Can You Have an Eating Disorder Without Body Image Issues?

Tuesday, Aug 16  •  


It is commonly thought that body image issues are a necessary component of an eating disorder, however, recent research has shown that this may not be the case. There may be many people who suffer from eating disorders without any body image issues at all. This can make diagnosis and treatment tricky, as traditional methods may not be effective.

The Prevalence of Body Image Issues and Eating Disorders

Unfortunately, negative body image is a common experience. Research estimates that up to 40% of women are unsatisfied with their bodies, and up to 30% of men feel similarly. Other studies indicate that up to 61% of adolescents report experiencing body dissatisfaction at some level. Dissatisfaction with one’s body occurs for many individuals, regardless of gender or age.

In many instances, concern with body image can set the stage for eating disorder development, however, a disorder does not form overnight. Individuals struggling with body image may engage in disordered eating habits for some time and as those habits continue, a disorder may form.

Non-Image Related Causes of an Eating Disorder

At their core, eating disorders are about far more than just food and body image. Though body image dissatisfaction is a common experience, it is not the only factor that can contribute to eating disorder development. For some individuals, their relationship with food may be influenced by a complex array of emotional, psychological, biological, and genetic factors. From an emotional and psychological perspective, trauma can set the stage for the development of an eating disorder as a coping mechanism. A family history of eating disorders can also increase one’s likelihood of experiencing an eating disorder.

Types of Eating Disorders That Do Not Always Involve Body Image

Although body image concerns are not required to diagnose an eating disorder, some eating disorders are more closely associated with body image than others. Anorexia, for example, is typically characterized by a fear of weight gain and an intense desire to be thin. As such, body image is often a significant factor in this disorder.

Other disorders, however, may not involve body image concerns at all. Orthorexia, for example, is an eating disorder that is focused on healthy eating to the point of obsession. Individuals with this disorder may not be concerned with their weight or body shape, but rather are fixated on the “purity” of the food they are consuming.

Know the Signs and Symptoms

Don’t rely on the presence of negative body image, to serve as your single indicator as to whether a loved one might be experiencing an eating disorder. While body dissatisfaction may be related, it also may not. Stay aware of other signs and symptoms that may include changes in one’s behavior around food, changes in eating patterns, excessive exercise, avoiding social situations surrounding food, and withdrawal from typical activities.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to seek professional help. Treatment for eating disorders often includes a combination of therapy, nutrition counseling, and medical care.