Distorted Body Image and Disordered Eating

eating disorder

by Yuen Ting Chow, RD

What is Body Image?

Body image is your belief, thoughts, perceptions and feelings about your body involving how you feel about your body and how you feel in your body.

Distorted Body Image

People with a distorted body image often try to keep their weight below what is their natural weight range.  Such people often experience feelings of shame and failure and a preoccupation related to food and their weight. Sometimes they will say things to try to justify their actions with regards to their body and weight and other times they simply isolate from those that inquire. After a while they often feel isolated or depressed because they are trying to keep others from knowing about their struggles with food, their weight and ultimately with themselves.

What is Your Ideal Body Weight?

Something called “Set Point Theory” suggests that body weight and body fat of a person is genetically determined and maintained by feedback control mechanism. Just as height is mostly determined by genetic factors, the same principal applies to weight.  A person naturally maintains around a certain weight range presuming that they maintain an active and balanced lifestyle.  A person will naturally settle at their “set point” by eating normally and exercising moderately.

Distorted Body Image and Disordered Eating

If someone’s weight is artificially decreased below one’s set point by them restricted eating, constantly dieting, or by excessive exercise or some other means, the body naturally responds by slowing their metabolism, increasing their hunger and the frequency of thoughts about food.  This is a natural mechanism for the body to restore their natural set point weight.  When one’s natural set point is constantly at odds with their efforts to limit food intake or restrict weight gain, what can result is an obsession about food and one’s body image.

This ongoing restriction of food intake and obsession about food and body image is eventually overpowered by the body’s natural mechanism of increased hunger and constant thought about food and this leads people to episodes of binge eating.  This often leads to a viscous cycle of dieting alternating with binge eating.  Left untreated this often ends up with abnormal thinness (also called anorexia) or cycles of binging and purging (throwing up) or use of over the counter medications (also called bulimia).  This viscous cycle ultimately has a significant impact on a person’s daily living and quality of life. Feelings of shame and isolation often serve to keep the disordered eating going.

Working Towards a Positive Body Image

A person’s set point weight range is hard to alter however one’s body image can be changed with the support of someone that understands and is knowledgeable to help. The non-judgmental support of a Registered Dietitian with experience in disordered eating that stems from a distorted body image is a welcomed relief to someone who has been secretly struggling with these issues.

What if this is you?

Let us help you appreciate what your body can do and to support you as you learn to consider what you do like about your body and to engage in activities that help you feel good in your body; every day activities that are not all about food and weight. Learning to define health, happiness and beauty in terms unrelated to food and body weight is possible.

Contact Us

Why not click on the “Contact Us” tab above to send us a note?


S. Boegman BBC, Ministry for Children and Families. Weight, Hunger, Metabolism, Set Point.  Eating Disorders Program in the Capital Region. 1997.

Center for Clinical Interventions.  Body image & body dissatisfaction. www.cci.health.wa.gov.au

Center for Clinical Interventions.  Set Point Theory. www.cci.health.wa.gov.au

National Eating Disorders Association. Body Image. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org 2005.


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