Body Image & Disordered Eating

Woman sitting on a bridge struggling with disordered eating

Body image can be defined as the perception that a person has of himself or herself. It can include the physical self, thoughts, and feelings around their awareness of self.

The emotions and thoughts can be both positive and negative and are influenced by environmental and societal factors.

Body image can occur at any age and affect all levels of society, demographics, and cultures.

It affects both men and women and can lead to devastating consequences.

Four Aspects of Body Image

Body image has four components which are [1]:

  1. How do you see yourself, your body, and your awareness of your body? Often our perception and the visual image are not how our actual body looks. An example could be that an individual may see himself as overweight, but is not physically overweight.
  2. The way we feel about our body is called our affective body image. This is the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction we have about our shape, weight, and body parts.
  3. The way we think about our body is called our cognitive body image which can lead to an obsessiveness or preoccupation of our body shape and size.
  4. Behaviors are the last point, and this is a result of the body image we hold. If we are dissatisfied with our body image we may isolate because we feel uncomfortable with our appearance.

Positive body image on the flip side is when a person is able to accept, appreciate, and respect their body.

It is one reason that an individual is resilient to an eating disorder and many treatment facilities use positive body image creative therapies and a health promotion approach that focuses on improving self-esteem and self-worth.

Positive body image can improve self-esteem which is how a person feels about themselves and their abilities.

Self-acceptance is also improved through body image work and can help a person feel more comfortable and accept of their body, even with negative environmental and societal messages.

Factors to Low Body-Image

Woman struggling with Binge Eating Disorder

Negative body image has several risk factors. Some are very young of age for having low body-image. Some begin between the ages of 8-10 although any individual at any age can have poor body image.

Gender is also a factor. Typically females are more susceptible to body image dissatisfaction than males. Depression and other mental health disorders can also play a role in the development of poor image.

Other factors include personality traits such as perfectionistic tendencies and those who internalize beauty ideals.

Teasing or bullied about appearance or weight, family and friends who comment about body weight and size, and social media’s influence on body size and shape are also high-risk factors.

Body Image May Lead to Disordered Eating

It is commonly believed that disordered eating and body image research are most often studied in females. A study looked at the connection between body image dissatisfaction, disorder eating, and personality in both males and females [2].

The findings showed that women reported higher levels of body dissatisfaction and disordered eating behaviors compared to men. Personality traits seemed to be related to the experience of having body dissatisfaction in both genders.

Disordered eating and personality traits did differ in males and females to the point that it was more common for women to have disordered eating. This study suggested that men and women experience both body dissatisfaction and disordered eating differently.

The researchers looked at five different personalities. They were neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness [2].

The women who had reported higher levels of both disordered eating and body dissatisfaction had higher rates of neuroticism and lower levels of extraversion.

Body Image and Disordered Eating

Body Image and the thin-ideal is linked to poor body image [3]. A study looked at the role of self-compassion in the relationship between perfectionism and body image satisfaction in women.

Woman with body image concerns in the water

They found that lower levels of self-compassion contributed to lower levels of body image dissatisfaction, and women tended to have higher rates of thought rumination, depression, and anxiety.

This can also lead to increased self-criticism and unhealthy ways to soothe oneself. The researchers went on to then study the effect of self-compassion on disordered eating behaviors.

They looked at women again, and results showed that disordered eating behaviors have been associated with lower body image dissatisfaction and increased concern with body shape and weight [3].

In conclusion, negative thinking about one’s body image, size, shape, and weight can lead to unhealthy disordered eating. Often when one begins to think negatively about themselves, they often begin to engage in eating behaviors that fall into dieting or restrictive categories.

Through treatment with an eating disorder treatment team, or through a treatment facility the journey of recovery can begin. If you feel that you are struggling with poor body image and unhealthy eating patterns, talk with a trusted loved one to start the process of getting help.

Getting an assessment of the severity of your eating issues can help with knowing where to begin treatment. Often it can come in the way of residential treatment, partial hospitalization or day treatment, intensive outpatient, and weekly ongoing outpatient therapy.

No matter what decision or treatment path you take, you are starting the journey to recovery.

Image of Libby Lyons and familyAbout the Author: Libby Lyons is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS). Libby has been practicing in the field of eating disorders, addictions, depression, anxiety and other comorbid issues in various agencies. Libby has previously worked as a contractor for the United States Air Force Domestic Violence Program, Saint Louis University Student Health and Counseling, Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute Eating Disorders Program, and has been in Private Practice.

Libby currently works as a counselor at Fontbonne University and is a Adjunct Professor at Saint Louis University, and is a contributing author for Addiction Hope and Eating Disorder Hope. Libby lives in the St. Louis area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys spending time with her family, running, and watching movies.


[1] What is body image? (n.d.). Retrieved November 18, 2017, from
[2] MacNeill, L. P., Best, L. A., & Davis, L. L. (2017, October 18). The role of personality in body image dissatisfaction and disordered eating: discrepancies between men and women. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from
[3] Barnett, M., & Sharp, K. (2016, September). Maladaptive perfectionism, body image satisfaction, and disordered eating behaviors among U.S. college women: The mediating role of self-compassion. Retrieved November 18, 2017, from

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on January 29, 2018.
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