Does your Body Image Drive Your Habits?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Food is your body's fuel. Put in the right formulation and the body "purrs like a kitten." Put in the wrong formulation and things start to go wrong.

Do you see your body as a sports car or a truck? Does your image of your body effect your eating and fitness habits?

Last week we looked at 12 different body types and tried to determine which one fit us. Many of the comments indicated that it was hard to pick one and that many of us were a combination of several.

Many times how we perceive our body and its abilities directly influences our thoughts and decision. For example, someone that suffers from anorexia nervosa believes their body looks differently than it really does despite what the scale shows or what other people say. Perception is what drives the eating and exercise habits because the reality of the body can not be seen.

Grannett Health Services at Cornell University illustrated an Eating Issues and Body Image Continuum chart to depict how body image relates to attitudes about food and eating behaviors. When a person hates what they see when they look in the mirror, they are most likely to have problems with disordered eating and are less likely to set and achieve fitness goals.

However, when someone feels good about their body and what it can do and the goals it can reach – they tend to have very few issues with food. Food is seen as the fuel that is necessary to make the body run and reach goals. Many of us fall somewhere in between these two extremes and fluctuate along the continuum throughout our lives.

Ideally, we want everyone to feel good about their body and to make healthy food choices to fuel it to achieve wonderful goals. Identifying your body type and learning to embrace that shape can be a first step. Setting smart goals to tone that shape can help you get started in the right direction to loving your body and what it can do. Challenging it to do things you didn't think were possible is another. If you don't think you could do 10 boy style push ups – set it as your goal and work toward it. Upper body training and defining your muscles and burning calories now has a purpose. Once you reach your goal, you might find that your toned arms are now one of your greatest features and are ready for sleeveless summer wear.

Setting goals that push your body and eating to fuel your body to achieve those goals can have a positive affect not only your body image but on your attitude toward food as well.

Do you know where you fit on the continuum? Is this a new place for you or have you been here for a while? What specific short term goal could you set to push your body as you achieve it on your way to loving you?

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KHALIA2 9/26/2019
Great Article! Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 9/25/2019
Great Article! Thanks! Report
Takes time to change what your mind sees and what is there Report
I know since I have lost nearly 20 lbs, I have seen more of myself in the mirror and have noticed changes that I didn't think could exist! I wear clothes that accentuate the places that I've lost weight, and I'm finding I have more self-esteem when people notice that I've lost the weight!! It feels positively wonderful when you hear "wow, have you lost weight?!" and they make a big deal about it :) Report
I'm pretty cut-n-dried with the Body Image. I have without a doubt moved from the Disturbed Body Image to Body Ownership. I have an occasional "I feel fat day", but most days I think I look great and I feel strong and healthy. Heck, I just ran a 1/2 marathon last week so I have no doubts about my physical and mental strength and abilities.

However, I can relate to at least one example in all the food categories. My friends/family have shown concern over my weight, but I think that was just a matter of them getting used to a smaller me. I do feel strong when I can restrict how much I eat, but only as it relates to eating one cookie, not 3 or 4, or one serving instead of 2. I have tried dieting and counting calories to lose weight, but just this one time and in combination with exercise and it worked. I regularly watch what I eat. I try to follow nutritional guidelines and eat in a balanced way. Food is important and only occupies a reasonable amount of my time unless I'm training for a race then it becomes strictly fuel and near obession but only for a week or two. Based on title alone I would say I am Healthy but Concerned. I'm not so sure I will ever fall solidly in the "food is not an issue" category. Report
I have actually gone from one end to the other and back many times over; today, I strive to choose healthy foods for most of my meals. I feel good when I eat properly. To push my body to a new place; I am performing more toning exercises and engaging in more challenging cardio workouts. I also visualize being healthy. STRONG BODY = STRONG LIFE!!! Report
My biggest weight saboteur was my boyfriend. Not that I am complaining, but him loving me exactly the way I am assisted in my oreo cookie binges (or whatever I was craving at the time). A year and a half later I am WAY overweight - and because he still thinks I am sexy I felt no motivated to lose weight and get moving. NOW, the summer is coming and i want to wear cute clothes and I want to feel sexy. So I joined this 12 week challenge and the fact I have to pay money for every pound gained, thats whats driving my eating habits. But its been fun so far finding new healthy recipes and experimenting. This site has helped SO much in making sure I am getting the right amount of calories, carbs, and protein! Report
I like my body now. It may have some jiggley bits left, but all in all- not bad. All it took was for me to get back into a healthy weight range and I like my body again. I also feel a lot more comfortable with eating and food choices and a lot more confidence in general.
Thank you Spark People! Report
I have no idea how to be happy with my body, I can tell myself to accept my body but I have no idea how to sincerely like the way I look, especially at this weight. Report
This isn't a huge deal, but I feel so lucky to be at Cornell right now, in the middle of all this fascinating research! My two best friends are nutrition majors, and it's fun when they try out what they learned with me. They're the reason I'm here on SparkPeople, doing what I can to make my life healthier.

