Body Image in Eating Disorders

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A short time ago I published an article that delved into the mind of psychiatrists discussing about how to help people who suffer from binge-eating disorders. While I expected my readers to dismiss it as a dry and “sciencey” post, some people do seem to have taken an interest in it. So today I’m going to fire up a short post on body image in eating disorders.

It is well known in the world of psychology that eating disorders are a main contributor to body image disturbance. In fact, most people who have an established eating disorder reported having body dissatisfaction just before falling victim to the disorder in question.

Universally, the body image construct is known to be multidimensional and incorporates components of perception as well as attitude.  It is well known that people who suffer from anorexia nervosa ie those who starve themselves intentionally to be thin often perceive their own body size as larger than what it actually is.

Research that was published recently has shown some association between body image disturbance to both the psychopathology and characteristics of temperament. This further supports the accepted knowledge that body image disorders are linked to other core features such as poor interceptive awareness and feelings of ineffectiveness.

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While body dissatisfaction is known to lead to eating disorders in western cultures, the same can’t be said of other cultures. People from some of these cultures voluntarily manipulate themselves to reach a certain weight while not displaying psychological characteristics of being dissatisfied with their own bodies.

Interestingly, there is a small minority of eating disorder patients from western cultures who are obviously of a very low weight, but do not seem to have signs of body dissatisfaction during the course of development of their disorder. Reasons for these include an irrational fear of choking, allergies, or simply not liking the texture of food in general.

Despite all of these, the psychological literature shows that patients who do not deal with their body image issues sufficiently are at a high risk of relapsing in both anorexia and bulimia. While we have identified a key area we need to work on, the solution is not easily found.

There have been various methods used to try and correct distorted body size estimation. A detailed discussion of this is beyond the scope of this short article. However, one of the more prominent findings is that avoiding certain practices can actually contribute to a more positive body image.

The practices mentioned in the literature include (drum roll please), looking in the mirror, wearing revealing clothing, exercising obsessively and frequently weighing oneself. These are habits that only serve to increase anxiety and promote a feeling of discontentment amongst patients.

Instead, such negative behaviours can be replaced by activities that associate movement with positive feelings and pleasure. These include activities such as exercise, yoga, taking walks and listening to music. After all positive reinforcement has consistently shown to be more effective when it comes to patients with psychological presentations.

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Now, does that mean that you should stop weighing yourself and looking in the mirror? If you ask different fitness professionals, you are likely to get different responses. In my opinion, it is ok to weigh yourself as long as you don’t do it too often. It is also ok to look in the mirror as long as you don’t hate your body.

However, I must emphasize that I extracted all this information from the psychology and psychiatry literature, and all of them are specific to people who are known to clinically present with body image and eating disorders. If you don’t think you fall into that category, the advice in this article might not apply to you.

Anyways, Granite Fitness always asserts that it is a wise idea to consult a health professional before commencing any fitness program, and our own Granite Fitness Solution program is no exception. If you have injuries, always consult a doctor or physiotherapist regarding what you can and can’t do. If you suspect that you have depression or body image disorders, get it sorted by the appropriate health professionals soon.

Have a good one. My brain also needs a rest.

Mark

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