When it comes to body image and eating disorders, or mental illness, adolescence is a particularly precarious time. People nowadays spend six to eight hours a day glued to a screen, with most of that time spent on social media. There they keep seeing images of celebrities and fashion/fitness models who seem almost perfect. That, of course, leads to internalizing beauty ideals that are unrealistic. They begin to compare, start losing confidence, and are increasingly unhappy.
Body image and eating disorders are correlated and so are body image and mental health. This happens when people tend to get obsessive about their weight. While some resort to unhealthy behaviors like dieting and excessive exercise, others begin to overeat and then purge, exacerbating their health issues in the process.
Table Of Contents
What Is Body Image
Body image is a person’s perception of their own physical appearance. It can be positive, negative, or neutral. Negative body image can have a huge impact on a person’s mental health, leading to low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Many factors can contribute to negative body images, such as media images of thin, “perfect” bodies, peer pressure, and even family dynamics. Social media can also play a role. Seeing images of other people’s “perfect” bodies can make someone feel like they don’t measure up and can lead to feelings of inadequacy and dissatisfaction.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different and no one’s body is “perfect.” It’s important to focus on developing a healthy relationship with your body and practicing self-love and acceptance. This can include engaging in positive self-talk, eating healthy, and engaging in regular physical activity. It’s also important to be aware of the messages in the media and on social media and to recognize them for what they are: unrealistic, unattainable ideals. It’s also important to understand that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
Eating Disorders And Body Image
Eating disorders are a serious mental health concern that can have long-term physical and emotional consequences on a person’s life. They are characterized by abnormal eating habits and distorted body image and can range from anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa to binge eating disorder. People with an eating disorder may have an intense fear of gaining weight, have a distorted perception of body size, or feel a lack of control over food intake or body weight.
While eating disorders can affect anyone, they are most commonly diagnosed in teenage girls and young women. The causes of eating disorders are complex and varied and include a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors. Biological factors can include genetics and hormones, while psychological factors include issues related to low self-esteem, negative body image, and perfectionism. Social factors can include peer pressure to be thin, family dynamics, cultural beliefs about beauty, and media pressure to look a certain way.
Treatment for eating disorders usually involves a combination of psychotherapy, medical care, nutrition education, and support from family members and peers. Therapy can help those affected to identify and manage the underlying issues, as well as to develop a more positive body image and healthier coping skills.
Body Image And Eating Disorders – Correlated
Low self-esteem is common among athletes who have been reprimanded by their coach about their weight. As damaging to an actor’s sense of self is being overlooked for roles due to their weight. Some women’s poor self-esteem and eating disorders are triggered when they compare themselves to unrealistic media portrayals of other women’s bodies.
When one has an unrealistic perception of their body, not even succeeding at their weight or fitness objectives can quell the desire to make changes. When you have issues with how your body looks, even a healthy weight will seem excessive. Someone with an eating disorder that causes them to lose a lot of weight is blind to their own reflection. These issues if neglected can lead to serious health complications, including anorexia and bulimia.
Anorexia (Body Image And Eating Disorder)
Also known as Anorexia Nervosa, this is an eating disorder that is marked by self-starvation and weight loss, which leads to a low body mass index. Compared to other mental disorders, the death rate from anorexia is the highest, second only to the death rate from opioid use disorder.
In anorexia nervosa, compulsive dieting is caused by a strong fear of getting fat or gaining weight. People who are anorexic often say they want to gain weight but don’t do anything to make that happen. They might, for example, eat very few calories each day and do a lot of hard physical work. Some people with anorexia nervosa will also binge eat and then throw up or take a lot of laxatives to get rid of the food.
There are two different types of anorexia nervosa:
Restrictive Type – Dieting, skipping meals, and working out hard are all examples of “restrictive” ways to lose weight.
Binge Eating Type – People with this type of eating disorder also have many times when they throw up.
Over time, behaviors like starving and vomiting may lead to the following:
- The end of a period
- A lack of fluids can make you feel dizzy and even make you pass out.
- Ill-treated hair and nails
- The ability to feel cold
- waste and weakness in the muscles
- Getting sick and having acid reflux (in those who vomit)
- Constipation, petrol, and feeling very full after eating
- Loss of bone, which can lead to osteopenia or osteoporosis, and stress fractures, which happen when you work out too much (thinning of the bones)
- symptoms like sadness, anger, anxiety, trouble concentrating, and tiredness.
- Seizures, kidney failure, and irregular heartbeats (especially in people who have just thrown up or used laxatives) are all medical conditions that could kill someone.
Treating anorexia nervosa helps people improve their relationship with food and their bodies. Treatments include medical evaluation for both psychiatric and medical problems, if any. People who have food anxiety can enjoy a meal plan. It includes eating foods with different amounts of calories at regular intervals. There are some very effective treatments for teens and young adults. In such treatments, parents encourage and watch their kids as they eat healthy foods. Not being happy with your body is a big problem. One has to deal with it along with more pressing issues like weight gain and eating habits.
Often outpatient treatment for serious cases of anorexia nervosa doesn’t work. You need to admit them to a residential or inpatient behavioral specialty program. Most programs get the patients back to their ideal weight and eating habits. But, there is still a good chance they will relapse in the first year after they stop treatment.
