Can Body Image Cause Eating Disorders?
There is a common belief that an inappropriate eating habit or an unbalanced dietary chart and eating pattern is one of the biggest reasons that lead to an out of proportionate body structure. Seldom do we give the aspect a close and clear thought that the situation could be a complete reverse to this idea as well. The idea is confusing and quite a surprising one actually! However, this is a fact. Just as an imbalanced diet can lead to overweight and obesity, the aspect of body image could be at the root of several other eating disorders1. Here it is important to point out that eating disorders just do not indicate at a condition where a person eats an exceptionally large amount and eats an imbalanced diet with more fats and less of fibers. In this article we will discuss about how eating disorders and body image are related and what can be done about it.
Eating disorders can be of various types and are characterized by certain elemental features. These disorders are developed with a major goal of bringing down the body weight. Eating disorders can be of various types. This is a problem that can lead to a number of physical and psychological problems like weight anxiety, behavioral imbalance, and perverted body imaging2. The types of eating disorders include:
- Binge Eating Disorder wherein the person eats too much in a very short amount of time.
- Bulimia Nervosa where a person tends to eat a lot but then tries to get rid of the food out of the fear of gaining weight.
- Anorexia Nervosa where the person suffering from it, eats too less and hence suffers from a very low body weight.
- Pica, where a person has an appetite for eating non-food items like ice, paper, soil, metal etc.
- Rumination disorder where the person regurgitates the food.
- Restrictive or avoidant food intake disorder is where people suffering from it loose the desire to have food.
- Other specified feeding or eating disorder, where a person has an eating disorder but doesn’t fit into any one category completely.
Some major eating disorder features are:
Skipping Meals: This is one of the most common behavior patterns that are taken up by teenagers and even adults. They feel that going hungry for a meal will help to burn their fat cells better, hence toning down their body. What they don’t understand is that random skipping of meals can actually increase their weight and can also lead to various gastrointestinal problems.
Fasting Unnaturally: Fasting is good at times as it can help flush out various toxins from our body. However, if this process is followed on relentlessly, major loss of nutrition can occur that can make us sick.
Smoking Cigarettes: This is a habit that surely kills the appetite and brings a large number of major problems for the body. Teenagers who develop this habit often get addicted to smoking developing many other deadly problems in their future to come.
Vomiting: Many young people or misinformed people feel that vomiting forcefully after eating can help us get rid of the extra calories. This is a pattern that can also lead to several other problems, many of them being psychological as well.
Habit of Laxatives: Just like the habit of vomiting, some people also develop the habit of taking an excess of laxative in an attempt to drive out extra food from the body.
What is Body Image?
The concept of body image is a rather old one and has been in vogue for times unknown. However, it is only in recent times that the concept has attained a lot of importance and public attention. Body image is a phenomenon that indicates the pattern and the mindset that a person has towards his or her own body. It is the perception of the person of his or her own body and the way he or she feels he or she looks. Body image is the idea a person makes of his or her appearance when he or she looks into the mirror. Body Image can be of two types3:
Positive Body Image
This is the ideal and the most logical situation where a person accepts his or her body and accepts the way he or she looks. This is the condition when a person is in peace with the way he or she looks in their bodies. They do not criticize their appearances and accepts the fact that looks do not always mean everything and it is not really all that important to fall in line with the popular notions of looking good which requires being slim, fair and attractive. Each person is different and so are their bodies. Accepting their bodies the way they are and not really trying to bring about massive changes in them all the time is important. You must be healthy and have healthy practices in your life such as eating well and exercising regularly, but this must be done with the sole aim of having good and strong health and not really have an awesome body alone. This is positive body imaging, which by the way is quite rare.
Negative Body Imaging
This is a by far more popular practice amongst people of various ages in this world. In case of negative body image, people are not really happy with their bodies and the way they look. People of different ages are found to experience this state of mind; however, it has been seen that teenagers and adolescents are more susceptible to this idea. Young girls are often found to be really displeased with their appearance as the standards and the measures of fashion happen to be really important for them. This is why they try to breakdown their bodies trying to match the footsteps of their fashion idols. The same can be said for the young boys who often aspire for a muscular built.
Eating Disorders and Body Imaging Affected By Different Factors
It has been seen that eating disorders and body imaging are phenomenon and practices that happen to get affected by a large number of trigger. Body imaging is often at the center of various eating disorders that are developed by people of various ages (with teenagers being predominant)1,4. The culture and the socio-economic background happen to play a major role in this context. Countries, where fashion is really all about skin hugging clothes, are the countries and cultures where young people often aspire for reed thin bodies. If teenagers do not get enough support, advice, and counseling from their elders, there is a high chance that they start developing these conditions.
On a closing note, it can be said that eating disorders and body imaging are two very closely related issues, practices, and phenomenon. These are problems that often lead to the other. Many people across the world for ages have been victimized by these conditions. Awareness regarding these problems happened to be really low even a couple of decades back. It is only with the emerging new mediums of communication, people have become rather vocal about this matter and slowly people have realized that body shaming is one of the most uncool practices and tells very poorly of the people practicing them. Maybe in a few years to come, more aggressive awareness regarding the issue will dawn upon the future generation to bring better changes in the mindset of the people and greater solutions for the problem.
- National Eating Disorders Association. (n.d). “Body Image & Eating Disorders”. NEDA. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/body-image-eating-disorders Keel PK, Brown TA: Update on course and outcome in eating disorders. Int J Eat Disord 43(3).195–204
- Muhlheim, L. (May, 2019). “”Body Image and Eating Disorders”. VeryWellMind. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/body-image-and-eating-disorders-4149424
- Garnet, M.D. et al. (July, 2014). Eating Disorder Hope. Retrieved from https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/body-image/how-body-image-relates-to-eating-disorders