And no sweat, but it's GANNETT. Report
My body isn't perfect, never has been perfect and never will be perfect. I have areas (tummy, thighs, and bottom) that I want to work on. I doubt I will ever have a flat tummy since I never have but I do want to get rid of as much excess as possible. My thighs are not too bad but I would again like to lose a touch. As far as my backside...I would like to see it lifted just a bit. I think once I reach my goal weight I'll pretty much be where I want to be and if I'm not I might go another 5 pounds but I don't need to go lower then that. I am very happy with what I see in the mirror even with a few touch ups in my body that I would like to do.

My relation with food is a fairly healthy one. I watch what I eat but I also enjoy my foods and will slip at times but I don't let it hold me back...after all what good is it to be physically where you want to be if you can never enjoy your favorite foods. You just have to be selective of when you enjoy your favorite foods just like any other activities. Report
It's all internal... how we act, eat, and see ourselves. A person can be slightly overweight yet happy with his/her body image. Some people have a body that others would die for, they continue to criticize themselves. If I don't truly believe the value that I've learned then I will never be happy.

When it comes to making the "right" decision, one must rely on faith power; that is... you truly believe in the value of your belief. If you truly believe smoking is bad for you, smoking will never be a temptation because you wouldn't never give it a second thought. Same thing for eating junk food or anything that you believe is harmful to your body. Think about it. Will powder can only carry us for a short distance. But, if our power comes from within, something we truly believe, there shouldn't be much of a struggle. Report
I'm at about the same place for awhile now. Nighttime munchies get me!! :( I've been tracking my foods and am trying to change. I've added nighttime water aerobics. I've noticed I do better on those nights. So for me it seems to be working out. I've gone back to the things I know work for me. Just doing them sometimes is hard - or just plain lazy for me!!!! Report
Thank you, SEATTLERAINONME. I know exactly what you are saying. I am right in the middle of this continuum, and have been here for a very long time. I am so tired of caring about every pound, or every half percent body fat. I am ready to focus on feeling strong and healthy. When I worry about numbers on a scale, I am never satisfied, no matter how low they go. I'm with you, I am ready to enjoy life! I think that if I do my best to live a healthy lifestyle, the numbers will be where they should be anyways, right? I'll make good choices and let the pieces fall where they may. Report
I am struggling with this a great deal right now. I'm so tired of constantly fighting myself and my body to acheive something so ridiculous as 5 vanity pounds! I'm definitely at the negative end of this continuim and I've got to change this.
Yesterday I decided to reset my Spark tracking and goals and instead of setting up my account for weightloss, I set it up for just a healthy lifestyle focused on fitness. I am no longer going to fight with my body over it's weight and image. I am going to purely focus on the things I can control - like running 1 mph faster, or doing 20 boy-like push ups.
I feel liberated. But it's hard to get out of the mindset of counting calories. I find myself trying to calculate in my head. I just reminding myself to eat when I feel physically hungry and stop when I'm satisfied, and eat at least 5 fruits / vegetables and as much whole grains as possible each day. Report
Its most certainly a mindset - while gaining the weight - a 140 seemed obese to me - while losing it I'm so looking forward to getting below 160! Report
Oh, and do you remember the "lifeline" continuum between fear and love in Donnie Darko? That's what I think about this cute and oversimplified continuum in this blog. Report
I currently am about in the middle. i have gained some strength and endurance from training the last 3 months and am becoming more confident in what my body can do. At the same time, I'm very self conscious about being overweight and what people think of me (particularly since up until a couple years ago I was always thin). Fitness goals are helping with my confidence, and my short term goal right now is to be able to do an unassisted pull-up!! Report
Interesting article. I was always thin until I was 41 and had my last child, so I still "see" myself as a thin person, and I will get back to being that again, now that I finally understand METABOLIC SYNDROME and Insulin Resistance thanks to reading ARTHUR AGATSTON'S book "The South Beach Diet." He's a Cardiologist who makes it easy to understand what I am dealing with and why what I've been doing hasn't worked. I'm really thankful I finally read his book. Report
Like most schema that categorize social/psychological phenomena, this one oversimplifies a complex set of mental states and social contexts. I can easily see elements of categories 1-3 in myself, both in food and body image. But this is necessarily so, since - although I think I have a fairly healthy attitude in both areas, I nonetheless am still overweight and on a reasonable quest to lose weight.

