112 Body Image & Eating Disorders

Based on research by Jansen, A. et al. Written by Kyle Piecora, M.S.

Why do those with eating disorders feel fat and unattractive, and loath their bodies?

Psychologists Anita Jansen and colleagues in the Netherlands compared female volunteers who scored high on a measure of eating disorder symptoms with those who scored lowest.  Both participant groups were then photographed wearing the same colored underwear.  After 19 months, all viewed the photographs of themselves and the other participants. They identified the ugliest and most beautiful part of each body and rated the part on a scale, negative to positive.  Researchers tracked their eye movement while looking at the pictures. They completed a measure of their mood before and afterwards..

In contrast to the “normal” group, those with likely eating disorder symptoms scored ugly body parts in a harsher manner.  Their mood darkened greatly after looking at the bodies.  They additionally spent more time looking at their own self-identified ugly body parts than their beautiful parts but focused more on other’s beautiful parts.  In contrast, those without symptoms focused on their own beautiful and others’ ugly parts.

Focusing attention on our strengths and being less judgmental of our shortcomings  may be a difficult but essential goal in attaining good mental health.


Jansen, A., Nederkoorn, C., & Mulkens, S. (2005). Selective visual attention for ugly and beautiful body parts in eating disorders. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 43(2), 183-196. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2004.01.003

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