Counseling Center

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Body image and eating concerns often arise together in engaging in certain eating habits that then lead to body changes and reinforce the need for continued food restriction.

Body Image refers to a representation that you have of your physical appearance. Occasionally, people feel dissatisfied with certain aspects of their body. We are inundated with societal messages of how we "should look," which can increase any negative thoughts about our bodies. These negative thoughts can lead to high levels of worry or distress and a preoccupation with the concerned body area. Worrying about the way you look and what others think of you, could have many negative implications for your general functioning.

  • Relationships- You may avoid socializing or interacting with others. You may complain to others about the way you look, which may cause others to assure you that you look fine and invalidate any concerns you may have. Others may also start to feel uncomfortable or frustrated if you constantly need reassurance about the way you look. Sometimes people keep their body image concerns a secret due to fear of appearing vain or drawing attention to the body area of concern.
  • Work/School- The extra time taken to focus on your appearance may distract from school or work required activities. Excessive worry could also interfere with your ability to concentrate.
Many factors can impact a person's Body Image. Several factors may increase the likelihood that a person will develop a negative Body Image.
  • Having people around you who experience negative body image
  • Physical changes or acne during adolescence
  • Experiencing changes in your appearance
  • Having experienced negative comments or bullying
  • Societal and cultural pressures to look a certain way
Negative body image can be a vicious cycle. Creating a new cycle is not easy but necessary. Learn the importance of accepting yourself through:
  • Recognizing your triggers
  • Admitting that you have unhealthy appearance assumptions
  • Utilizing new coping skills to manage your preoccupation with your appearance
  • Recognizing negative predictions
  • Reducing avoidance behaviors
  • Talking to a professional if needed

Eating concerns can arise with body image concerns but could also be separate. Eating concerns often arise connected with a need to control aspects of life and feeling very out of control. Restricting food intake can lead to binging or purging behaviors. When preoccupation with food becomes consuming, symptoms of an eating disorder may manifest. There are common symptoms that may arise indicating eating concerns could be serious from NEDA:

  • In general, behaviors and attitudes that indicate that weight loss, dieting, and control of food are becoming primary concerns
  • Preoccupation with weight, food, calories, carbohydrates, fat grams, and dieting
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, progressing to restrictions against whole categories of food (e.g., no carbohydrates, etc.)
  • Appears uncomfortable eating around others
  • Food rituals (e.g. eats only a particular food or food group [e.g. condiments], excessive chewing, doesn’t allow foods to touch)
  • Frequent dieting, Skipping meals or taking small portions of food at regular meals
  • Any new practices with food or fad diets, including cutting out entire food groups (no sugar, no carbs, no dairy, vegetarianism/veganism)
  • Withdrawal from usual friends and activities
  • Extreme concern with body size and shape 
  • Frequent checking in the mirror for perceived flaws in appearance
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Noticeable fluctuations in weight, both up and down
  • Stomach cramps, other non-specific gastrointestinal complaints (constipation, acid reflux, etc.)
  • Menstrual irregularities — missing periods or only having a period while on hormonal contraceptives (this is not considered a “true” period)
  • Dizziness, especially upon standing
  • Fainting/syncope
  • Sleep problems
  • Cuts and calluses across the top of finger joints (a result of inducing vomiting)
  • Dental problems, such as enamel erosion, cavities, and tooth sensitivity
  • Dry skin and hair, and brittle nails

There are many things that you can do to manage concerns before they lead to larger concerns listed above. Below are many self-help resources around having positive body image and a healthy relationship with food as we all need food to survive. 

Handouts/Websites

Videos/Podcasts

Books

Applications

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