So of *course* "I have many days when I feel fat." I *am* fat. But at the same time, "I feel good about my body and what it can do." And of *course* "I have tried dieting, excluding certain foods, or counting calories to lose weight." I'm doing it right now, tracking everything I eat on SP, which is a very healthy thing to do, given that I need to lose weight for my health. But I still consider myself "moderate and flexible in
goals for eating well." The mere fact that I'm counting calories to lose weight makes me "food preoccupied/obsessed" - but this has nothing to do with my self esteem, and doesn't place me outside the realm of "most healthy people," as this chart claims.

On the other hand, some of the characteristics of categories 4-5 (on the right-hand side) can certainly be danger signals for eating disorders and damaging body image. The real question is the practical application of this set of categories: does seeing yourself in a particular category tell you something about yourself that you didn't know before, and does it give you a direction to move toward?

In Western society it's nearly impossible to be a person who never has days they feel fat, or who never feels guilty no matter what or how much they eat. Given the social factors often described in this blog (constant media critique of imperfect bodies, misleading and pervasive food advertising, huge and unhealthy restaurant portions, unrealistic body image portrayals), it's unrealistic to expect that I can "trust my body" to tell me how much I should eat and to find its own healthy weight. This language suggests a kind of natural naivete as an ideal, but in reality those who are least conscious of and educated about health tend to be the most susceptible to the social forces that have led to an epidemic of obesity. Report
Im sure I see my body as way down there. Sometimes its very hard for me not to have the 'oh screw it' attitude, or thats not ganna matter...especially when it comes to food item choices. Lately I have been doing really good with exercising...and Yes physical accomplishments boost ego in more ways than one, there is a chemical process and improvement too.
But even with the best exercises, one can stay FAT if they eat the wrong stuff or too much. Report
I'm definitely food and body preoccupied. I never stop thinking that I need to look a bit better or eat less. I try and restrict my calories to what is recommended but it is hard for me and I never stop thinking about food. I am at a very healthy weight for my height and am very fit. I have come to realize that I will never look the way I want to because I simply do not have that body type. Report
I'm still in Food Preoccupied on the continuum, but I have moved from Eating Disordered and Body Hate, so I consider that a HUGE improvement. I am close to Maintenance in my goal weight, so I think once I get a few months of Maintenance under my belt, I hope I'll move towards Healthy But Concerned. I am definitely at the end of Body Preoccupied and already moving towards Body Acceptance. It's the food that still gives me issue. I have a real problem feeling guilty about eating what I consider to be "bad" foods. The old habits die hard! But I am aware that I am doing it, and I figure that is half the battle.

