Eating disorders (young people)
The body and body-image
People often think that eating disorders develop because people are worried about their weight or unhappy with how they think their body looks (negative body image). In fact, eating disorders develop for psychological reasons such as difficulty coping with negative thoughts and emotions and low self-confidence. People can focus on the way they look later on and a negative body image can keep an eating disorder going once it has developed. Overcoming negative body image is often the last challenge in recovery.
Meanings of body and weight
Only a few people we spoke with felt that their eating disorder had started off as wanting to lose weight, be more “slim”, “toned” or “muscular”. This often changed as people became more ill: weight loss became an obsession or habit and some people who hadn’t been aware of their bodies before, became more body-conscious.
For James developing anorexia nervosa had nothing to do with his body-image. He thinks it's a...
When I sort of became full blown with my disorder I never really I didn’t have this sort of image problem I guess. I never looked at magazines and wanted to look like somebody. Because I was always sort of exercising anyway so I knew what I could do. But I really, it’s really hard to see it as a guy now because a lot of people like when they talk to me, when I go home and stuff like that, but a lot of people don’t understand this illness. Quite a lot and they think that ‘Oh, wait a minute, you know you just want to look like so and so in the papers’, and it’s like, it’s completely nothing like that you know. So and so in the papers, and it’s completely nothing like that you know. And it’s, even about anorexia it’s not about food, it’s about feelings. You know and it is true, it’s completely about the way I felt.
Laura became aware of her body and weight only after she had developed an eating disorder.
Body-image, or the way people think about their physical appearance, was closely linked to self-confidence and how people felt about themselves more generally. Some had felt “ugly” or “fat” and that they couldn’t look themselves in the mirror. A negative body-image was commonly tied up with an overall feeling of being “undeserving” or “a failure”.
David feels self-conscious of his body. He worries other people could find it a turn off when he...
Hearing compliments from guys at university gave Katherine confidence that she’d not had before.
I’ve always, a in my previous kind of long term relationship that was never an element of it, but also because I don’t think of myself in that way. I don’t, and it’s only, it’s literally only been since coming to Uni that kind of other guys have started to comment on my appearance, and you kind of think, “Oh maybe I’m not actually horrifically unattractive, you know.” And it’s reassuring that kind of there is, you know people see you in that kind of positive light. That you, I just didn’t think that people did at all, and it’s not how I thought about myself. So it’s kind of only impacted positively really. And also like having someone else there who you know finds you attractive and you know, in terms of your personality and your looks, kind of gives you the confidence to take those like big jumps that you need to sometimes with food.
People’s view of their body could be different from the way others saw them. People’s view of themselves could become highly inaccurate. Some people had body dysmorphia' an anxiety disorder where people have a distorted view of their appearance and worry excessively about it. . When ill, some people struggled to believe it when people told them that they were underweight or looked “ill”. David recognised he had a “warped” self-image and Fiona-Grace knew her view of herself was “unrealistic”. Others had always known that they were underweight' Felicity says she never had “a distorted” view of herself and knew when she was too thin.
People had addressed their body issues through counselling, therapy and workshops. Often their body-image started to improve as people were recovering and feeling better about themselves overall. This often remained the last challenge to overcome after their weight was at a healthy level and people’s mindset and thought patterns started to change.
Rebekah worked on her body-image in workshops and by building her self-confidence. Restoring a...
Even now it’s hard, like look in the mirror because I find it really difficult but I’ve worked on that with like my whole body-image and workshops so I guess and I think, like that was in , when I was in hospital they do, they have like body-image workshops, creative and self-esteem and mindfulness. And I think it was really great, especially when you’re just, like your weight’s restoring and it’s getting to that healthy weight, and you’re feeling like really great about yourself.
Last reviewed October 2018.