A food scale with a body measuring tape, oats and apple on a white background with What Causes Our Body Image Issues written overtop.

What Causes Body Image Issues

Body image issues are very common in our society. 80% of young teenage girls report they fear getting fat (Kearney‐Cooke & Tieger 2015) and nearly 70% of adult women report withdrawing from activities due to their body image (Etcoff et al 2006).

Those statistics are staggering. But also not surprising.

Between social media’s face-altering filters, fat-phobic messaging, and diet culture’s $72 billion dollar industry normalizing disordered eating, we are constantly being told our bodies are something that need to be fixed. Keep reading to learn how body image issues occur, how it negatively impacts your self-esteem and why it’s so important to heal.

What is Body Image

Your body image is how you see, feel and act towards your body.

  • How do you feel when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror?
  • Do you intentionally restrict your food choices and/or portions in order to lose or maintain weight?
  • Are you trying to physically change your body because you think it needs to be fixed?
  • Do you appreciate and respect your body for what it is capable of?

Body image is a critical part of our overall well-being because it blends in with our self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. For example, when we’re unhappy with our weight or size, we feel uncomfortable in our own skin. This thinking then makes us lack confidence and question our worth in other areas of our life too. Because our bodies are how we present our self to the world, it can be hard to separate the attributes of our personality from the attributes of our looks.

What Causes Body Image Issues

We weren’t born thinking we weren’t good enough. In fact, most kids are so amazed and impressed by what their body is capable of. Which only means one thing: we were taught to hate our bodies. There usually isn’t one simple explanation for where that self-hate evolved from though. Rather, it’s a combination of several experiences and reinforced messaging that developed our body image issues.

Trusted Adults in Childhood

It can be a well-meaning grandparent who grew up during the Depression that tells you to clean your plate to earn dessert. Or a mom who is constantly on a diet and only allows low-fat, sugar-free food in the house. Maybe it’s a coach who told you (or the entire team) to lose weight by eating less and moving more. Or it’s a dad who gave you a smaller portion than your thinner siblings because “do you really need to eat all that?” These messages from trusted adults all reinforce this idea that you have control over your body’s size. But you don’t.

Celebrities & the Media

When I was in high school, the trend was to be super skinny like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and wear extremely low slung jeans and bellybutton rings. But I know many skinny bodies came before them to trigger this trend. And now in 2021, we’re exposed to face-tuning apps and built-in filters that turn “regular” people into false versions of themselves across their social media channels. With self-hate at an all-time high, it’s evident the non-stop exposure to perfectly altered bodies digs even deeper than the one-hour of TRL I watched each afternoon after school.

Fatphobia in Healthcare

One of the greatest contributors to our bad body image issues is when we get told to lose weight by healthcare professionals who shockingly still use the BMI scale as an indicator of health. It breaks trust and confidence in our healthcare when patients, presenting the same symptoms, receive treatment based on their weight. Smaller bodies receive bloodwork and tests to investigate the underlying reason for the symptoms. While larger bodies are told to lose weight and come back if symptoms persist. The latter mistreatment stems from fatphobia. Which stems from racism. Read more on this here.

Diet Culture

If trusted adults, celebrities, social media and healthcare are the water. Diet culture is the seed that continuously plants the false notion that thinner bodies are better bodies. And of course they do! They’re a $72 billion dollar industry that is already projected to grow above $75 billion by next year! Companies that sell weight loss products and programs prey on low self-esteem and insecurities. They are the reason you undermine your own God-given intuition and fight against your body’s biology, physiology and genetics to lose weight. Essentially, diet culture got us into this mess so they could get rich.

How Body Image Issues Affect Your Self-Esteem

Deep down we all just want to be accepted for who we are. And so it’s a natural reaction to want to fit in with current trends. Including clothing and body types. But this quest for thinner “better” bodies takes a significant toll on your mental health. Constantly restricting yourself. Following rules around food and exercise. Actively forcing yourself to do things in the name of weight loss and muscle gain is exhausting! It often feels like an unending goal too because once you do lose the weight, it never feels like enough.

Every time we “break a rule” of a diet is a ding on our mental health. We think we failed and lack willpower. And we are disgusted with our inability to keep our hunger in check. When in reality, our body is simply trying to protect us and compensate for the food restriction. In other words, our body’s need to thrive is why we “broke” the rule. It’s why we binged or felt out-of-control around food. To protect you from under-eating.

If you’ve experienced the restrict-binge-restrict cycle, then you know that you are constantly weighed down with guilt and insecurity around your food choices. If you consistently feel this way, those feelings of guilt and insecurity cannot be contained to just food. It starts to leach out to other areas of your life too. Including questioning your instincts in your marriage, parenting and employment. I believe this is why so many people lack self-confidence, self-trust and struggle to listen to their intuition.

Why It’s So Important to Heal

Your body image issues will never be resolved by losing weight. Because body image issues are in your brain—not your waistline. This is why it’s so important to bring awareness to any body image issues that are weighing you down. It’s beyond your body. It’s normalizing thoughts of guilt, insecurity and not feeling good enough.

In my own practice, as well as my personal recovery, healing body image issues proves to generate a higher sense of confidence, self-trust and self-worth. Once you tap into your intuition around your body’s needs for food, it unleashes that natural power for all other aspects of your life. If you’re ready to finally deal with your body image issues, I’m here to help you. Click here to schedule a free 15-minute phone call to get started.

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What Causes Our Body Image Issues And Why Trying to Lose Weight Makes it Worse.

Meridith Oram is an anti-diet nutritionist at Love Yourself Towards Healthy where she helps chronic dieters heal their relationship with food, fitness and body image by ditching diet culture and finding freedom in their God-given intuition. Focusing on behavioral change and Intuitive Eating, Meridith helps her clients unlearn diet culture, stop negative self-talk and set wellness goals---not appearance goals. Follow Meridith at @loveyourself2healthy on all social channels.

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