Eating Disorder Therapy Fort Lauderdale - Woman Comparing Her Body Image to Another Woman

How to Let go of Body Image Comparisons in Eating Disorder Recovery

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

By Sarah DeSantis, LCSW

It’s said that comparison is the thief of joy. And yet comparing yourself to others is a natural human behavior in which so many of us engage. Certain individuals – particularly those in eating disorder recovery – have the tendency to compare more often, at times letting those comparisons plummet them into a negative body image spiral. 

If you are in eating disorder recovery and struggling with body image comparisons, you are not alone. Body image comparison through eating disorder recovery is natural but unhelpful. Further, comparison behaviors are correlated with low self-esteem and depression. Comparison often validates negative core beliefs which in turn, fuels eating disorder behaviors. 

Core beliefs are deeply held assumptions we have about ourselves, the world, and others. These beliefs are often formed over a long period of time through our experiences and upbringing. For example, a negative core belief may be “I’m unworthy” “I’m inadequate” or “I’m a failure.”

Comparisons reinforce these beliefs, which often leads to body image distress and urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. See below for an example of this body image spiral which often turns into a maladaptive cycle.

(Triggering situation) Views Instagram account of a model

She appears happy, confident, successful, and in control. Her content displays all of the wonderful places she has traveled to with her significant other. 

Examples of your follow up thoughts: 

I will never be loved or happy if I don’t look like that. In order to have confidence, I need to look like her. She’s getting so many positive comments about her body- I should have her body. I should be married by now. I should be traveling more. And on and on and on. These thoughts are often rooted in underlying fears, such as the fear of rejection. “If I look like her, then I could avoid rejection.”


(Reinforces negative core belief) of “I’m a failure” or “I’m unworthy the way I am”

(Creates rules to live by) I must achieve a certain weight in order to be worthy

(Engagement in maladaptive behavior) Oftentimes, what follows these thoughts are eating disorder urges such as restricting, binge eating, or purging, as a maladaptive way to attain what you perceive that individual has.

If you relate to this spiral, you are not alone. This article will help identify coping skills to challenge and manage these comparisons.

Social Media & Comparisons

Not comparing yourself to the world around you is a difficult task, especially since we are bombarded daily with messages, images, and ads that feed on our insecurities. (This is even more difficult when you’re in eating disorder recovery, particularly early recovery). At times, we don’t even notice that we are comparing ourselves to others, as it has become a normal part of our lives. Although normalized, comparisons are often unrealistic. When struggling with body image distress, it can be easy to compare to unrealistic standards

We scroll pass it on the regular. Plump lips, chiseled jaw lines, smooth and flawless skin, gleaming hair, and bright eyes hooded with lashes that could shade a picnic table. Images upon images of people who already won the genetic lottery are then digitally altered and/or filtered to perfection and often physically impossible proportions. If the average person isn’t in-the-know, these misleading images — often used to gain something in return — might be accepted as an accurate portrayal of the human form.

Throughout our day, we constantly see unrealistic standards of beauty. The exact number varies, yet some digital marketing experts claim that Americans are exposed to nearly 10,000 ads per day.

Yes, let me repeat that, 10,000 ads per day.

Of those ads, it’s estimated that the average person comes across approximately 3,000 food and body image-related advertisements per day. These ads try to sell us something that will “make us better,” thus reinforcing a common negative core belief, “I’m not good enough.” 

You want abs- try this diet. You want shiny & smooth hair- try this.

The main objective in advertising is to convince the consumer that they need these products to make life better; insinuating that we are not good enough as is. Paid advertisements aside, the huge number above doesn’t even take into account the countless images we see published by non-advertisers: peers, influencers, and plain ol’ social media accounts.

If you notice yourself falling into the trap of being influenced by images in the media, here are a few things that may help:

  1. Block triggering ads; unfollow unhelpful accounts
  2. Follow body positivity accounts
  3. Set time limits around your use of social media (hint: many smartphones have settings to assist with time limits)

Body Gratitude

If you notice yourself engaging in unfair comparisons, it may be beneficial to practice body gratitude. In the early stages of eating disorder recovery, finding ‘body love’ or ‘body acceptance’ is a difficult task. It often requires time and patience. Many of my clients say “it feels impossible.” 

If you find yourself struggling with accepting your body, you may want to start with smaller action steps. Practicing body gratitude may feel more achievable at an early stage of recovery and if practiced often, it will help you with body acceptance.

One of my favorite quotes by Dr. Lexie Kite is, “Your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” Many of us get caught up in the way our body appears as opposed to the way our body works for us.

Body gratitude is the focus on what our bodies can do for us. When you notice yourself comparing, try to shift your perspective on how you view your body. For example, reframe the thought of “my feet are too big” to “my feet allow me to travel and visit my family and loved ones.”

Other ways to practice body gratitude: 

  1. Make a list of reasons why you are thankful for your body
  2. Be aware and non-judgmental! For each negative judgment you have about your body, try to follow it up with one positive (or neutral) thing your body does for you.
  3. Buy a gift for you body such as a cozy blanket or face-mask

Start noticing your body image distortions

Types of Body Distortions

There are many different types of body image distortions that often fuel our tendency to compare. Thomas F. Cash, who authored The Body Image Workbook, identifies eight different types of distortions. Listed below are a few of them. Next time you notice yourself comparing to others, ask yourself if any of the comparison thoughts, such as “I should look more like her” or “I shouldn’t have ______ flaw” are body image distortions.

1 – Magnifying Glass:
Next time you look at a picture of yourself and others, I want you to pay attention to the way your mind talks about yourself in that picture versus the way you talk about others. Often, we have a magnifying glass over ourselves and not on others. We pick at our individual flaws and notice everything that is wrong with us. We zoom in on our imperfections. You most likely aren’t doing this to the other individuals in this photo. And I hate to say it, but if you did zoom in on the others in that photo, I bet you would be able to find some sort of imperfection that you didn’t notice without that magnifying glass. We do this when we look in the mirror as well! Next time you do this, I want you to try to zoom out, the same way you would look at others. 

2 – Moody Mirror:
Do you ever compare yourself to someone else and then notice the rest of your day is ruined because of this? This is most likely a form of emotional reasoning. You feel ugly, therefore you must be ugly. Interestingly, the next day, you may look in the mirror and really like yourself, leading to a good mood. But nothing about your appearance has significantly changed from one day to the next. Next time you notice this happening, try to validate your emotion and remind yourself that this feeling will pass. Emotions are not facts, so just because you feel something, doesn’t make it true. 

3 – Beauty or Beast:
If you struggle with “all or nothing” thinking, then you most likely struggle with the body image distortion of “beauty or beast.” People tend to think about their appearances in the extreme. For example, “I’m either skinny or fat” or “I’m either perfect or a complete disaster.” When you are thinking in the extremes (or black and whites), you are missing out on all of the gray areas. 

If you are struggling with comparisons, it may be beneficial to reach out to a licensed therapist trained in body image challenges. Therapy can help identify the underlying fears that drive comparisons such as the fear of rejection and challenge distortions that arise after comparison. Therapeutic approaches that are helpful when struggling with comparisons include Cognitive Behavioral therapy, Exposure Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment therapy.

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