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How body image can impact our well-being

Our body image can be affected through history of trauma, and can affect the development of our self-esteem.

July Body Image

Through the summer months, we’re all trying to beat the heat by ditching the heavy articles of clothing that shield our bodies from the cold of the winter months. Those same articles of clothing also hide the imperfections we may see in our physical appearance, which may make us feel uncomfortable or insecure.

Suzanne Boss is a Licensed Professional Counselor for Burrell Behavioral Health. She specializes in supporting those living with and recovering from eating disorders. Eating disorders are real, complex conditions that can have serious consequences for physical and mental health, as well as relationships. Burrell’s RecoverED program for eating disorder treatment has served many clients and saved numerous lives since its start in 2020.

Boss says our body image is “the subjective picture or mental image of one's own body.” She explains body image can be affected through history of trauma, and can affect the development of our self-esteem. According to Boss, body image disturbance is one of the most common clinical features attributed to eating disorders. When we don’t like how we think we look, we may go to extreme measures to change that.

Boss explains eating disorders can happen to anyone, and many people who do experience them may not realize it because they are neither obese nor thin. A person struggling with an eating disorder could look like a professional athlete who restricts eating, lives on protein supplements, and excessively exercises, trying to maintain bodily perfection. A person struggling with an eating disorder could have an average body weight, but they engage in significant laxative and diuretics use, restrictive eating, binge/purge, and/or insulin mismanagement.

Boss is a facilitator of a therapy group at Burrell’s Berrywood Clinic in Columbia, Mo., that aims to help those who are looking to find recovery from eating disorders. She acknowledges that labeling foods as good/bad or healthy/unhealthy is counter-productive in recovery efforts and can be in our lives as well. Boss explains it’s important to eat mindfully and recognize signs of fullness. We can change the way we think about food, which could help us change the way we think about ourselves.

Our body image can change, Boss says. She says we can shift our mindset by searching for positive traits and characteristics of our physical selves, while simultaneously creating new rules of relationship with food. This can empower us to choose a new way of living and of thinking.

She also encourages us to take care of our “inner child.” Sometimes we may think or say negative things about ourselves, our bodies, or our appearances, but these are things we would never consider saying to a small child. So why do we do that to our adult selves? Boss says we can reframe our thinking by picturing younger versions of us when we think something that could be hurtful to our own self esteem.

While eating disorders are more common than some may realize, not everyone who struggles with a negative body image may experience an eating disorder. We can overcome it. For those who are going through an eating disorder, though, Boss has some advice.

“You can find freedom from your past and present,” she said. “Recovery is possible. You have to do the next right step.”

For some individuals, Boss says, the first step to recovery is starting with individual therapy to figure out what trauma may be triggering our relationships with food and our own body image. For others, their first step may be admitting that they have an eating disorder and seeking treatment. Anyone looking for support on their personal journey can walk in or call Burrell’s Connection Center's in Springfield or Columbia to meet with a licensed professional and discuss next steps. For phone numbers, hours and addresses of those Connection Centers, click here.


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