Body image is the sum of thoughts and feelings people have about their physical appearance. Oftentimes, the media tend to promote a body image that can be unrealistic. Featuring role models for beauty and weight who are unnaturally thin can affect the physiological and psychological well-being of young women, especially adolescents, who are just starting to become conscious of the changes in their physical structures.
Women living in a culture focused on dieting and weight loss are more prone to develop eating disorders which are detrimental in one’s health. Dieting and the weight loss pill industry may lead young people to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia, as well as serious physical and psychological conditions, like lack of focus, depression, low self-esteem, and fatigue syndrome. Having an intense fear of gaining weight and a distorted body image can lead to extreme behaviors of over-exercising, too much dieting, over-eating, binging, self-induced vomiting, laxative abuse.
A young woman who do not eat enough to keep her body working properly may be suffering from anorexia nervosa. Losing too much weight can make you become weak and unhealthy because of a poor diet. Most people with anorexia exercise too much in order to burn up the food they eat. They tend to “feel fat” even when they are actually losing weight. They try to convince themselves and the people around them that they are not hungry. They often take diet pills to control hunger and attempts to lose weight. Some of these pills side effects often make girls feel anxious or nervous. They drink caffeinated beverages that give a false sense of energy. Most people with anorexia develop emotional problems like low self-esteem, obsessive thoughts and behaviors. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by abnormal loss of weight, having distorted impression about one’s body size, and unreasonable fear of becoming fat.
Some of the symptoms of people with anorexia can be dizziness, heart problems, low blood pressure, low temperature and fainting spells. Anorexia can cause hair and fingernails to become brittle. Loss of hair on the head, dry skin, dehydration, and constipation are also symptoms of anorexia. People with anorexia experience anxiety, tiredness, and depression. Anorexia can also cause the growth of soft furry hair on face, back and arms, also known as lanugo. Since there is not enough estrogen to maintain the body’s normal function, menstrual periods usually stop and bones become weal, leading to osteoporosis. The combination of osteoporosis and over exercising can lead to stress fractures.
Another type of eating disorder is bulimia, a condition that makes girls resort to binge, or eat a lot of food out of control even if they are not hungry. Most people with bulimia often feel they have no control over their eating. After bingeing episode, people feel guilty and anxious that they desire to get rid of the food by self-induced vomiting or by exercising. People with bulimia may have unusual tendency to eat in private and hide what they eat from others or eat until they are uncomfortable and exhausted. Bulimia causes people to feel afraid or ashamed of themselves.
People with bulimia may develop serious electrolyte problems, irregular menstrual periods, dehydration, swollen face, sore throat, tooth decay, dry and flaky skin, upset stomach, heartburn, constipation, depression, or weight fluctuations. Low potassium levels due to too much self-induced vomiting may lead to serious heart arrhythmias, or even death.
Detecting bulimia may not be easy as someone can have a normal weight, but still suffer from the condition. Also, since they tend to be secretive about their eating habits, even their family and friends are not aware that they have a problem. Bulimia is a serious condition and can cause permanent damage to the teeth, stomach, digestive track, and heart.
If you have eating disorder, the goal is to improve your body image and self-esteem. Try to address other emotional issues such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or substance abuse. Discuss with your therapist feelings of sadness, anxiety, or anger with your therapist. Therapy greatly helps in providing the time and space where you can confidentially talk about your needs, your goals, and your understanding of the eating problem.
Understanding attitudes and behaviors where teasing and harassment about weight and body shape are parts of the culture can help prevent eating disorders. You don’t have to be resigned in accepting these unreasonable standards of body image but you have the option to go against the industry that conditioned your mind set about it and reverse the situation to your advantage and benefit.