Body Image Distortions in Adults Struggling With Eating Disorders

Distorted body image and impaired self-perception are common symptoms that women who suffer from eating disorders may experience. While the severity of these symptoms may differ from woman to woman, their presence is often commonplace among those who have eating disorders. Some eating disorders result in more drastic changes to a woman’s body image, which has an impact on triggers and eating disorder treatment efforts.

A recent study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research analyzed the differences between body image distortions in individuals who were suffering from binge-eating disorder, obesity, overweight characteristics, and bulimia nervosa. Results showed that individuals who were battling bulimia nervosa displayed the most severe impairments to body image. Adults who had binge-eating disorder also exhibited clinically significant concerns related to body image, though these impairments were not as severe as those displayed by individuals who were living with bulimia nervosa. Individuals who were considered obese or overweight demonstrated body image concerns that were less severe than those brought on by bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.

Despite the differences noted between participants in this study, individuals commonly showed body mass index (BMI) dissatisfaction, depressive symptoms, and fixation and fear regarding eating habits. The results from this and other studies have provided mental health professionals with valuable context to guide the focus of their treatment and inform their clinical practice.

The presence of depressive symptoms as an underlying theme across these groups can assist mental health professionals in implementing more effective eating disorder treatment. While depressive characteristics are often symptoms of eating disorders, such concerns are now being regarded as triggers for eating disorder symptoms. With a growing number of mental health professionals viewing depression as a trigger rather than a symptom, eating disorder treatment has progressed to focus on depression identification and prevention.

The treatment of eating disorders through early intervention can better address a woman’s present symptoms while also decreasing the likelihood that she will experience a relapse. This follows a comprehensive and integrated model of care that aims to provide each woman with the person-centered focus she needs to address all her concerns.

One of the best ways for a woman to make progress in therapy is to get connected with the appropriate level and type of care. These recovery efforts will help prevent the development or relapse of an eating disorder by providing her with effective and targeted mental health services. This type of personalized attention will allow each woman who is facing the effects of an eating disorder to achieve long-term recovery.

Grilo, C.M.; Ivezaj, V.; Lydecker, J.A.; and White, M.A. (2019). Toward an understanding of the distinctiveness of body-image constructs in persons categorized with overweight/obesity, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorderJ Psychosom Res, 126, 109757.