was effective for them, you can feel more confident in the program’s ability to help you recover.

Getting Treatment for Eating Disorders at Oliver-Pyatt Centers

At Oliver-Pyatt Centers, we understand eating disorders are complex illnesses that have many contributing factors, including issues related to self-image. To address all of these different aspects of eating disorders, our programs include medical, psychiatric and clinical care for every patient. We offer residential treatment for all types of eating disorders, including inpatient anorexia nervosa treatment, bulimia nervosa treatment and treatment for binge-eating disorder. At the beginning of every treatment program, we perform a detailed exam and psychiatric assessment to identify the patient’s unique needs. During this part of the process, we will also determine the level to which self-image is influencing the patient’s behaviors. We will incorporate self-image exercises and therapeutic interventions into the patient’s treatment plan.

Oliver-Pyatt Centers offers a wide range of services to ensure every patient receives the quality treatment he or she needs. Some of the services we provide include 24-hour access to psychiatrists, medical testing, weekly sessions with a psychiatrist, weekly medical assessments, medical monitoring, individual psychotherapy sessions, group therapy sessions, exposure therapy, safe exercise, meal planning, nutrition education, family therapy and planning for life outside of treatment. Every patient’s treatment program is customized to meet the patient’s unique needs. Some of the types of therapy utilized at our facility include dialectical behavioral skills training, cognitive behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. Step-down programs are available for patients at the end of the treatment process. The goal of these programs is to help patients adjust to life outside of treatment gradually.

Eating disorders are serious problems that need to be addressed by professionals. If you are interested in enrolling in an eating disorder treatment program, please contact Oliver-Pyatt Centers at 866.511.4325 today for more information.