Does body-shaming lead to the development of eating disorders

Eating disorders - Centres for Health and Healing

Negative remarks about a person’s body weight often referred to as ‘body shaming’, have been strongly linked to the development of eating disorders, depression, and other mental health conditions.

Eating disorders and body image

Bullying comes in many forms, from physical and verbal attacks to cyberbullying on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ couldn’t be any further from the truth or the reality, particularly for the recipients of bullying behaviour.

Low self-esteem

Poor body image is especially prevalent in young adults, with children and teenagers most impacted by body image concerns.

The school playground and social media sites are often the breeding grounds for physical and verbal abuse between adolescents – but which is worse?

Physical appearance

Physical appearance - Centres for Health and Healing

When a person gets put down for how they look or dress, it often packs a much harder punch than a punch itself.

Bullies may push and shove, which are entirely unacceptable behaviours and must get prevented at all costs.

However, the long-lasting effects of fat-shaming, such as commenting on someone’s body weight, body shape or size, can lead to severe mental health disorders in the future.

Body image issues

An eating disorder can take many forms, and there are different variants of eating disorders, such as:

  • Bulimia nervosa
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Anorexia nervosa (or other eating disorders)

Negative body image

Research shows that body shaming and fat shaming can negatively affect health outcomes.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association, those who suffer from eating disorders often cite that the trigger that led to their eating disorder was bullying and fat-shaming.

Experts state that to prevent eating disorders from occurring, we must teach children – and often our peers that fat-shaming and commenting on a person’s body weight is not acceptable.

Where does weight stigma originate?

Cultural idealization is mainly to blame for most disordered eating.

Being super slim is often associated with being beautiful, and young girls are at a much higher risk of falling prey to such an unhealthy culture.

It has been estimated that girls as young as six years old begin to express worry and concern over their weight.

Moreover, between 40-60 % of American elementary school children expressed concerns about their body weight or image.

What are the implications of fat-shaming?

Negative comments about a person’s body weight or eating habits can lead to physical and psychological health problems.

Risk factor

Studies show that body shaming, fat shaming and weight stigma are risk factors for low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, and depression.

It is never acceptable to make negative comments about a person’s body size or weight.

A ‘seemingly’ casual comment from a family member or friend about one’s shape can have a long-term impact on how people view themselves and their own weight.

Mental health experts say that even families who lovingly tease family members about their bodies can be extremely harmful, particularly those who are overweight.

Cultivating body acceptance

Research states that we should strive to support individuals, particularly teenage girls and young people who are still developing and finding their way in the world.

Those of a young age are more impressionable than older people and are still learning about the world and themselves.

The cultural ideal of being thin only exacerbates insecurities about being overweight and can play a central role in developing eating disorders.

Eating disorder statistics

The prevalence rates of eating disorders are shocking, with research studies reporting that:

  • 9 out of 10 women are dissatisfied with their body weight
  • A whopping 95% of those suffering from eating disorders are between the ages of 12 – 25
  • 1 in 200 women suffer from Anorexia Nervosa (which is the third most common chronic illness among young people)
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates than any other mental illness
  • 80% of 13 year old’s have tried to lose weight at least once
  • Over 8 million US citizens have suffered from an eating disorder

Media images

In recent years, pop culture and social media sites have been largely to blame for the development of eating disorders.

The ideal body image of a photo-shopped woman with the ‘perfect bod’ draped across a towel on a beach can put significant pressure on impressionable young girls (and boys) to be skinny.

Although, such images do not portray reality.  However, many of us get sucked into the hype and gee-whizz of it all.

Vicious cycle

According to the Institute for the Psychology of Eating,

‘the collective projections and misconceptions of ideal body image, combined with a person’s challenges with self-esteem and self-identity, can push someone to drastically alter their appearance or feel compelled to punish their bodies for falling short of the current definition of physical perfection.’

Body dissatisfaction

Body dissatisfaction - Centres for Health and Healing

Negative body image issues have always existed but may have changed over the years.

Celebrity culture

For example, decades ago, many people idealized the likes of Marilyn Monroe mainly for her striking looks and voluptuous figure, with many teenage girls stuffing their bras or adding weight to their hips.

Today, things are not all that different.

When the likes of Kim Kardashian rose to fame, many girls wanted to increase their butt size through surgery to be just like her.

Kardashian has received much praise and admiration for her body confidence and changing the narrative around the perfect ‘body image ideal’.

However, although things have improved in some ways, we still have a long way to go.

Disordered eating

When someone gets fat-shamed about their body weight, they can delve into unhealthy behaviours such as weight gain, weight control measures, purging, or binge eating.

Such interventions may be extreme and can lead to an eating disorder.

Overweight people tend to receive the most body-shaming, and experts say that people mustn’t allow the abuse to continue.

Speaking up for yourself and not allowing you or someone else to be bullied about body weight or body shape can be the first steps to positive change.

Furthermore, knowing the signs of an eating disorder is a crucial preventative measure.

Signs and symptoms

Eating disorders signs and symptoms - Centres for Health and Healing

Understanding the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder may increase the chances of recovery if detected earlier.

Generally, not everyone will exhibit all the symptoms mentioned below, and warning signs tend to vary with different eating disorders.

However, anorexia nervosa symptoms usually include:

  • A person dressing in layers to hide their weight loss or to stay warm
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Refusing to eat specific foods often progresses to restrictions against entire food categories, such as not eating carbohydrates, etc.
  • Regular complaints about stomach cramps, indigestion, cold intolerance, lethargy or excess energy
  • The development of food rituals, i.e. eating in a specific order, chewing excessively, and rearranging food on a plate.
  • Frequent complaints of feeling ‘fat’ or overweight despite weight loss
  • Consistently avoiding mealtimes or making excuses not to eat.
  • Constantly feeling as though you need to ‘burn off’ calories.
  • Experiencing an intense fear of gaining weight or being fat, even when a person is underweight
  • Disruption to a person’s menstrual cycle (for girls) may involve irregular periods and heavy bleeding or no bleeding at all.
  • Withdrawal from friends and social activities
  • Being overly concerned about eating in public
  • Has a strong need to control situations and people
  • Demonstrates inflexible thinking
  • Is preoccupied with weight, calories, and dieting

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of anorexia nervosa may include:

  • Dizziness, fainting/syncope
  • Always feeling cold
  • Abnormal laboratory results such as anaemia, low blood cell count, low potassium and low thyroid and hormone levels
  • Sleep problems
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry and brittle nails
  • Menstrual irregularities – irregular periods and amenorrhea
  • Fine hair on the body
  • Slow wound healing
  • Poor immune functioning
  • Muscle weakness
  • Dental issues such as cavities, enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity or tooth discoloration (from vomiting)

Treatment

Those who think they may have an eating disorder or are worried about a friend or family member must speak to a mental health professional who can help.

The effects of body shaming can impair a person’s physical and mental health, but things do not need to stay that way – treatment and support are available.

Moreover, the anxiety of eating disorders alone can have a virulent impact on a person’s well-being. 

Get in touch with one of our specialists at Centres for Health and Healing today, who can advise you on the next steps.

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