How Does Negative Body Image Relate to Eating Disorder Development?

Teen body image is a topic most families will have to deal with at some point in time. As children enter adolescence, they go through a number of different physical and emotional changes. In fact, negative body image in teen girls and boys may be one of the first symptoms of an eating disorder. Just because a child is dealing with teen body image issues does not necessarily mean they will develop an eating disorder. So, how is the development of common eating disorders and body image in teenagers related?

What Is Teen Body Image?

Teen body image is the way an adolescent views their own bodies, which can be much different from how their body actually appears. Body image in teenagers is a very complex construct made up of an individual’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, perceptions and behaviors. The way teens see themselves and their bodies can have an impact on their general health, mental state and relationships. Positive body image in teenage girls means the child has an objective perception of their own appearance and the ability to separate their personal value from the way they look.

Negative Body Image in Teenagers

Negative body image in teenagers can be characterized by an overall dissatisfaction with their appearance. They may engage in behaviors to counteract this negative body image, such as frequent dieting and avoidance. Research shows up to 50 percent of pre-teen girls and 30 percent of pre-teen boys admit to disliking their bodies. Similarly, 60 percent of adult women and 40 percent of adult men have a negative body image.

Eating Disorders and Body Image Issues

Eating disorders are potentially life-threatening mental health conditions caused by a number of different genetic and environmental factors, with negative body image in teen girls and boys being just one potential contributor. It is important for families to keep in mind that negative body image is very prominent in the development of eating disorders because so many people with these conditions place a high value on their overall body shape and weight.

An obsession with body shape and weight is a symptom of many common eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. For example, a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa may mean an individual is experiencing a disturbance in the way they experience their own body weight or shape. Additionally, those with the condition often have an inability to recognize the seriousness of their current body shape and low weight.

Treatment for Negative Body Image

Many different methods have been used to help improve body image for teenage girls and boys. Studies indicate body image is one of the last symptoms to improve during the eating disorder treatment process. In most adolescent eating disorder treatment facilities, behavioral changes and weight recovery are tackled first, while psychological recovery is fully addressed after the client is stabilized or in outpatient treatment.

Some of the most common treatment options for negative body image in relation to eating disorders include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
  • Mindful Movement Training
  • Self-Esteem Interventions
  • Understanding Media Impact on Self-Image

Focusing On the Positive

One of the easiest ways families can work together to combat negative thoughts and feelings surrounding body image is to avoid certain self-defeating practices. These include:

  • Compulsive exercise
  • Frequent weighing
  • Spending too much time looking in the mirror

It can help to replace these practices with activities such as yoga, art, listening to music or mindful walks.

Contact Clementine Treatment Centers Today

Interested in learning more about adolescent eating disorder treatment at Clementine? Call 866.784.9358 or contact our friendly team today for more information.

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Melissa Thompson

Melissa is a mother of 2, lives in Utah, and writes for a multitude of sites. She is currently the EIC of and writes about health, wellness, and business topics.