Ending Body Hatred

Body dissatisfaction in food addiction, emotional eating, binge eating disorder

Posted Nov 04, 2019

Carolyn Ross/Shutterstock
Either ALL bodies are beautiful or NO bodies are beautiful.
Source: Carolyn Ross/Shutterstock

Body image issues are a common and persistent issue in people with eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. According to the new research using the Yale Food Addiction Scale, body image concerns are also very high in people who self-identify as having food addiction. As well, people who regularly engage in emotional or stress eating can express body hatred. Body dissatisfaction can be a trigger for relapse and a source of embarrassment and shame. People struggling with body image issues may avoid social situations and may find themselves obsessed with losing weight—often using extreme diets to try and whip their bodies into a size congruent with the social norms.

It is important to understand how these often harsh, self-critical beliefs are formed and what measures can be taken to break the hold these often cruel and negative thoughts about the body have on the individual.. Where does this body hatred come from? Below are some of the common causes of body hatred.

  1. Lack of social support can be a risk factor for body hatred. Feeling that you are not fully accepted or loved by your family and friends makes it harder to love and accept yourself, especially when your body goes through changes. If you matured early and were teased by peers or even by members of your own family, you are more likely to feel bad about your body than someone who received more support, especially if you are a girl. Social support, or lack of it, does not seem to have as great an effect on boys.

  2. If you tend to be a perfectionist, this personality trait also puts you at higher risk for body hatred. Perfectionism, especially the fear of making mistakes and being judged by others, can lead you to attempt to create the perfect body, based on media images or other cultural ideals. As part of perfectionism, the need to be overly organized (be in control of your environment) may also promote body hatred, which might be explained by the need to control body appearance. And when one is not able to do this, it may lead to self-criticism and negative moods that are focused on the body 

  3. One of the most common causes of body hatred stems from traumatic experiences. Trauma, abuse or neglect can leave you feeling powerless. In an effort to cope, some people focus on controlling their bodies. Sexual trauma is more prevalent in the history of individuals with eating disorders than in those without. It is believed that when sexual trauma comes before an eating disorder it contributes to the development of body dissatisfaction, shame, sexual problems, and fear of future sexual trauma. The eating disorder can be a way to cope with the trauma, or to regulate negative emotions. In African-American victims of trauma, body dissatisfaction and depression have been associated with the severity of both physical and sexual assault. In other words, the more severe the physical or sexual assault, the more severe the body hatred and depression. Often victims of assault or abuse may not connect their past experiences with their current body hatred. That’s because sexual trauma doesn’t affect everyone the same way. It’s very likely, however, that if you are experiencing body hatred and you’ve been a victim of sexual trauma, the trauma is a significant causative factor of your body image issues.

  4. Other causes of body dissatisfaction include struggles with mood. Extreme measures to lose weight—such as recurrent dieting, binge eating, purging, fasting, or excessive exercise—are associated with emotional distress and feelings of guilt, frustration, or loss of control over one’s eating. All of these feelings may foster body hatred. If you suffer from depression, you may have noticed an increase in body dissatisfaction, an increased focus on what you don’t like about your body, and the tendency to make negative comparisons between your body and that of your peers or other family members. Boys with high levels of body dissatisfaction may also be more prone to depression, eating disorders, obesity, and drug abuse

  5. Social norms—and the extent to which you believe in them—are one major cause. Body dissatisfaction among girls tends to increase following puberty. Body dissatisfaction is also a concern among adolescent boys but tends to decrease during puberty. For both boys and girls, body hatred can lead to emotional distress and dramatic efforts to change appearance (such as steroid use or cosmetic surgery) along with eating disorders and depression. Often as girls mature, they become obsessed with being more attractive, and in Western culture this means being thin. Boys, on the other hand may be more focused on becoming bigger and more muscular, although there are some boys who also value being thin. How much a girl or boy buys into the need to be thin, or a boy buys into the need to be muscular, to be accepted will predict the level of body dissatisfaction, especially as a teenager.

You may be thinking, If my thighs weren’t so big, or (fill in the blank), I wouldn’t hate my body. But body hatred is not always associated with body weight, shape, or size.  Body dissatisfaction has more to do with how you perceive your weight than what you actually weigh.  Body hatred also serves as a way to distract yourself from other issues in your life (in the same way the food can be used to numb or avoid facing life experiences—past or present).  When you focus all your anxiety, fear, shame, etc. on the body, you don't have to think about or heal these life experiences, get a new job, work on marital problems, etc.  If your perception is that your body doesn’t live up to whatever you would like your body to look like or what you feel is expected by society, then your perception is what needs to change, not your body. Your body is just the way it is and nothing will change by your berating, judging, and calling your body names. If you could “hate yourself thin” it would already have happened, don’t you think?

Rather than view your body as an adversary, you may take the first step towards healing body hatred which is being aware of your thoughts and feelings about your body and seeing if you can just be neutral about your body.  "It is what it is."  Starting with body neutrality, may help you take the next steps towards actual body acceptance and eventually body positivity.  

References

Wade, T. D., and M. Tiggemann. 2013. The role of perfectionism in body dissatisfaction. Journal of Eating Disorders 1:2.

Madowitz, J., B. E. Matheson, and J. Liang. 2015. The relationship between eating disorders and sexual trauma. Eating and Weight Disorders 20(3):281–93.

Field, A. E., K. R. Sonneville, and R. D. Crosby. 2014. Prospective associations of concerns about physique and the development of obesity, binge drinking, and drug use among ado- lescent boys and young adult men. Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics 168(1): 34–39.