Body image issues and eating disorders

the back of a parent with their arm around their teenager in shadows

Developing a positive body image during the teenage years is crucial to your teenager’s resilience and wellbeing later in life. Here, you can learn the signs of negative body issues and find out more about eating disorders.

This can help if you:

  • Want to help your teenager maintain a positive body image.

  • Think your teenager is dissatisfied with their body.

  • Are not sure if your teenager is at risk of an eating disorder.

What is positive body image?

Body image is the way you perceive your body, and the thoughts and feelings you have based on that. The body image that we all have is not just influenced by the physical shape of our bodies, but also by things like the attitudes and actions of others, our upbringing, and the bodies we see in popular culture.

Having a positive body image is being able to accept, appreciate and respect our body. It is important because:

  • it is part of the basis of good mental health,

  • it is an essential part of self-acceptance and self-confidence,

  • it helps us have a balanced lifestyle and a healthy attitude to food and exercise, and

  • it is a protective factor against developing eating disorders.

Signs of negative body image

While it is important to eat wholesome food and be active, constantly worrying about eating and exercise could be a sign your teenager isn’t satisfied with their body.

Look out for these signs if you’re worried your teenager is experiencing negative body image issues:

  • Expressing thoughts or feelings about not liking their body or wanting to change their body.

  • Overly worrying about eating, food, body shape or weight.

  • Feeling anxious or irritable around the subject of food.

  • Changes in eating habits.

  • Frequent dieting behavior (fasting, counting calories, avoiding food groups etc).

  • Sensitivity to comments about body shape, weight, eating or exercise habits.

If you’ve seen any of these signs watch How to prevent negative body image.

What is an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a type of mental illness, where someone develops unhealthy thoughts about their body. These thoughts and feelings lead to unhealthy or dangerous eating habits and sometimes dangerous exercise habits.

There are many types of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Read more about the different types of eating disorders on The Butterfly Foundation website.

Factors which might lead to an eating disorder

There is no one single cause of eating disorders that has been identified. However, some of the common factors include:

  • Genetic influences: complex interactions between many genes related to appetite, metabolism, mood and reward-pleasure responses.

  • Psychological influences: perfectionism, obsessive-compulsiveness, being prone to worrying or anxiety, negative outlook, harm avoidance, and low self-esteem.

  • Social and cultural influences: exposure to unrealistic images and expectations about bodies in the media.

Having a risk factor doesn't mean your teenager will develop an eating disorder.

What can I do next?

If you think your teenager is experiencing body dissatisfaction or developing an eating disorder it is important to get specialist help. The Butterfly Foundation provides online and telephone support as well as resources and treatment programs. Click here to learn more.

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