Eating disorders are complex illnesses and affect a variety of people. Risk factors for eating disorders involve a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. But, what role does self-image and eating disorders play with each other?
The interaction of these factors tends to look different for different people. For example, two people with the same kind of eating disorder can have very unique perspectives, experiences, and symptoms.
Despite these individual differences, researchers have still found some commonalities in eating disorder sufferers — one of those commonalities being poor self-image.
More specifically, eating disorder research has found that self-image, or the way a person treats themselves, is important in the onset, nature, and course of the disorder. Researchers have looked at various facets of self-image — including self-love, self-attack, and self-blame — and their role in disordered eating.
In a recent study published in the Journal of Eating Disorders, researchers found that high self-attack and self-blame were associated with disordered eating. They also found that the most crucial self-image constructs that aided in recovery were having a high amount of self-love and a low amount of self-attack and self-blame. 
The researchers concluded that self-image is important and informative for the outcome of eating disorders, and that for some eating disorder sufferers in particular (those who had anorexia nervosa, especially of the restrictive subtype), self-image may be of central importance even compared to eating disorder symptoms themselves. 
Considering this research, it is imperative to address self-image in eating disorder treatment. Increasing self-love and self-compassion and decreasing self-attack and self-blame are crucial to recovery.
1. Mantilla, E.F., Norring, C., and Birgegard, A. (2019). Self-image and 12-month outcome in females with eating disorders: extending previous findings. Journal of Eating Disorders, 7:15. https://doi.org/10.1186/s40337-019-0247-1
2. National Eating Disorder Association. Learn – Risk Factors. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/risk-factors on June 27, 2019.
About the Author:
Chelsea Fielder-Jenks is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.
She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.
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 a 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 July 9, 2019, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on July 9, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC