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Body Image and Eating Disorders: Exploring the Complex Relationship

This article will delve into the intricate connection between body image and eating disorders. You’ll learn more about what body image really means, the risk and predisposing factors for eating disorders, and the relationship between body image and eating disorders. By raising awareness, you’ll learn to promote support for individuals grappling with these issues.

Eating disorders are mental health disorders where individuals control what and how they eat. There is a significant relationship between body image and eating disorders because those who are preoccupied with their food, how much they weigh, or how they think they look, are more likely to develop eating disorders.

thin girl at the mirror eating disorder

What are eating disorders in general?

There are a few types of eating disorders. Studies have found that there are several genetic, psychological, biological, behavioral, and social factors that can influence the risk of developing eating disorders. Body image is one of those. Individuals who struggle with poor body image are more likely to develop eating disorders.


Anorexia, officially called anorexia nervosa, is where people restrict how much they eat.

Someone struggling with anorexia will eat small quantities of food, or they’ll go through a binging and purging cycle.

Many people struggling with anorexia weigh themselves frequently, and even if they are at risk for malnutrition and being underweight, they have issues with body image that cause them to see themselves as severely overweight.

Anorexia can be fatal and lead to starvation. It’s essential that if you are struggling with anorexia or you know someone who is, you reach out for professional help as soon as possible.


Bulimia, officially called bulimia nervosa, is where individuals binge eat and force themselves to immediately remove everything they consumed by exercising excessively, using laxatives, or vomiting.

Binge Eating Disorder

This is the second most common eating disorder in America. Binge eating disorder is somewhat similar to bulimia in that individuals lose control and eat unusually high quantities of food in a single setting, but they don’t follow it by trying to exercise, vomit, or otherwise purge their bodies. People who struggle with binge eating disorders are usually obese.

girl overeats due to eating disorder

The Complex Relationship Between Body Image and Eating Disorders

Body image is defined as how you see yourself. This extends to the image that comes into your mind when you picture yourself or what you perceive when you look in a mirror.

There are several ways in which body image can affect eating disorders:

  • Body dissatisfaction can cause individuals to do things like skip meals or throw up after eating, or simply cut back on how much they eat in an unhealthy fashion. Small, repetitive decisions like this can increase the development of eating disorders.
  • Societal ideals and media influence on body image and eating disorders is incredibly strong. The more individuals do things like watch videos online, check out Instagram photos, and otherwise delve into the world of the internet, the more likely they are to see edited, airbrushed, or photoshopped images of other people. This can lead to clients feeling as though there are societal ideals to which they aren’t living. Eventually, this media influence can cause people at younger and younger ages to develop eating disorders.

There are also several ways in which eating disorders affect body image:

  • Some individuals with eating disorders struggle with distorted body image perception. The person they see in the mirror might be completely opposite from who they really are.
  • Chronic eating disorders can have a negative impact on body image too.

New research has found an increased correlation between dissatisfied body image and eating disorder situations. Women who struggle with anxiety or depression are also more likely to suffer from eating disorders.


  • Almost 9% of the population struggles with eating disorders, and eating disorders are more likely to occur in women.
  • There are several risk factors that can encourage eating disorders, including genetics and co-occurring mental health disorders.
  • Nearly 26% of people who struggle with body image eating disorders attempt suicide.

Body Image Therapy: Treating Eating Disorders

Therapy can be used to effectively treat issues of body image and eating disorder scenarios.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Studies have found that cognitive behavioral therapy can target the distorted thoughts and negative behaviors associated with body image eating disorders.

With early intervention, cognitive behavioral therapy can help you recognize where there exists a disconnect between your automatic thoughts about how you look and reality. Learning to recognize the automatic thoughts relating to eating disorders and body image can help you replace those negative thoughts with positive thoughts.

Through regular individual and group therapy sessions as well as personal homework, you’ll learn how to better control eating disorders due to body image and boost your self-esteem.

Body Image Therapy

Body image therapy can help you tackle perceived imperfections that you have of yourself and develop a more realistic perception of your body.

With body image therapy, you can overcome eating disorders by:

  • Improving yourself awareness
  • Restructuring how you think and feel
  • Combating your compulsive behaviors
  • Improving your self-care routine
  • Encouraging positive self-talk
  • Receiving support in a non-judgmental space
  • Addressing co-occurring mental health disorders like depression or anxiety

Nutritional Therapy

For some people, nutritional therapy is an essential component in the treatment of eating disorders and body image issues. Nutritional therapy can provide you with essential information on what types of foods to consume or avoid in order to do things like:

  • Boost your mood, combating secondary issues like anxiety or depression
  • Improve your sleep so that you feel better about yourself in the morning
  • Give you the energy to exercise and develop healthy self-care habits
  • Eat foods that boost your physical and mental resilience
girl refuses to eat due to eating disorder

What Matters Most: A Comprehensive Approach

When you get help for eating disorders due to body image issues, what matters most is receiving a comprehensive approach that tackles your physical health, mental health, and body image.

This will look different for everyone. Some clients might benefit more from exercise programs that include mindfulness training, meditation, nutritional classes, and individual therapy, while others might prefer cognitive behavioral therapy and body image classes. There is no wrong way to get help.


There is a complex relationship between body image and eating disorders. What matters most is promoting positive body image and getting early intervention in preventing the risk of eating disorders due to body image. If you or someone close to you is struggling with eating disorders and body image, don’t be afraid to get professional help.

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