How Body Image and Social Media Cause Eating Disorders

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body image and social media pinterest image with doctor solomon from galia collective

Are you worried about the impacts of unattainable body images and of social media on your children?

Would you like to know the actual science and hear from an expert about  how social media impacts body images and how to handle all these media images?

Body Image And Social Media

She is, hands down, one of the most qualified people to talk with us today about body image concerns. 

This was a really fun and insightful interview for me.  Here is the full interview about body image and social media.  Please be sure to check out Dr. Solomon’s current work at the Galia Collaborative, which I mention below.

In this post, I will paraphrase, summarize, and comment on the following topics, based on the full interview:

  1. Why Is Body Image An Issue?
  2. Technique #1 – Ask What’s Missing
  3. What Is A Negative Body Image?
  4. Rethink How To Think About Obesity
  5. Technique #2 – Surround Yourself With Realistic Body Images
  6. What Are The 4 Aspects Of Body Image?

About Dr. Solomon

For more information on the Galia Collaborative you can visit,

“Galia Collaborative empowers purpose-driven women to elevate their impact by developing their mental strength and well-being. Holding firm the belief that the world needs our full participation, we help to guide women out of the trenches and into the spaces they want and deserve to occupy. When women repurpose their power in pursuit of their dreams, we’re unstoppable.”

Why Is Body Image And Social Media An Issue?

In these sections I will show a video clip from the interview. You can watch the clip, or read the bullet list below to get a summary of the clip.

Sometimes the clip does not contain all the bullet points and I draw material from other related parts of the interview.

  1. – London and other major cities are making unrealistic body images illegal
  2. – Ashley will point out to her children when body images are not representative.
  3. – Oftentimes in social media and other images there is not much variation of color, shapes, sizes and everybody is happy.
  4. – Because most images in the media are the highest standards of beauty and happiness but do not represent other variations in color, shapes and sizes; we believe that we are falling short.

Ask What’s Missing In Media Images – Technique #1

The first technique that Ashley talked about is training children to look at images in the media with a discerning eye. Normally children (and myself!) watch images without actively thinking about what we are seeing.

And unfortunately, marketers and media images usually promote only a certain aspect of reality, namely the so-called beautiful  aspects – usually someone slim, with model-like bodies and facial features. .

But life is filled with more people than just those who fit this image of beautiful, right? Then why don’t we ever see bigger people on magazine covers? If most of us are average size or even bigger than ‘average’, then why don’t the images on magazines reflect this?

It’s a complex issue, but training children to ask “What’s missing from this image?” is a scientific technique that has helped children prevent eating struggles later down the line.

Essentially children start to realize that the images they see don’t represent real life! It’s a part of media literacy training that is fairly simple to teach children and has proven benefits.

Lately I’ve been trying to watch media with a more discerning eye. I’ve been extremely cognizant lately of the checkout magazines at the grocery store. Every person is “beautiful”!

And it’s just really got me thinking about how we rarely see other body types  on these magazine covers. Good food for thought, eh?

What Is A Negative Body Image?

  1. One of the big issues that Ashley talked about is understanding negative body images.  Among other things, she described how:
  2. – “Am I really fat?” is a common example of expressing a negative body image (oftentimes in a hateful expression).
  3. – And there is never a ‘right’ answer to this question “Am I really fat?”
  4. – Your mind can become a tug of war where you are battle with your thoughts – this is a negative body image because you are tugging the ‘rope’ constantly wondering “Am I fat?”
  5. – The key is to “drop the rope”. You are going to have these thoughts. But you don’t have to believe these thoughts are true.
  6. – It’s all about how our thoughts affect our ability to connect with our values, and choosing what’s important to us over whatever random thing our mind might be telling us.

Rethink How To Think About Obesity

Ashley mentioned that one way to drop the rope is to embrace the Health At Every Size approach.

The real essence and point of Health At Every Size is:

  1. – bodies are inherently good and worthy
  2. – there is a way to nurture our own bodies
  3. – body size is on a continuum; there will always be people larger and smaller
  4. – genetics plays a huge role on body shape and size
  5. – the key is to find movement and health behaviors that nurture you, and then to accept your genetics and natural body size
  6. – everyone deserves access to health care regardless of body size

Surround Yourself With Realistic Body Images – Technique #2

The second technique about body image and social media that Ashley described is to focus on more realistic and representative body images.  Her main points are:

  1. – Images in media get processed in the brain too quick to realize what we are seeing
  2. – The image gets processed by our brain first, and then when we read “airbrushed” it’s already too late
  3. – A more effective strategy is to surround yourself with positive images
  4. – follow instagram accounts that show different body sizes

Essentially, body image and social media are here to stay. They aren’t going anywhere. So let’s use them constructively.

What Are The 4 Aspects Of Body Image?

While Dr. Solomon and I did not discuss this topic in the interview, I am including information on this because some people have reached out to me and asked about the “different parts of body image” and “aspects of body image”.

These messages were anonymous and didn’t provide a lot of context, but I’m sure many of you have similar questions. 

