Understanding Body Image and 3 Eating Disorders

Table of Contents


Body image is how you feel about your body. How you feel about your body image can affect you in different ways. With a positive body image, you have the freedom to live your life without worrying about what others think. The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating.

What Is Body Image?

Body image is how you feel about your body. Feeling good or bad about your body image can affect you in different ways. The messages that are sent to you in the media, in music videos, or in conversations with your friends or family can affect whether you feel positively or negatively about your body image. Whether you’re posting on social media or looking at others’ posts, you are constantly exposed to body image.  

With a positive body image, you have the freedom to live your life without worrying about what others think. A positive body image can lead to an increased amount of self-esteem and self-worth. A negative body image typically means you struggle with feeling confident about your body. You may find faults with your body, or just feeling like you aren’t good enough. If you are struggling with a negative body image, you’re not alone. There are ways to get help and improve the way that you feel about yourself. 

Body Dysmorphia

If you find yourself feeling preoccupied or “obsessed” with your appearance, constantly second-guessing yourself, or putting yourself down, you may be dealing with body dysmorphia.  Body dysmorphia can include:

  • Preoccupation with perceived flaws in yourself that others don’t see
  • Repetitive behaviors, like checking yourself in the mirror, picking your skin, or comparing yourself to others
  • Feeling distressed by this preoccupation with perceived flaws.
  • Constantly needing reassurance from others about your appearance
  • Avoiding social interactions because you think that a certain body part makes you look “ugly” 
  • Comparing certain part of your body to others
  • Feeling worried about changing a part of your body through surgery or even makeup

What Is Disordered Eating?

Having a negative body image can lead to disordered eating. Disordered eating includes a range of different types of irregular eating behaviors that are not deemed healthy and nutritional. For example, going on an extreme diet that is being advertised on social media. Disordered eating can also turn into an eating disorder

Eating disorders are serious and can be life-threatening. The three most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa (eating too little), bulimia nervosa (throwing up on purpose), and binge-eating (overeating large quantities of food at one time).

Anorexia Nervosa 

Anorexia Nervosa focuses on the fear of gaining weight and can include:  

  • Eating less than what your doctor recommends
  • Being underweight for your age and body type
  • Having an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming “fat”
  • Thinking that you are overweight when a professional tells you that you’re not
  • Thinking too much about food and what you eat
  • Feeling dehydrated
  • Feeling constipated and unable to poop
  • Fear of eating in front of others
  • Frequently complaining about being “fat”
  • Pretending to not be hungry to avoid eating
  • Excessively exercising 
  • For females, having irregular periods or cycles

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa involves overeating and then purging (throwing up) afterward and includes:

  • Feeling a lack of control when eating (can’t stop)
  • Trying to “undo” the eating by exercise, dieting, taking laxatives
  • Experiencing dental problems
  • Obsessing over your body weight
  • Experiencing heartburn or a burning sensation in your chest
  • Experiencing stomach pain or stomach problems


Binge Eating is when you eat large amounts of food within a short period of time. Binge-eating is not the same as overeating once in a while. It happens more frequently and can include: 

  • Feeling a lack of control when eating (can’t stop)
  • Eating faster than normal
  • Feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food even when you’re not hungry
  • Eating alone because you’re embarrassed about how much you eat
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, or guilty after eating
  • Feeling distressed/upset about binge eating

Why Do I Feel This Way?

There isn’t one factor that is the cause for you to feel the way you do about your body. A combination of environmental, psychological, family history, and social pressures, can contribute to your experience of having a negative body image, disordered eating or an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or low self-esteem. It is important to realize that it is normal to have general concerns or thoughts about your body as you mature. Almost everyone has moments of feeling insecure or negative about a part of their body, but that one thing doesn’t define who you are.

Self Esteem

How you think and feel about yourself is a core component of your self-esteem. Your self-esteem is important to how you live your life, how you interact with others and interact with yourself. Being in tune and happy with who you are can help increase your positive body image. When you start to question your worth or talk negatively about yourself, your self-esteem has been negatively impacted. Low self-esteem can lead to physical and mental health concerns. However, having positive self-esteem can help build your confidence. High self-esteem can help you take healthy risks, try new things, and be less concerned about what others think.

Negative Self-Talk

Sometimes the way you talk is an indicator of how you are feeling about yourself. Negative self-talk are statements or questions a person makes about themselves that can reinforce a negative attitude or view one has about themselves. Saying things to yourself like: “I hate myself;” “That person looks so much better than I do;” “My nose is so big compared to hers;” or “Life would be better if I looked different.” Everyone deserves to feel comfortable in their own skin, and talking to someone about how you feel can help. Reach out to a trusted adult or professional to get some additional support.

