In Dr. Janet Greeson’s best-selling book “It’s Not What You’re Eating, It’s What’s Eating You”, she examines the fact that disordered eating requires attention to the physical, emotional and spiritual causes of this phenomenon. How we interpret the image we see in the mirror is a reflection of how we compare that image to the dominant standard of beauty in our society. These unrealistic standards of beauty bombard us daily from images in fashion magazines, television, films and more recently on the internet. These idealized images have produced a new definition of beauty that is one of perfect body parts often at the expense of the heart, mind and soul.
The message of the mainstream media is that happiness and success is defined by images of fashion models who are starvation-thin, tall, young, gorgeous and flawless. The messages imply further that Cinderella may find her handsome prince but she must be a size 2 to find him. Thus, the media tells us an unrealistic story about the real meaning of happiness and success. Even Halle Berry, who is considered to be beautiful by most standards, said that “Beauty, or being thought of as beautiful, has not spared me any heartache or trouble.” She adds, “Beauty is always transitory”.  Women often diet and exercise to extremes. Anyone who feels they fall short of “the ideal” can become a target of rejection and humiliation by friends, family and coworkers.  The mixed messages that women receive about “thin being in” are intertwined with the diet, cosmetic and fashion industries that promote an ideal with quick fixes that are temporary. Together these are a lethal combination.
A study published in the magazinePsychology Today” in the 1980’s found that 3 out of 10 American women were unhappy with their physical appearance.  By the mid 1990’s that figure increased to 1 in 2.  In a more recent survey over 30% said they had fasted or starved themselves in order to achieve a more appealing body that was closer to their ideal image. Usually this temporal ideal conforms to the latest glamorous celebrity on magazine covers, in films, or on television. In a recent article, Newsweek reported that “Classic eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia are being diagnosed at younger ages (some as young as eight or nine) and with greater frequency than any time in our history.” It is estimated that over 10 million American women have been diagnosed with eating disorders. The very secretive nature of binging and starvation indicates that these numbers are probably underreported. Just as startling, are the trends at the opposite end of the spectrum which show that 65% of adults and 30% of children are overweight or obese.
Our body image is closely related to what we see in the media but also to the messages we received growing up about what is normal. A healthy body image involves accepting one’s own body and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. When a negative body image is taken to the extreme, a person develops a distorted view of themselves as being heavier or thinner than they really are. Many therapists believe that this contradiction between how people feel they look versus how they believe they should look is one of the major contributors to the development of an eating disorder. People who have what is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) have such an exaggerated view of their appearance that they become obsessed about perceived flaws to the point where they describe themselves as “ugly or hideous”. They may apply large quantities of make-up or clothing to cover the perceived defect. Even more extreme are repetitive plastic surgeries to look like somebody else that they admire. The key question to ask is “What can we do to help people accept their bodies, learn to eat for life and modify this downward spiral?”
As a psychotherapist I’ve done enough research to know that diets do not work in the long run and self-starvation is dangerous to one’s health.  Either in the extreme can never last for the overweight, anorexic or bulimic individual who so desperately wants to control their eating patterns. Self-deprivation can only sabotage efforts to control one’s eating. If it truly is “What’s eating you versus what you’re eating” then it requires a much more focused approach to examine the psychological, and physical reasons to both analyze and solve the issue. It is helpful to learn to accept one’s body weight where it is at the moment rather than to beat oneself up, which only leads to more of the same self-destructive patterns. Negative self-talk never improves a situation.  One can learn to make healthy choices from a positive mindset that encourages us to adopt a free-will stance when it comes to eating. Further, one’s weight need not be viewed as the ultimate measure of happiness nor self-esteem. It is critical that we allow people to discover the right look and feel that suits them while we empower them to value their unique qualities rather than basing self-esteem on false notions. This will require a shift in attitude that enables people to love and accept their bodies and celebrate our differences while focusing on exercising for health, positive food choices and loving and nurturing the body. It is this shift in thinking that can help us to make choices about food that will help us to eat for life.
It is a little longer than you mentioned in your guidelines, but it was difficult to cut it too much. I cut over 100 words from the original.
Laura Schultz is a freelance writer and licensed psychotherapist As  such she has been assisting individuals and families in crisis for 25 years in private practice with expertise in the field of relationships, sexuality, addiction, and childhood trauma.  She has written for national magazines on topics such as relationships, communication, sexuality, and health/ wellness. She writes two advice columns for women “Counselor on Call” and “Ask Therapist Laura
She is available for Life Coaching at (310) 205-2520. Her website is www.lauraschultznow.com.