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Body Image and Eating Concerns

A healthy body image looks different for everyone. For some, this may involve working to feel more comfortable in the body they have and taking care of it. For others, they may not feel comfortable in their own bodies or identify with their body. This can be especially true for trans individuals. No matter what a healthy body image for you may be, it can also include basing your self-esteem on many aspects of who you are as a person, not just how much you weigh.

Body image includes what you believe about your own appearance, how you talk to others about your body, your sense of how other people view your body, and how you feel in your body (for example, your comfort with movement). 

Ways to Boost Body Image

  • Question what you see in the media. All media and messages are constructs—not reflections of reality.
  • Give your scale a break. Neither weight nor Body Mass Index tell us anything substantial about body composition and health. Eating habits, activity patterns, and other self-care choices are more important.
  • Find a method of movement that you enjoy. Engage in movement to make your body healthy and strong.
  • Limit the “body checking” that you do throughout the day. Researchers have found that negative body image is reinforced by lots of time in front of the mirror or frequent checks of (perceived) body flaws.
  • Engage in intuitive eating. This includes asking yourself “what am I truly hungry for?”
  • Spend time with people who have a healthy relationship with food, activity, and their bodies. It will make a difference in how you feel about these issues and yourself.
  • Stop yourself from thinking negatively about your body. Distract yourself and focus on what you like about yourself instead. This approach works over time, even if the positive self-talk feels awkward or forced in the beginning.

Body Image and the Media

Media affects what we, as a society, consider to be “beautiful.” When you see unrealistic bodies in movies, TV, magazines, and video games, you may think that this is normal, healthy, desirable, and attainable. You may feel unattractive by comparison or frustrated that you are unable to achieve this look. If you feel this way, you are not alone.

Media literacy is the ability to think critically about what you see in the media. By questioning what you see in the media and reminding yourself that it is unrealistic, you can start to feel better about your body rather than comparing yourself to others. There are many ways that you can be active in changing the culture around what appears in media.

  • Share what you’ve learned with others.
  • Limit the magazines, television shows, or movies that make you feel bad about your appearance.
  • Recognize your power as a consumer. You can contact companies that you feel perpetuate an unrealistic standard.
  • Educate yourself further. Consider participating in the Body Positive program or the Body Positive Peer Health Advocates.

Recognizing and Responding to Eating Disorders

Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. It can be difficult to determine whether someone has an eating disorder, but there are signs to be aware of. Individuals with eating disorders exhibit an intense fear of gaining weight, have an obsession with dieting, become secretive about food, and spend less time with family and friends.

In addition, a person with anorexia may:

  • Eat only “safe” foods, low in calories and fat
  • Have odd rituals, such as cutting food into small pieces or measuring food
  • Exercise to excess
  • Dress in layers to hid weight loss
  • Skip meals and give excuses like “I already ate”

A person with bulimia may:

  • Keep making trips to the bathroom after eating
  • Steal food or hoard it in strange places
  • Eat to excess

If your friend is suffering from an eating disorder, they will need to seek help from a professional. When speaking with the friend, share specific examples of times you were concerned with their behavior, be patient and non-confrontational, and remind them that you are an open and supportive listener.

For more information on identifying eating disorders and the process of seeking help, please visit the National Eating Disorders website, or contact UChicago Student Wellness to speak with a counselor.

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