Eating Disorders and Emotional Health: Moving Beyond Body Image Distortion


Eating disorders are frequently attributed to body image, but the underlying origin of these conditions is often much deeper.

Disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating are, in fact, mental illnesses that most often develop in conjunction with the onset of adolescence. Psychological, social, and/or physical causes are at the core of every diagnosis.


Eating disorders do not primarily develop from lacking a healthy body image. While obsessing about food, body weight, and appearance are a part of this disorder, it ultimately results from emotional struggles. Coupling a lack of self-esteem and a cultural expectation of thinness leads to complete starvation that occurs in anorexia or to a form of emotional eating. Emotional eating or binge eating occurs in bulimia after severe emotional episodes when food is used as a way to manage emotions, but only results in guilt and shame.

Their self-worth no longer develops from healthy views of who they are and the value they have to their friends and families. Rather, they see themselves as worthless, and this is often coupled with depression. Almost half of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder have a history of depression.


While women are two and a half times more likely to struggle with eating disorders than men, they both develop their body images from the culture around them. Young girls are taught beauty comes from being thin and boys are told they must be strong and masculine. Peer pressure reinforces this.

individuals struggling with eating disordersHowever, as individuals struggle with disorders, they develop feelings of guilt and shame, especially after purging or an emotional eating session. These feelings of self-disgust results in growing isolation as teens seeks to cut themselves off from friends and family for fear of being discovered or judged. This loneliness and lack of self-worth becomes a cycle that feeds back into habits surrounding these eating disorders.


The longer an individual struggles with an eating disorder, the greater the risk to his or her health. Symptoms may include dehydration, low energy levels, and a lower body temperature as well as a slow and/or irregular heartbeat from lack of nutrition. Those who suffer from bulimia or binge-eating disorder often have sore throats as a result of self-induced vomiting.

These symptoms and others may occur over a slow period of time, but left untreated they can eventually lead to death due to the body’s inability to function properly. For example, studies have found that those who struggle with anorexia have a mortality rate eighteen times higher than their healthy teen counterparts.

Eating disorders can often develop with other disorders like depression, mood swings, anxiety, and even substance abuse. Genetics occasionally play a role in the development of eating disorders, as well, since predilections towards eating disorders can be passed down through the family. Emotional trauma in the past and physical environments also increase the risk of developing co-disorders in teens who are in demeaning environments or have been abused in the past. Dual diagnoses of multiple disorders must be taken seriously to treat both the body and the mind.

Understanding the causes behind eating disorders and the effects that go deeper than body image distortion is critical in recognizing the signs and symptoms in your family and community. The Light Program offers flexible outpatient counseling sessions and treatment programs that are designed to provide optimal care for individuals struggling with mental illnesses while Seeds of Hope offers specialized treatment for adults and teens suffering with eating disorders. Contact us today to see how we can help you and your loved ones.