Body dissatisfaction develops when an individual has recurring, negative thoughts about the way they look, and or feel about themselves. Although it is an internal process that happens subconsciously, it is influenced by a plethora of external factors such as your friends and family, teachers and bosses, and the media. It is not even an overt process that you can see, or stop. We are constantly self-evaluating based on who we’re around and our environment. Especially in certain niche industries, there are expectations of how your body is supposed to look in order to “fit in” with that stereotype. There are restrictions and limitations placed on everyone, and if your body doesn’t fit those standards, you are different, or weird, or unhealthy.
Oftentimes how we perceive ourselves is not actually the way we look. Most of our perceptions tend to be overly critical, for example, someone may think they appear overweight when in reality they may actually be underweight. These perceptions can make people think that they are not good enough and that they are not worthy unless their body looks different. In some cases, some people may even isolate themselves or practise other harmful behaviours until they see changes in their physical appearance.
Body dissatisfaction and negative body image has become an increasingly larger and larger concern for people of all ages. The consequences of body dissatisfaction can be damaging and intense, resulting in a fixation on weight and body shape. Drastic steps may be taken to achieve the body you want such as restricting calories, and vigorous exercise; however very rarely do these habits lead to positive changes either physically or mentally. Body dissatisfaction, unfortunately, does not go away once you have reached your desired goal. Instead, it can lead to the worsening of your mental health and increases the chance of developing an eating disorder. Thin, is never thin enough.
What is an Eating Disorder?
Eating disorders are often characterized by concerns about weight, physical shape, eating habits, and body image in general. However, an eating disorder is not any sort of lifestyle choice- it is a serious and debilitating mental illness. There are different types of eating disorders, all associated with different kinds of unhealthy eating, and sometimes extreme exercise habits.
Eating can also be used as a punishment, or a reward for people with eating disorders. Binging, or restricting food are both common ways people will punish themselves with food. It is important to remember that the relationship people with eating disorders have with food is not healthy, and so it can be very triggering and difficult to feel healthy and good about yourself while you eat.
There are many different types of disordered eating and eating disorders, but two of the most well-known are Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. Both of these disorders can result in many physical symptoms as well as mental trauma.
Anorexia is characterized by low and restrictive food intake, as well as a negative body image and a fear of gaining weight or becoming fat. It is also typically paired with extensive exercise in order to keep their body weight as low as possible. A lot of the time, people with anorexia are unaware of how thin they are.
People who suffer from bulimia will purge frequently, meaning they consume large quantities of food in one sitting. After these bingeing episodes, they will self induce vomit, which is the main difference between bulimia and binge eating disorder. People with binge eating disorder will eat to the point where they are uncomfortably full, but they are unable to stop.
People who struggle with an eating disorder often want to eat, or feel like eating, but physically cannot. It is not helpful to tell someone with an eating disorder to, “just eat,” or to tell them that they look thin. The brain and the stomach work together to produce hunger and fullness cues, and for some people with eating disorders, we don’t get those hunger cues at all. Although someone may know that they are hungry, or know that they should eat, even the smell of food can make them sick as their brain tells them that they are full.
Eating disorders can sometimes develop during times in life when everything seems out of control. Sometimes the one thing you can control is what, and how much, you put into your body. Of course, it is self-explanatory as to why this coping mechanism is unhealthy, but it remains a popular trend that is often romanticized. The fact of the matter is that it is not a romantic, or “cute” illness- it is life-threatening. When you try to find solace in the emptiness of starvation or puking, you turn over the control to food, and it becomes something other than fuel for your body.
How To Cope With an Eating Disorder
If you are, or think you might be living with an eating disorder, it is extremely important to seek professional guidance to help cope and recover. There are things that you can do yourself to help relax and ease stress, such as taking a bubble bath, going for a walk in nature, using positive affirmations, journaling and surrounding yourself with people and things that make you happy. It is also beneficial to be conscious of your triggers and urges surrounding food and body image.
How To Promote Healthy Eating
The relationship people have with food develops during childhood and adolescence, and so there are some techniques that parents can incorporate into helping their children develop their relationship with food such as:
-Not skipping meals
-Not associating food with rewards or punishments
-Encourage kids to eat when they are hungry, instead of restricting food because it is too close to a meal time. This can influence overeating.
-Model healthy activities and lifestyles
If you are worried that someone you know may be struggling with an eating disorder, do your research before reaching out. It is important that you do not try to offer simple answers such as “accepting yourself,” or to “just eat,” because eating disorders are very complex illnesses. Refrain from commenting on their weight and appearance- people with eating disorders are already hyper-fixated on the way their body looks. Having an open, honest conversation with your loved one where you can gently voice your concerns and talk about their feelings may be a good place to start, however, the best thing you can do is simply offer support, and help them find treatment.
Resources For Eating Disorders
–National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) Toll free at 1-866-633-4220