Wellbeing Strategies

Talk to a counselor or therapist: It can be difficult to address your emotions and thoughts, experiences, and life challenges. Connecting with a counselor or therapist can help you feel better and less alone. 

Talk to a trusted adult: Parents, mentors, school employees, and religious leaders can provide you with additional support and guidance to work through your life challenges.

Take care of yourself: Exercise, sleep and eating healthy can have a big impact on your overall mood and how you feel about yourself. You can also do something you enjoy, such as yoga, art, sports, writing, listening to music, playing an instrument, etc.  Finding time to do things that you enjoy can help you feel better.

Meditate, prayer, mindfulness: Connecting to your breathing and your abilities to calm yourself can help positively increase your mood. Spending time in nature can help improve your mood.

Further Reading

The National Eating Disorder Association is a great resource!

Body Image & Eating Disorders – National Eating Disorder Association

Eating Disorders Overview – National Institute of Mental Health

Information by Eating Disorder – National Eating Disorder Association

Research Articles

Akers, A. Y., Lynch, C. P., Gold, M. A., Chang, J. C. C., Doswell, W., Wiesenfeld, H. C., & Bost, J. (2009). Exploring the relationship among weight, race, and sexual behaviors among girls. Pediatrics124, e913–e920.  https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2008-2797

Bucchianeri, M. M., Arikian, A. J., Hannan, P. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2013). Body dissatisfaction from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Body Image10, 1–7.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2012.09.001.

Bucchianeri, M. M., Fernandes, N., Loth, K., Hannan, P. J., Eisenberg, M. E., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2016). Body dissatisfaction: Do associations with disordered eating and psychological well-being differ across race/ethnicity in adolescent girls and boys? Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology22, 137–146.  https://doi.org/10.1037/cdp0000036.

Corona, R., Pope, M., Shaffer, C., Hood, K., Velazquez, E., & Barinas, J. (2018). A qualitative examination of the relationship between body image and sexual behavior: Perceptions from Latina and African American adolescent girls and their maternal caregivers. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 27, 3606 – 3617.

Duarte, C., Pinto-Gouveia, J., Stubbs, R. J. (2017). The prospective associations between bullying experiences, body image shame and disordered eating in a sample of adolescent girls. Personality and Individual Differences, 116(1), 319-325. 

Gaddad, P., Pemde, H. K., Basu, S., Dhankar, M., & Rajendran, S. (2018). Relationship of physical activity with body image, self esteem sedentary lifestyle, body mass index and eating attitude in adolescents: A cross-sectional observational study. Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, 7, 775 – 779.

Goldschmidt, A. & Tortolani, C. (2018). You can take it with you: Delivering family-based treatment for teen eating disorders in the home setting. The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 1(1)

Halliwell, E., Jarman, H., Tylka, T. L., Slater, A. (2018). Evaluating the impact of a brief yoga intervention on preadolescents’ body image and mood. Body Image, 27, 196 – 201.

Jahromi, H. R. M. (2018). Investigation of the relationship between body image with self-concept in adolescents. Child Psychology Letters, 1(1). 

Kohlmann, C. W., Eschenbeck, H., Heim-Dreger, U., Hock, M., Platt, T., & Ruch, W. (2018). Fear of being laughed at in children and adolescents: Exploring the importance of overweight, underweight, and teasing. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 1447

Lee, Y. & Hodges, N. (2018). Achieving confidence while avoiding heartbreak: An exploration of plus-size apparel consumption experiences among mothers of young girls. International Textile and Apparel Association (ITAA) Annual Conference Proceedings, 31.

Legenbauer, T., Thiemann, P., & Vocks, S. (2014). Body image disturbance in children and adolescents with eating disorders. Current evidence and future directions. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychothery, 42(1), 51 – 59. 

Lombardo, C. (2018). Studies on body image in children and adolescents with overweight/obesity. Body Image, Eating, and Weight, 193 – 205.

Marzola, E., Cuzzolaro, M., & Abbate-Daga, G. (2018). Body image: Methods of assessment in children, adolescents, & adults. Body Image, Eating, and Weight, 39 – 55.

Smolak, L. (2004). Body image in children and adolescents: where do we go from here?. Body Image, 1(1), 15 – 28.

Zhou, J., Li, X., Tian, L., & Huebner, E. S. (2018). Longitudinal association between low self-esteem and depression in early adolescents: The role of rejection sensitivity and loneliness. Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice

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