Body Image and Eating Concerns

What is Body Image?

Body image is a subjective picture of one’s own physical appearance established both by self-observation and by noting the reactions of others. Many different things can affect the way we perceive our bodies, including cultural factors, personal characteristics, and messages from friends, relatives, doctors, and the media.

National Eating Disorders Association

Negative body image is common on college campuses, with up to 90% of college students of all genders reporting that they worry about body image. However, just because something is common doesn’t mean it is okay. Negative body image is associated with low self-esteem, depression, and is a risk factor for disordered eating and exercise behaviors. One’s body image can change over time - even day to day or minute to minute.

Cultivating a positive body image

Here are some tips:

  • Start with acceptance. Sometimes "loving" our bodies can feel like a tall order. Acceptance is often an easier place to start.
  • Respect genetic diversity. We’re not all supposed to look the same.
  • Embrace the things about your appearance that make you unique. It can be difficult at first, but we can learn to accept, honor, and even love our unique physical traits.
  • Honor your ancestors. Recognize and celebrate your unique body traits as part of your genetic and ethnic lineage.
  • Do what you love in the body you have now. Don’t wait until you lose weight or change your body to live the life you want to live. You deserve to go to the beach, wear what you want, or try out for the swim team, now, no matter what your body looks like.
  • Practice gratitude. Name five things you like about your body. Name five things you’re grateful your body enables you to do. Do this on a regular basis.
  • Break the cycle of negative self-talk. Avoid saying negative things about your body. Studies have shown that this kind of talk increases body dissatisfaction and lowers self-esteem. If you hear negative body-talk, try changing the subject or simply don’t participate.

Health Promotion offers information, support, and educational programming around body image. Request an educational program for your organization, or contact for more information.

Eating and Exercise Concerns

Sometimes people may engage in disordered eating and exercise behaviors, which are when a person’s attitudes about food, weight, and their body cause them to have strict eating and exercise habits that jeopardize their health, happiness, and safety.

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder are complex conditions that arise from a combination of long-standing behavioral, biological, emotional, psychological, interpersonal and social factors. While eating disorders are sometimes associated solely with food and weight preoccupations, they are complex diseases with a variety of causes. Those suffering from them may try to use food and the control of food to cope with feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. To learn more about eating disorders, visit theNational Eating Disorders Association.

Getting Help

If you’re struggling with concerns around body image, eating, and/or exercise, we can help.

Speak with a Nutritionist: Call Health Services at 781-239-6363 to make an appointment with a Registered Dietician for nutrition education that is tailored specifically to meet each student’s individual needs.

Mental Health Screening: Take a free, confidential, and anonymous online mental health screening. The screening tool provides feedback, information, and resources related to a range of concerns, including anxiety and depression to substance use, eating concerns, and trauma.

Speak with a Counselor: Schedule an appointment with Counseling Services to speak with a counselor about your concerns. Email or call 781-239-6200 to make an appointment.

Supporting Others

If you’re worried that a friend or loved one may be struggling with body image or disordered eating or exercise, there are some things you can do to support them. Remember that you cannot force someone to seek help, change their habits, or adjust their attitudes. However, you can make important progress by honestly sharing your concerns, providing support, and knowing where to go for more information. Here are some tips:

  • Find an appropriate time and space to talk. It is best to have this conversation in private.
  • Be honest. Talk openly and honestly about your concerns with the person who is struggling with eating or body image problems.
  • Use "I" statements about observed behavior. For example, "I’m concerned about you because I noticed you skipped breakfast and lunch." Avoid "you" statements, labels, diagnoses, and accusations.
  • Don’t give advice about food or health, e.g. what to eat. Don’t try to force someone to eat.
  • Avoid negative self-talk. Avoid talking about your own body image or eating/diet/exercise habits. Role model positive body acceptance.
  • Encourage them to get help. Urge them to talk to a trusted adult and/or seek professional help.
  • Tell someone. It may seem difficult to know when, if at all, to tell someone else about your concerns. Addressing body image or eating problems in their beginning stages offers your friend the best chance for working through these issues and becoming healthy again. Don’t wait until the situation is so severe that your friend’s life is in danger. Your friend needs a great deal of support and understanding.
  • Express your continued support.