Binge Eating Disorder and Body Image

From the WebMD Archives

Everyone has looked in the mirror at one time or another and not liked the way they looked or how their clothes fit. If you have binge eating disorder, research says you likely have these thoughts a lot. This type of thinking, called poor body image, can trigger binges and affect your recovery. Know that you can learn to change these feelings and get better.

“You aren’t born hating your body,” says Samantha DeCaro, PsyD. She is the assistant clinical director at The Renfrew Center, which specializes in treating eating disorders. She says poor body image is “something you learn” from the way people around you talk about themselves and others. This can create long-lasting effects -- good or bad -- on the way you see yourself.

What Is a Healthy Body Image?

“A healthy body image is acceptance of one’s self, period,” says Michelle May, MD, founder of the Am I Hungry? mindful eating program.

A healthy body image means:

  • You do not obsess about your appearance.
  • You do not avoid activities, such as going to the beach, because you hate the way you look.
  • You feel comfortable in your body as it is right now.
  • You don’t confuse your value as a person with how you feel about your looks.

Signs That Your Body Image Needs Help

There are ways to know if your body image needs a boost. Some warning signs are:

  • Always comparing your body to others
  • Constant criticism of yourself
  • Negative self-talk

If you will not date, buy new clothes, go to the doctor, or take a vacation until you lose weight, you likely have a body image problem.

“People create rules about what they can and cannot do,” DeCaro says. This can prevent taking part in events, like hanging out with friends, that help you recover from binge eating disorder.

How to Change Your Body Image

Improving your body image is important, but it’s a shift that can be tough to make. “Body image isn’t a quick fix. People have longstanding, firmly held beliefs,” DeCaro says. Even with those challenges, it is certainly possible.

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Here are 6 simple steps you can take right now to help you begin to heal:

Step Off the Scale and Onto the Yoga Mat

“We tell people not to weigh themselves,” May says. The numbers on a scale can trigger the bad feelings that cause bingeing. Weighing yourself only emphasizes the size of your body. It’s more helpful to focus on what your body can do or move. For example, yoga has been shown to help women have more positive feelings about their physical appearance.

Evaluate Your Emotions

“Often emotions like anger or sadness get directed at your body when they really belong someplace else,” DeCaro says. For example, if you are afraid of confronting your boss about a work problem, you might be tempted to numb the worry with a binge. This is called directing feelings inward, and it is not healthy. Instead, you want to become aware of the real cause of your emotions. Talk therapy can help you learn to do this.

Challenge Your Thoughts

There’s a constant stream of comments we make to ourselves in our heads, May says. “Tune in to the things you are saying and challenge them,” she says. For example, if you catch yourself saying you have the biggest rear in the world, ask yourself: It is really the biggest? When you talk it through, you may realize your thoughts are just not true.

Admire Your Strengths

“Keep a list of all the non-physical traits,” DeCaro says. When you find yourself dwelling on something you dislike about your body, put your attention on something from that “good” list. For example, admire your kindness, you recent Scrabble score, or your good fashion sense.

Ask Yourself What Others Would Say

“When negative thoughts flood your mind, ask yourself what your best friend would say about this,” DeCaro says. When you imagine her comments, you can change your perspective and get out of your own head. Odds are that your friend would talk to you about your body with more kindness than you do. Learning to be less harsh with yourself can stop a binge in its tracks.

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Go on a Media Diet

Society’s unrealistic ideals of the perfect body can make anyone feel bad about themselves. Try tossing out the glossy beauty magazines and Instagram photos and ban the images from your life. “Photoshop creates unrealistic beauty ideals,” DeCaro says. Avoiding such images can help break the habit of comparing yourself to others.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on December 23, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, assistant clinical director, The Renfrew Center, Philadelphia.

Michelle May, MD, CEO, Am I Hungry?, Phoenix.

Nicoli, M. Eating Behaviors, December 2011.

National Eating Disorders Association.

Woodyard, C. International Journal of Yoga, 2011.

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