Our relationship with our body is the longest relationship any of us will have. It is normal to feel comfortable in our body most of the time, and to have some days when we really like our body and other days where we do not. However, some people spend most days disliking or worrying about their body (or parts of their body) to the point that it takes over their thoughts and how they spend their time.

For example, you might be distressed about the shape of your body, your weight, how muscular you are, or there may be a part of your body that you think is very flawed. These types of worries may mean you are suffering from poor body image or body dysmorphic disorder. It is common for negative thoughts about our body to influence our relationship with food and eating. If we are listening to what our body wants and needs, then we can expect our eating and exercise patterns to stay relatively consistent most of the time. This includes having some days when we eat a little more, or less, than other days.  For example, when celebrating a special occasion like a birthday you may eat more than usual, but when feeling sick you may find that you eat a little less. However, some people feel so negative about their body that they turn to unhelpful food and eating behaviours. These unhelpful behaviours can be signs of an eating disorder.

What are the signs and symptoms of Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders?

  • Spending a large portion of the day thinking about food, eating, and/or your body. This can impact on the time and energy you have for other things in your life that are important to you. For example, you may find it difficult to read your favourite book because your mind is always jumping to thoughts about food and your body.
  • Constantly worrying about your body, which leads to checking your body frequently or comparing it with others, or on the opposite end; avoiding your body by, for example, avoiding looking in the mirror.
  • Extremes in eating behaviours where you either eat too little or too much for what your body needs to function at its best.
  • Doing unhelpful things to compensate for eating. Unhelpful behaviours include fasting, vomiting, using diuretics, using laxatives, chewing and spitting food, or over exercising. These behaviours can lead to feelings of shame and guilt.
  • A inaccurate view of your body (not seeing your body as it actually is) which impacts negatively on your self-esteem and drives you to unhelpful behaviours. For example, dieting in the hope to lose weight, or having plastic surgery to change a perceived flaw.
  • Developing and living by lots of rules around food, often because there is an intense fear of weight gain or being “fat”. For example, you may have a rule to not eat past a certain time of the day or not eat certain foods.

How does Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders affect me?

  • You may find that you are spending a lot of time, energy, and money on trying to change your body, through things like dieting, medications or procedures. As a result of these efforts you may be constantly checking for desired body changes. For example, you may spend hours analysing your body in front of the mirror or comparing your body to others’, only to find that you are not happy with what you see.
  • Seeing that your body is not changing the way you want it to, despite your efforts, leads to you disliking your body more and more, with this vicious cycle potentially impacting on how you feel about yourself in general.
  • Some of the extreme behaviours to try and change your body can lead to serious medical problems (e.g., damage to muscles and bones or electrolyte imbalances that can affect heart function).
  • Intense body dissatisfaction, fear of weight gain, and unhelpful eating behaviours often means you avoid social situations, such as catching up with family and friends over a meal. Or you attend these events, but do not connect with anyone because you are so caught up in your worries. You may experience distance in relationships.
  • An unhelpful relationship with food and our body tends to affect mood. Some people may even experience depression. Even just the state of feeling hungry causes irritability, for example, you may be impatient with your loved ones.
  • If eating too little, you may feel an initial sense of control, which gives you a sense of reward and achievement, and a short-lived boost to your confidence. If eating too much, you usually feel out of control around food. Regardless of whether you are eating too little or too much, often you have anxiety in relation to food and your body. For example, every time you eat a meal you may feel agitated or nervous and want to escape the situation.
  • Your ability to concentrate may be negatively affected because your attention is focused on food, eating, and or your body. This makes it hard to do general day-to-day things, such as performing at work or holding a conversation.
  • Secrecy and feelings of guilt and shame can be overwhelming as you hide your behaviours from the people you love and trust. This can leave you feeling alone and powerless.

How can I treat my Poor Body Image or and/or Eating Disorder?

There are several well-researched treatments that are effective in treating Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders, including: Family Based Therapies for the treatment of adolescents, Guided Self-Help (GSH), Cognitive-behavioural Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E) among adults, Maudsley Anorexia Treatment for Adults (MANTRA), Specialist Supportive Clinical Management (SSCM), Schema Therapy (ST), Self-Compassion Focused Therapy (SCFT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and medications.

How can Peaceful Mind Psychology help?

Peaceful Mind Psychology has a special interest in Poor Body Image and Eating Disorders with psychologists who are very experienced and trained in this field of treatment. If you are experiencing Poor Body Image and or an Eating Disorder and would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.