3 Reasons Poor Body Image & Eating Disorders Often Go Hand-In-Hand

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Not everyone with an eating disorder has a poor body image and not everyone with a poor body image has an eating disorder.

However, poor body image and eating disorders often do go hand-in-hand.

First things first, what is "body image"?

Body image is the relationship you have with your own body. And as with most relationships, body image is complex.

Body image is important because of how it impacts your physical and mental health, relationships, and self-esteem.

It includes how you see or perceive your body, what you think about your body, and how you feel about it.

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Diet culture influences poor body image.

Body image also includes beliefs and behaviors that are strongly influenced by "diet culture." Diet culture influences everyone’s relationship with their body, even if they're not dieting.

Sometimes, it’s disguised as "healthy lifestyle," "clean eating," or other such euphemisms. It glorifies thinness and intertwines weight with worth.

In addition to making you feel bad about your body and self, diet culture demands you to be vigilant about your eating habits and your weight.

It says that to be worthy, you must be thin. And if you’re not in a thin body, you are to blame.

Diet Culture shows up as all-or-nothing perfectionistic thinking regarding food, body, and health. Rules to eat "x" but not "y." To “start Monday” if you ‘blew it.” If you're not thin, then you’re fat.

It promises that if you follow external rules, rather than trust your body’s wisdom, you will succeed.

Diet culture's messaging makes having a good relationship with your body almost impossible.

Poor body image often begins in childhood, and thanks to diet culture, growing up with a neutral or even positive body image is more the exception than the rule.

Parents are not immune, either. They don’t live in a vacuum.

Diet culture is so insidious that even recognizing it is a challenge, sort of like fish not knowing they are wet. Parents often unknowingly perpetuate diet culture messages, for they have also internalized them.

How does negative body image present in eating disorders?

There are many forms, including body dissatisfaction, overconcern with weight and shape, body-related checking, avoidance behavior, misperception of size, and body-related cognitive bias.

Here are 3 reasons why poor body image and eating disorders often go hand-in-hand.

1. Poor body image is a precursor to eating disorders.

Research has found time and time again, that poor body image is one of the most common precursors to eating disorders.

Eating disorder prevention programs often target body image for this very reason. Poor body image is a risk factor for other problems, too, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

Poor body image can and does easily lead to dieting, disordered eating, and then to an eating disorder.

Negative body image is a logical risk factor in eating disorders because people who develop eating disorders tend to highly value body shape and weight, especially to define their self-worth.

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2. It's the main symptom of many eating disorders.

Poor body image is a criterion in the diagnosis of two well-known eating disorders: anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

In the case of either disorder, poor body image presents as body shape and weight hugely influencing self-worth.

People with anorexia nervosa also have a disturbance in how they experience their weight or shape. Sometimes, they’re unable to recognize the seriousness of their current (often low) body weight.

The most common eating disorder is Binge Eating Disorder. Body image-related concerns are not part of the diagnosis.

However, about 60 percent of BED patients endorse overconcern with weight and shape as well as avoidance behaviors and body checking.

3. Recovery usually requires improved body image.

Without an improved boy image, recovery is incomplete and short-lived.

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People with an eating disorder sometimes fear they’ll never feel at peace in their bodies, especially if they give up their eating disorder behaviors.

They inaccurately believe that their only hope to eradicate negative body image is to lose weight and maintain a body size closer to diet culture’s ideal.

Surrendering eating disorder behaviors, including dieting and restriction, is especially difficult in the diet culture World we live in.

An important facet of treatment is to help people learn self-advocacy, social action, and how to be the change they want to see in the world.

The good news is that full recovery from eating disorders is possible, which means that improving body image is also possible.

Dismantling diet culture is the first step to healing.

There’s no shame here — diet culture impacts everyone!

To move toward healing and freedom from food and body concerns, you have to dismantle and question the "truths" that diet culture has enforced from day one.

And to consider how buying into these beliefs and messages (most often over and over again) has been destructive to attuning to your body, your needs, your hunger, and your trust in yourself.

As you begin to do this important self-inquiry, externalize some blame you’ve put on yourself.

Join me as we take down diet culture, together. Only then will body image collectively improve and eating disorder rates plummet.

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Dr. Elayne Daniels is a non-diet, Certified Intuitive Eating specialist and clinical psychologist in MA. If you’re struggling with your body image and/or eating disorder, contact her on her website or send her an email.

This article was originally published at DrElayneDaniels.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.