Great article!! Report
I'm definitely in the obsessed/preoccupied for both body and food and I think it's been that way most of my life...but I'm really making progess toward the healthy image and I'm beginning to measure other things instead of the reflection in the mirror or the scale. Sparkpeople has really helped me look at food differently. Report
I know food is fuel and I should choose the best quality fuel available, but I sometimes just can't resist the junk. Actually, I probably eat a little junk everyday if I really think about it. Nibbles of the cookies the kids are eating for snack, a handful of sugar-coated cereal here and there, etc. But overall, I think I do alright considering the environment I'm in.

I know I have body-image issues. I've never felt happy with my body, I always see the flaws. I'm a skittle (I think), so my bottom half will always be bigger than my top half. My ribs could be sticking out and I'd still have some fat stores on my thighs! But I'm coming to terms with it, since I've reached my goal weight and maintained it for the past 5 months (I still feel like I'm in the early stages of maintainence, though). Now I enjoy pushing my body a little more and seeing what I can do. I like working my muscles so I get more definition, and I like doing heavier cardio than I ever have and getting all sweaty and out of breath. These are things that I never enjoyed before, and now I can honestly say I get excited when I find a new workout that pushes me beyond what I've done before.

While I'll probably always struggle with loving the way I look, seeing more muscle and what my body can do keeps me motivated and encouraged when I'm having a bad body image day. Report
I love my "new" SP body - I've accepted that after 2 babies, it's never going to be perfect, but that just doesn't bother me any more. I choose food based on nutritional value 95% of the time, so when I give in to those chocolate cravings, there's nothing to worry about. I'm fitter at 44 than I ever was in my 20s/30s! Report
Somewhere along the way during my weight loss journey I learned that food is fuel....nothing more and nothing less. It wasn't an "aha moment" but something that just evolved over time. I still have taste preferences, a few foods that I really like and a few that I really dislike, but that still leave a whole bunch at my disposal to fuel my body as optimally as I can. As a result, I tend to choose foods based on their nutritional content more so than taste, cravings, or to satisfy non body fueling needs. Can't say that it is related to body image though. The difference is how I feel, not how I look. If anything, body image for me is more related to physical activity rather than eating. And the good think about that is that whether that self image is bad or good on any given day, it inspires the same result. If I look good to myself, I want to look "gooder". If I look bad to myself, I want to look "gooder". So either way, I jump on my bike, run a few miles, or hit the dance floor or the weights. So it is all good. Report
Nice blog, thanks for sharing. Report
Funny how we all want what we don't have! As I read down the first page of blog comments those with hourglass figures want a straighter figure and vice-versa! I have accepted my body type - which is a column - because that's not going to change. I can strive for a healthy, fit, tone column and be happy with that!

The scale just gives us a number to determine what might be "normal". The best guage for your perfect weight is what you look like naked! If that's in the "normal" range - great ... if not that's great too! Accept who you are in a physical sense and the positive body image will work around that acceptance. Report
When I look at my body image I usually want to start exercising. It is motivation but I don't think it is a healthy one. Report
Ditto what SHERI1969 and KAREN-1328 said. Report
i keep telling myself that there is hope . . . lots of work ahead !! Report
I don't eat according to my body type. I eat according to what my doctor says is best for me and also according to what my hypoglycemia and the other 29 medical conditions can handle. I eat very healthy, but medications take a huge toll. I wish that was talked about more meds affect weight. It is hardly ever considered. Report
unfortunatly I sometimes just choose not to think about it or look in the mirror at all. Thats half the probablem Report
I think we all need to remember the most important thing is that we need to be healthy. Most of us will never be happy with what we see in the mirror but we can be happy with our health. Health is what will enable us to see our kids grow up and maybe one day out grandkids. If we have no kids then it will be what enables us to grow old with someone. It will enable us to live a full and happy life because without health what do we realy have. Report
after loosing so much weight, I have a lot of loose flab in stomach, arms and legs so I agree I feel I must exercise all day I usually do between 3 and 5 hours and get frustrated because I have hit a plateau and don't see big result as far as tightening these areas. But I refuse to give up. Report
For me, When I see my body I see the love handles and the belly but always behind that I see the body that I will have as long as keep my eye on the prize. My only problem with food would be that I sometimes think that I need to exercise continuously( like maybe 2 or 3 times a day) or else!!! Report
Wow - I thought I'd be in the healthy but concerned phase but in fact am in the preoccupied/obessed both in body image and food! Well - I'm working towards moving into the healthy but concerned phase. I need to keep working hard to reach my goals but also to become body 'confident'.

