Body image refers to how we see our bodies and how attractive we think we are.

Somewhere along my journey of self-acceptance, one single question stopped me in my tracks and made me take note of a critical component as to why I was struggling in my journey to recovery. This question was:

“Would you talk to your best friend the way you speak to yourself?”

I was shocked. Of course, I wouldn’t.

The way I spoke to myself was often scathing, condescending, mocking, and downright unkind, especially around my body shape, weight, and perceived flaws and imperfections. I had become so used to this cruel inner critic that I was largely unaware when it spoke and utterly oblivious to the fact that not only was it causing me harm, but it was in my power to change what it said.

Negative feelings and thoughts towards one’s body are defined as body dissatisfaction or body image distress. This negative perspective of one’s body image is often a symptom, or predictor, of an eating disorder. Body image distress usually occurs among those with mental health disorders – including food addiction, depression, and anxiety.[1]

Negative body issues among adolescents have been found to affect 50% of girls and 30% of boys. However, this rises to 80% of women and 40% of men in the adult population.[2] As a result, many individuals attempt dangerous fad diets, excessively restrict food, purge, use laxatives, obsessively exercise, or even undergo plastic surgery to try and resolve the feelings of dissatisfaction.

That said, it should also be noted that many individuals experience body image issues without turning to unhealthy coping mechanisms or negative behaviours.

What is Negative Body Image?

A significant number of people are concerned by at least one aspect of their body; however, a negative body image conveys an overwhelmingly general dissatisfaction towards one’s body shape, weight, size, and appearance. The development of a negative body image is a multidimensional construct that comprises an individual’s conditioning, childhood, beliefs, thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and behaviours.

There is a range of body-related behaviours indicated with body dissatisfaction that includes body-checking behaviours, such as frequent weighing, pinching of flesh, and mirror observation.[3]

A negative body image can result in numerous psychological and physiological disorders. These may include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and stress
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Substance use
  • Food addiction, anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders
  • Social isolation
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Body preoccupation
  • Body avoidance
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Muscle dysmorphia

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychiatric disorder classified as a type of anxiety-related obsessive-compulsive disorder. More than one in twenty girls aged seventeen to nineteen in the UK may have BDD.[4] This disorder is highly distressing for the sufferer and is defined by having a preoccupation and misperception with an aspect of one’s personal appearance.

Although negative body image issues are more common among females, recent research has demonstrated a growing problem among males. Muscle dysmorphia is of increasing concern within this demographic as studies indicate approximately 10% of UK male gym members experience muscle dysmorphia.[5] This disorder is characterised by a preoccupation and dissatisfaction with appearance, along with a perceived lack of muscle definition and mass.

Challenge Your Misperceptions!

Negative body image can become so ingrained that, unfortunately, it is often one of the last symptoms of an eating disorder to go following treatment. Additionally, it is important to note that it may be impossible to become entirely free of body image concerns as the perfect appearance is a concept perpetuated throughout our society. That said, there are a variety of successful interventions proven to help counteract negative body image.

These interventions are numerous and widespread, so it is vital to find the ones that work best for you. You may find that one proves successful or incorporation of a few is best. Potential options include cognitive-behavioural therapy, fitness training, media literacy, self-esteem development, and gratitude.

Stop That Negative Inner Chatter

Stop engaging in negative self-criticism. By listening to that voice in your head which shames you and is hurtful and damaging, you are perpetuating a detrimental cycle. Avoid these judgements, counteract them, argue back, and change the language!

Compliment yourself each day. Choose an area of your body that you like – there is one, I assure you! It may be your skin, hair, ankles, eyes, shoulders. Compliment yourself and take some time to enjoy that area through touch and visual appreciation. The more you do this, the more that voice will change its tone.

Once you get a handle on your inner critic – and simply being aware they are there is a sign of enormous progress – you can start to get to the nitty-gritty of change.

Challenge Avoidance and Body Checking

If you are used to body checking multiple times a day or undergo the opposite – hiding your body from yourself and others – try to make gradual steps to change this. Start wearing clothes indoors you are afraid to wear outside in the house to get used to them and build confidence. If you want to engage in body checking activities, try and engage in a gratitude based intervention to act as a positive distraction.

Gratitude Interventions

Keeping a gratitude journal is a wonderfully positive daily exercise. By starting each day with five things you are grateful for, you will quickly discover how your mindset shifts. Maybe you are thankful for having a home, the sunrise, that first cup of coffee in the morning, hugging your child, or taking part in outdoor activities. There are numerous things, however small, we can be grateful for, and as you practice this exercise, it will become increasingly challenging to keep to just five!

Buy Clothes That Fit NOW

All too often, we buy clothes that do not quite fit – but we want them to! We think they will motivate us to reach that ideal weight or size; however, all they do is cause us psychological harm. Embrace your body the way it is today. Buy clothes that you love that compliment you the way you are now. This will increase your self-esteem and self-worth exponentially.

Self-Esteem Interventions

Self-esteem strategies focus on building healthy coping skills, finding resilience, and identifying your unique skills and positive traits. There is a fantastic intervention for the treatment of body dissatisfaction as it helps shift the emphasis from the body towards the person as a whole.

Move More

Exercise is known to boost our endorphins and make us feel energised and optimistic. Improving fitness can also improve body image by encouraging individuals to focus more on their overall health and energy levels and less on their appearance.

There’s Only One ‘You’

It goes without saying that the way we see ourselves and how we feel within our own skin has an enormous bearing on our health, mental health, and relationships.

For want of a better phrase, ‘we are stuck with ourselves’, and it is an excruciating position if our inner critic is one of contempt; however, the good news is that change is possible.

A healthy, positive body image involves having an objective perception of one’s appearance and an ability to separate one’s value as a person from the way one looks.

If you would like to seek help or learn more about improving a negative body image, please contact me, Dr Bunmi Aboaba, The Food Addiction Coach, by following this link.



[1] Quittkat, Hannah L. et al. “Body Dissatisfaction, Importance Of Appearance, And Body Appreciation In Men And Women Over The Lifespan”. Frontiers In Psychiatry, vol 10, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00864. Accessed 3 Aug 2021.

[2] Kearney‐Cooke, A., & Tieger, D. (2015). Body image disturbance and the development of eating disorders. In L. Smolak & M. D. Levine (Eds.), The Wiley Handbook of Eating Disorders (pp. 283-296). West Sussex, UK: Wiley

[3] Quittkat, Hannah L. et al. “Body Dissatisfaction, Importance Of Appearance, And Body Appreciation In Men And Women Over The Lifespan”. Frontiers In Psychiatry, vol 10, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00864. Accessed 3 Aug 2021.

[4] “England’s First Estimates Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder Prevalence In Children And Young People”. Natcen.Ac.Uk, 2018,

[5] Tod, David et al. “Muscle Dysmorphia: Current Insights”. Psychology Research And Behavior Management, Volume 9, 2016, pp. 179-188. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.2147/prbm.s97404. Accessed 4 Aug 2021.