Body Image Obsessions in Children and Adolescents


Eating disorders and other body image difficulties are on the rise in young children. Many counselors around the world are reporting clients as young as 7 years of age talking about body dissatisfaction and dieting. In my own practice I have seen emerging concerns of this same nature. (1)In her article “A National Obsession,” Lynne Shallcross, senior writer for Counseling Today, reports that research suggests that 42 percent of 1st through 3rd grade girls want to be thinner, that 10 percent of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat, and 50 percent of all fourth-grade girls are on a diet.


In a previous article I wrote on self-worth I noted that some common thinking patterns in young women who seek to reach societies standards of image perfection plus some other things included negative thinking patterns such as these listed below:

1.  I must always be nice, pleasant

2.  I must do what others expect me to do (parents, friends, leaders, and media) or else I am a failure

3.  I will never be at pretty as….or able to do….But I must keep trying?

These thinking patterns are linked to deeper issues, a food diary is not completely sufficient in treating an eating disorder. Consider the last thought listed above. It has been my experience that thoughts like “I must keep trying,” because “I can control this” is more realistic. The underlying issues must also be treated. Underlying issues or feelings can include poor coping mechanisms related to poor family environment, traumatic events, difficult adjustment periods, increased stress, peer pressure or anxiety, just to name a few, but not one cause should be assumed. One common feeling that is reported is “I feel fat.”


You may be surprised to know that an eating disorder such as bulimia or anorexia is not always noticeable in fact the person may even have a “normal weight.” Signs and symptoms also vary from person to person and sometimes from group to group (ex. Gay men and African American women in particular). However, if you notice any of the following things listed below your child may have or be at risks for an eating disorder or a comorbid anxiety disorder such as Body Dismorphic Disorder:

  1. Missing meals
  2. Hiding/avoiding family or Hoarding food rituals
  3. Exercising excessively
  4. Eating large amounts after a stressful day of school/work
  5. Dressing in Layers when layers are not necessary
  6. Undo amounts of time spent perfecting self, or concern with body shape, weight (constant comparison to others, especially those individuals in the media)

If you believe your child may be suffering from an eating disorder, or is simply exhibiting some low self-esteem that you fear may lead him or her down this path. Please give us a call.

Resources –is a comprehensive recovery treatment center for those with eating disorders.

1 Shallcross, Lynne (2010). A National Obsession. Counseling Today, an American Counseling Association Publication p.28-38.

Note: This article is part of my self-esteem blog series. If you have questions or comments, or ideas for future articles, please email me at


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