Great blog! Report
I am starting to have a better relationship with my food as I learn to adore me more & more everyday! Some times I do eat ice cream or a cheeseburger but I don't flip out about like I used to. :) Report
I'm in the preoccupied group. I'm 47 and have been told I was fat ever since I was a child, even though I truly qualified as just a bit overweight. There wasn't the awareness about building a positive body image in girls that there is today, and as a result I'm struggling with binge-eating. I'm working on accepting my hourglass shape, and I think I'm doing better with it than I was 10 or 20 years ago. Report
I do know that I have body image issues. I never seem to be happy with my weight. No matter what I weigh I feel fat. Currently I feel fat and I am a size 5. But I do use food for fuel. I am trying to eat to live and not live to eat. I am an emotional eater. What a nice article. Report
I've definitely been way down on the right end of that continuum, but I am happy to say that I believe I am in that "Healthy but concerned" category today. I agree with NEWMOMOVER40 in that I have some characteristics of the "preoccupied" catogory, only because I count my calories and think about food a lot, but I don't think this is unhealthy. I think this is what is necessary to keep my "healthy but concerned" attitude :) Report
Makes perfect sense when you think about it. Report
I see myself as a 2 working towards a 1 on both the eating issues and body image continuum. I have always been a 2 on the eating issues and am now closer to a 1 than when I started this journey in 2006. I have moved from a body image of 3 with tendancies towards 4 to a solid 2. Although I must admit I still have days I "feel fat". Report
I can see why this is true. I find that the worse I feel about me, the worse I eat, and I am an all or nothing personality. If I eat something I consider bad on Tuesday, forget about making healthy choices the rest of the week, and working out, I will have to start again on Monday. Report
I'm food preoccupied/obsessed and body preoccupied/obsessed, but this is better then what I used to be. I love food and have always ate what I wanted or however much I wanted of it, but I always felt like a pig after doing so. I still have those feelings now a little, but I've really gotten ahold of what I"m eating and how much so it doesn't happen very often. My feelings about my body image have also gotten a lot better as I have been losing weight. I see my true self now and I see how my body can be healthy, muscular, sleek and sexy. Of course I have my days when I think oh boy i look fat in this, but who doesn't! Report
Great blog thanks Report
"When a person hates what they see when they look in the mirror, they are most likely to have problems with disordered eating and are less likely to set and achieve fitness goals.

However, when someone feels good about their body and what it can do and the goals it can reach – they tend to have very few issues with food."

I have tried and failed at weight loss before. The biggest thing for me was self acceptance. Once I learned to love myself just for who I was the eating and exercise are so much easier.

Eating Issues: "Healthy but Concerned"
Body Image: between "Disturbed" and "Body Hate/Disassociation"

So what does this say about me? Hmmm......I think that I am at a time in my life where I see food as pleasure, but am not really obsessed. I am more conscious of what I eat now thanks to the Nutrition Tracker, but I still consume those food items that are just plain "Palate Pleasure." I am now able to limit those but have some sort or Palate Pleasure every single day.

Body Image is another thing. I dont like my body, considering I am morbidly obese, with tons of hanging flesh on tummy. Let's not even talk about the "girls."

Does this make me dysfunctional? I dont think so.

I dont know how well this Continum accurately protrays the correaltion between body image and eating issues. Report