For people who want to lose weight, there's a fine line between healthy and unhealthy methods of losing the extra pounds. Often, the way we think about our bodies—our body image—contributes to our ability to lose weight in a healthy and safe manner. With a positive body image, weight loss attempts often tend to be healthier, safer, and ultimately more successful. However, because poor body image contributes to the risk of someone developing an eating disorder, healthy weight loss is more difficult for people who see their bodies in a negative light.
There's a strong two-way relationship between body image and eating disorders: someone with a poor or unrealistic body image often desires to change their body, and the most common way for this desire to manifest is by dieting. For some people, the result is the eventual development of an eating disorder, which causes body image to become even more distorted. For example, someone with poor body image who develops anorexia thinks of themselves as overweight even if they lose so much that they become dangerously underweight.
Some people with eating disorders develop such a distorted body image that they develop a condition called body dysmorphic disorder. People with this disorder become very preoccupied with their physical appearance, and with particular facial features or parts of their bodies; typically their preoccupation causes them to see serious flaws where none exist. A study conducted at UCLA shows that people with this disorder may actually have abnormal visual processing—and that they do literally see themselves differently from the way they really are.
When someone with an eating disorder also develops body dysmorphic disorder, there's a high risk that their eating disorder will eventually become fatal, which means that getting professional help is extremely important for survival.