Bulimia (Weight Control)
People with Bulimia Nervosa go back and forth between strict dieting. What they do is eat “safe” low-calorie foods. And that is also “forbidden” binge eating, in which they eat a lot of high-calorie foods. Binge eating is when someone eats too much food in a short amount of time without being able to stop or slow down. People who binge eat often try to hide it because it makes them feel bad. Binge eating can involve eating a lot of food in a short period of time. That can sometimes lead to feeling sick or uncomfortable.
At least once a week, they binge. And then they try to maintain their weight by “compensatory behaviors” as experts call it. Some examples are working out too much, abusing laxatives, and throwing up. People with bulimia nervosa, as in anorexia nervosa, care too much about body image. That hurts their self-worth more than it hurts other people.
Bulimics can range from underweight to normal weight to overweight to obese. But if they are very thin, they don’t have bulimia nervosa. Instead, they have anorexia nervosa, which is the binge-eating/purging kind. How do you recognize bulimia nervosa in someone? Well, if the person looks too thin or has noticeable disordered eating habits, that’s it. Some signs that a person may have bulimia nervosa are:
- Having to go to the toilet a lot after eating
- Huge amounts of food mysteriously disappear, or containers and packaging that are empty.
- Always has a sore throat
- salivary gland (cheek) enlargement
- Teeth cavities caused by stomach acid eating away at the enamel
- What makes heartburn and GERD happen?
- Using laxatives or other diet aids in the wrong way
- Constant bowel movements that can’t be explained
- Abuse of diuretics (water pills)
- Getting dizzy or passing out because of dehydration caused by severe vomiting
- Esophageal tears, stomach ruptures, and life-threatening heart rhythm problems are all very rare complications of bulimia that can be fatal. Medical monitoring of people with severe bulimia nervosa makes it possible to find and treat any problems early on.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the treatment for bulimia nervosa, studied the most. They treat the patients in an outpatient setting. It helps people control their eating habits and deal with feelings that make it worse. Antidepressants like fluoxetine may also help reduce the urge to binge eat or throw up. Young people with bulimia nervosa may enjoy it from a family-based approach. It focuses on eating disorders. It also teaches carers how to help an adolescent or young adult get back to a healthy eating pattern.
Binge Eating (Weight Gain)
People with binge eating disorders, like bulimia nervosa, often have binge moments. They eat too much food in a short amount of time, feel out of control with their eating, and get upset because of it. People with bulimia don’t usually throw up on purpose. They don’t avoid eating, working out too much, or taking laxatives. People with binge eating disorders are more likely to get metabolic syndrome. That means they could get diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. This is because people with binge eating disorders are so fat.
A binge eating disorder is when someone binges at least once a week. And this goes on for three months because they feel like they can’t stop.
- Taking in food more quickly than usual.
- Overeating to the point where it hurts.
- Even though you’re not hungry, you eat too much.
- Eating in secret because you feel bad about being so hungry.
- Disgust, depression, or intense guilt after overindulging.
- The best treatment for binge eating problems is cognitive-behavioral psychotherapy. People with depression have got better with antidepressants, along with psychological therapy.
Body Image And Eating Disorders (Risk Factors)
Biological Risk Factors
- The chance of getting an eating disorder is higher for people who have a first-degree family (such as a parent or sibling) who suffers from an eating problem, according to studies of families.
- The likelihood of developing an eating disorder is further increased by the presence of other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or addiction.
- Binge eating is often preceded by a history of dieting or other attempts to control weight.
- A negative energy balance occurs when caloric expenditure exceeds caloric intake. Many people who have this condition say that it started when they purposely went on a diet. But, rapid growth, illness, and intense sports training can also cause it.
Mental Health (Body Dysmorphia)
- A big risk for developing an eating disorder is self-focused perfectionism, which means putting too much pressure on one’s own skills.
- Body dysmorphia is a common problem, but people with eating disorders are more likely to internalize the appearance ideal and report higher levels of dissatisfaction with their bodies.
- Studies show that before their eating disorder started, two-thirds of people with anorexia had anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety, social phobia, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
- When asked about their childhoods, many anorexics say they were rule-following perfectionists who thought there was only one “right way” to do anything.
Social Risk Factors
- Researchers found that persistent pressure to be thin may worsen body image and increase the risk of eating disorders. Weight stigma is detrimental and widespread.
- Bulimia nervosa is just one type of eating disorder that has been connected to bullying. However, bullying contributes to 60% of eating disorders. Anti-bullying activities must address weight shaming due to anti-obesity advertising.
- By encouraging people to eat less, society’s “ideal physique” may lead to eating disorders.
- Stress, society, and body image all play a role in eating disorders in people of color. This is especially true for people who are rapidly becoming Westernized.
- Anorexia sufferers often feel lonely, according to research. This may be a risk factor or related to others (such as social anxiety).
Body image and eating disorders are closely linked. People with body image issues often develop eating disorders as a way to cope with their feelings of self-loathing and dissatisfaction. A person’s physical and mental health can be severely impacted by an eating problem, making it a major mental health condition.
Body image and eating disorders are unlikely to control naturally. Appreciating and accepting one’s physical self is a good place to start, as is experimenting with self-help tactics and interventions that aim to boost one’s sense of worth based on factors other than physical beauty.