A negative body image can lead to problems that go beyond your emotional and mental health. Feeling bad about your body can affect your physical well-being if you avoid visiting the doctor out of fear of being judged or shamed and therefore miss out on key preventive care measures, Dr. DeCaro points out.
A negative body image that leads to an eating disorder may endanger your physical health. “Those who restrict their [food] intake might experience various health complications such as malnourishment, cardiac abnormalities, gastrointestinal issues, muscle loss, and osteoporosis,” DeCaro says. “And those who struggle with binge eating might experience high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure.”
A positive body image, on the other hand, is associated with better physical health. One study found that positive body image was linked to more physical activity, less smoking and alcohol consumption, and a lower instance of negative eating habits a year later in teenage girls.
A word of caution, however: While a positive body image is generally a good thing, being unrealistically positive can cause you to overlook real health issues. “There’s so much [in our culture] about body acceptance — that you should accept your body the way it is — but sometimes that can give the wrong message to individuals who are at an unhealthy body weight,” says Paakhi Srivastava, PhD, an assistant research professor at the Center for Weight, Eating and Lifestyle Science (WELL Clinic) at Drexel University in Philadelphia.
For instance, obesity can put you at higher risk of various medical conditions, and if you avoid taking steps to mitigate those risks and improve your health (in the name of being body positive or for any other reason), that can be dangerous, Dr. Srivastava says.