Eating disorders are common in America, especially among young women, and they’ve been publicized through media stories and magazine articles that encourage women to reject eating disorders and love their bodies in healthy ways. However, many people don’t realize that there is a spectrum of how comfortable people are with their bodies and eating disorders make up only one part of that spectrum. You may not have an eating disorder, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a great body image either. In fact, you may be more at risk for an eating disorder than you realize.
Look at these different parts of the body image spectrum to determine how comfortable you are with your body and how at risk you are for developing an eating disorder:
(1) Body Ownership. People who experience body ownership do not struggle with their relationship with food. They are not concerned with how other people view their body and they do not feel guilty eating whatever they want when they wish to indulge. These people believe that their body is beautiful and trust that others will also find their body to be attractive. This does not necessarily mean that these people feel like they have the ideal body, but there is no desire to change their body so that it resembles the body of another person. These people also believe that their body will tell them when they are hungry and what it wants to eat.
(2) Body Acceptance. People who experience body acceptance try to eat healthy and treat their body in a way that will keep it in good shape. Although they may not be at the weight they would like to be, they believe that this weight can be reached through proper diet and exercise. Personal goals for their body are based both on what they perceive to be attractive and what social norms are, but these goals are flexible and these people do not experience much stress when their body is not quite at their target weight.
(3) Body Obsessed. People who are body obsessed spend a lot of time thinking about what they’d like to change about their body and comparing their body to others. These people are afraid of getting fat and feel ashamed when their body isn’t in their target weight range. They do not trust themselves to make healthy choices and feel like others judge them for making poor choices. Their personal body goals are based on social norms and they feel like they would be more attractive to others if they could make their bodies resemble the bodies of people they admire.
(4) Distorted Body Image. People with a distorted body image are very stressed about the way their body looks and they have gone to extreme measures to try to change their appearance, including purging, fasting, and laxative abuse. They receive satisfaction and a sense of control when they restrict the amount of calories consumed by their body and when they cannot restrict calories they feel out of control and helpless. They feel like others perceive them to be unattractive and this feeling interferes with their relationships with other people, since they cannot trust them to accept their body as it is. Many of these people would change their body through surgery if that option was available to them.
(5) Eating Disorder. People with an eating disorder are actively engaged in using extreme measures to control their weight. These measures include over-exercising, abusing laxatives or diet pills, vomiting, fasting, or eating diets that consist only of low or no-calorie foods such as raw vegetables. These people don’t like their body and often think of it as a separate enemy that they need to fight every day. Since eating with others is often uncomfortable, many people with eating disorders seek out ways to eat in private or avoid having people see how much they’re eating, either because they are binging and purging or because they’re not eating enough. Regardless of who tells them that their body is fine, they cannot accept it and believe that other people are lying to them, which harms their relationships. Many people with eating disorders cannot find anything positive to say about any part of their bodies.