The 4 Aspects of Body Image (based on a fact sheet by the National Eating Disorders Collaboration) are:

  1. Your Self Image: How do you see yourself, your body, and your awareness of your body? Often our perception and the visual image are not how our actual body looks. An example could be that an individual may see himself as overweight, but he is not actually physically overweight.
  2. How You Feel About Your Body – The way we feel about our body is called our affective body image. This is the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction we have about our shape, weight, and body parts.
  3. How You Think About Your Body – The way we think about our body is called our cognitive body image, which can lead to an obsessiveness or preoccupation with our body shape and size.
  4. How You Act About Your Body: Behaviors are the last point, and this is a result of the body image we hold. When we are dissatisfied with our body image, we may isolate ourselves because we feel uncomfortable with our appearance.

Let’s go into these in more detail.  If you want to get a more positive body image, it will be helpful for you to understand the different aspects your body image may be composed of.

Your Self Image

With an eating disorder, your body image concerns are blown out of proportion. One example is from where I currently work as a Recovery Counselor at the Cielo Eating Disorder outpatient clinic.

After every meal one woman with what is known as body dysmorphic disorder (where you always see your body as horribly ugly) would eat food with the group and then she’d walk outside right around the corner. One day after eating I saw her doing jumping jacks. She weighed 98 pounds. Alarmed, I alerted the staff and her therapist.

This woman’s negative body image was hurting her to the degree that her appearance – no matter what – was the source of her low self-esteem. She had low self-esteem because she believed she was fat. Yet she only weighed 98 pounds. She was almost deathly skinny.

I tell this story to demonstrate a point. Your self-image of your body can be drastically different than what your body really is physically.

How You Feel About Your Body

Body dissatisfaction can be a dark cloud, in part because of the negative influence on body image and social media. 

One of the ingredients of body dissatisfaction is the actual physical way your body feels. Do you feel your body is gross? How do you feel about your appearance?

This is slightly different than how you think about your body. For example, some people feel uncomfortable in their skin like their skin is too light or tight or heavy. While they are also thinking thoughts about how their body appears ugly, these feelings of light, tight or heavy are examples of how you feel about your body.

Changing this can be very difficult work. Oftentimes body dissatisfaction can run so deep and be so poisonous.

But getting in touch with these feelings, however unpleasant, is highly important. For example, you might be one of those people who feel a sense of revulsion from your stomach or arms. The sense of revulsion might be a tightening in your stomach, or a sense of nausea. Or like hot shame running up and down your body.

It’s important to notice this, to not ignore these feelings. To change, you first need to physically feel how your body image, weight and appearance are effecting you.

After you can familiarize yourself with these feelings, you will start to come to realize that many of your concerns about weight, appearance and weight loss are simply mechanisms to distract you from these negative feelings. As strange as it sounds, it can be easier to think hateful thoughts towards your body than experience the actual feelings in your body. 

For example, it might be easier to think your body is ugly, rather than to feel the heaviness of your body. This is a slight distinction but it’s important.

All this pain because of our society’s unrealistic beauty ideals. It’s a tragedy.

How You Think About Your Body

Your body image definition is reflected in your thoughts. If you have a positive body image, you’ll be more respectful towards your body. You’ll be thinking thoughts like “I’m tired. Looks like I need to rest right now.” You’ll be listening properly!!

If you have a negative body image, then you’ll base more of your self-esteem on your appearance. You think that your appearance and weight need to be perfect, and that tends to make you more susceptible to eating disorders.  .

When a person with body dissatisfaction and a negative body image thinks “I’m tired”, instead of thinking about a nap, this person might instead be thinking eating disorder thoughts like “I’m worthless. I’m always tired. I’m tired because I ate too much at lunch. I won’t eat for the rest of the day.”

How You Act About Your Body

People with body image issues like anorexia nervosa or binge eating disorder exhibit different disordered eating patterns. Binge eaters eat way too much, feel guilty, then restrict food intake because of their guilt, and repeat the cycle. Anorexia patients have a hard time eating because of their self-esteem is tied up with their weight and appearance.

A person with anorexia will have terrible body thoughts about their body parts and their body image dissatisfaction will be off the charts. Because of their eating disorders, the anorexia person has a higher risk of dying.

Sadly, I know a few mothers who have lost daughters to anorexia. This is not a joking matter. Mental health problems that can become life-threatening due to weight loss behaviors are real. This is why there are a variety of National Eating Disorders recognized by various national eating boards, agencies, and clinicians. One such agency is the National Eating Disorders Association.

All these organizations are there because of one fact – how you act towards your body is important. It’s not superficial at all. It’s easy to dismiss eating disorders because the majority of the population doesn’t relate. However, the harmful consequences to having self-esteem entirely dependent upon disordered eating patterns and weight can be deadly.

What Are The Effects Of Body Image?

  • Emotional pain
  • low self-esteem
  • dysfunctional food patterns
  • fear
  • depression
  • eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, body dysmorphic disorder)
  • rise in use of medications
  • social withdrawal or alienation
  • taking risks that diminish personal wellbeing
  • self-harming practices
  • ceasing healthy behaviors

I’m sure you get the point about body image and social media. The effects of body image are far reaching and can impact every area of life.

Tying this back to my interview with Dr. Solomon, it’s really critical that we inform kids about media literacy, and have them ask “What’s missing?” from various images, and surround them and ourselves with more representations of positive body images.

About the Author

Jared Levenson is a former binge eating wrestler turned Zen Buddhist Monk, Internal Family Systems counselor and nutrition wellness coach. He's helped hundreds of people through universal meal principles and internal family systems to make peace with food, stop binge eating, and find true health and wholeness.


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