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Body Image and Eating Disorders

Jamila Dawuni is a Certified Family Mentor at Equip an Eating Disorder Clinic, Certified Nutrition Coach (NASM) and Wellness Coach (IAP).

Have you ever recovered from an eating disorder or know someone who has?

Dieting and Body Image

Dieting according to the National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC) “is a futile, often harmful process of restrictive eating, usually caused by body dissatisfaction, preoccupation with thinness, and the false belief that self-worth is dependent on body size (Bear, 2000)” (Walters, Byl, p 35). Unhappiness with body image can make people diet constantly. This often serves as a way for them to change the image they have of their bodies. (Walters, Byl, p 35).

Body image “is a multidimensional construct and it is defined as the picture you hold in the mind of your own body (Thompson et al., 1999). Body image encompasses four dimensions; cognitive, affective, perceptual and behavioral” (Walters, Byl, p 35-36). The cognitive aspect is one’s thoughts about themselves (e.g. I think my shoulders are too big). The affective aspect encompasses feelings that one has about their body (eg. I feel unattractive) The perceptual aspect encompasses how one sees their body in their mind (e.g. I see myself as being too fat). Lastly, the behavioral aspect encompasses the steps one takes to change one’s body (e.g. food restriction, excessive physical activity) (Walters, Byl, p 35-36).

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating Disorders

Society’s pressure on acceptable body shape types, puberty, and peer pressure can cause women and men to have negative body images and this can lead to them developing eating disorders. When people are not happy with how they look, they can take extreme steps to change their body image. One of the main features of someone with an eating disorder, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2000) “is extreme dissatisfaction with body image” (Walters, Byl, p 36). Eating disorders affect people of different shapes, sizes, races, and ethnicities.

Behavioral signs of eating disorders include; high interest in food and exercise; labeling foods as good or bad foods; strong emphasis on body weight; shape or size, body checking the parts of their bodies they are unhappy about; weight loss, loss of menstrual cycle and obsessive thinking (Crosbie, Sterling, p. 11-12). Generally, eating disorders start during adolescence. The list of eating disorders stated by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM - 5) include Anorexia nervosa (AN), Bulimia Nervosa (BN), Binge Eating Disorder (BED), Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) (Crosbie, Sterling, p. 11-12).

Common Eating Disorders Types


Various types of Eating Disorders

Types of Eating Disorders

Anorexia Nervosa is “characterized by a person’s refusal to maintain minimal body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, significant disturbance in the perception of the shape or size of his or her body, and females having no menstrual period (American Psychological Association, 2011) (Walters, Byl, p 39). Bulimia Nervosa is defined as multiple episodes of binging or eating very large quantities of food at once, followed by getting rid of the food utilizing vomiting, fasting, or extreme physical activity (American Psychological Association, 2011) (Walters, Byl, p 39). Binge Eating Disorder is described as recurrent “episodes of uncontrolled overeating (American Psychological Association, 2011) (Walters, Byl, p 40).

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The American Psychiatric Association, the first to lay out the “diagnostic criteria for (ARFID) in DSM-5 (APA 2013”, four requirements have to be met for an ARFID diagnosis by a clinician (Bryant-Waugh, p 2). The food restriction should lead to; substantial nutritional deficiency; substantial weight loss or slow weight gain or growth; reliance on nutritional supplements or support; and or interference with psychosocial functioning. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is a category of eating disorders that do not clinically meet the requirements for the diagnosis of other eating disorders according to DSM-5. OSFED was previously known as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) in previous editions of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

Anorexia Symptoms


Binge Eating


Importance of Treatment for an Eating Disorder

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment of an eating disorder is a process that starts with an “evaluation by a physician or trained counselor as eating disorders often coexists with other disorders (Hudson et al., 2007)” (Walters, Byl, p 49). Recovery is a journey that can be accomplished in months or sometimes years. Everyone’s journey to recovery is different. To get to recovery, it is important for a person with an eating disorder to; get to their target weight range; have one’s period restored after a disruption caused by the eating disorder; consume a balanced meal and minimize one’s fears about various types of foods (Walters, Byl, p 49).

Treatment Goals for Some Eating Disorders

With Anorexia nervosa, it is important to restore the recommended dietary allowance, normalize food consumption and "exercise habits,” and change views towards food, body image, size, and weight gain. (Walters, Byl, p 49). For Bulimia Nervosa, the aim should be to reduce binge and purging episodes and normalize "eating patterns” as well as change views towards food, body shape, or size. It is also important to recognize the emotional triggers behind this eating disorder (Walters, Byl, p 49). The goal for Binge eating disorder should include “normalizing eating patterns” and disrupting the binging cycle. Perceptions towards food and body size should also be changed as well as an understanding of the emotional issues that led to binging.

Works Cited References

Walters, Peter and Byl John, Christian Path to Health and Wellness. Human Kinetics, 2007.

Crosbie, Casey, and Sterling, Wendy, How to Nourish Your Child Through an Eating Disorder, The Experiment LLC, 2018.

Bryan-Waugh, Rachel, ARFID Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder: A Guide for Parents and Carers, Routledge, 2019.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Jamila Dawuni

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