• Our body image may not be accurate. Many people think they are overweight or underweight when they are not.
  • Frequent dieting can affect your health and can make you depressed.
Your body image is how you think and feel about your body. Body image involves your thoughts, perception, imagination and emotions. It does not necessarily reflect what you see in the mirror or what other people see. Poor body image is often linked to dieting, over-exercising, or eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder, and to other mental health issues such as low self-esteem, depression or anxiety.

Some people diet because they have a poor body image, rather than because they want to eat nutritionally well, or be in a healthy weight range. While it’s important to maintain healthy eating behaviours, constant dieting can lead to physical illness and depression, especially if your weight goes up and down after dieting.

Body image and weight issues

Some people think they are overweight when they are not. Here are some statistics:
  • 45 per cent of women and 23 per cent of men in the healthy weight range think they are overweight.
  • At least 20 per cent of women who are underweight think that they are overweight and are dieting to lose weight.
  • Body image has some cultural links – for example, some research shows that Asian women, after moving to Australia, take on body image and diet habits that are not common in their own countries.

Weight loss from dieting does not last

Australians spend up to one million dollars a day on fad diets that have little effect on their weight, and may be nutritionally unsafe.

Dieting affects your health and mental state

Women who diet frequently are more likely to:
  • binge eat
  • purge food (vomit) or misuse laxatives
  • restrict food intake too much and not get the nutrients they require for good health
  • over-exercise
  • have poor health
  • become depressed or anxious
  • develop an eating disorder.

The weight loss seesaw

Research has shown that nearly every young woman and nearly half of all middle-aged women have dieted to lose weight at least once. The ‘weight loss, weight gain’ seesaw may put you at risk of heart disease and other health problems.

Some studies have shown that just one cycle of weight loss and weight gain is a risk factor for the development of heart disease later in life. People who diet frequently have a much higher risk of developing eating disorders.

If you are concerned about your own or your child’s weight, consult with your doctor, paediatrician or dietitian.

Women need a layer of protective fat

It is normal for women to have fat on their hips and thighs. Frequent dieting will not remove this fat. It is vital for:
  • fertility and breastfeeding
  • prevention of osteoporosis
  • healthy skin, eyes, hair and teeth.

Men also worry about their body image

Men are under increasing pressure to have an ideal body:
  • 17 per cent of men are on some sort of fad diet.
  • An increasing number of men are undergoing cosmetic surgery.
  • More men are buying grooming products and cosmetics than ever before.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Maternal and child health nurse
  • Dietitians Association of Australia Tel. 1800 812 942
  • Paediatrician
  • Psychologist or counsellor
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline Tel. (03) 9885 0318 or 1300 550 236

Things to remember

  • Our body image may not be accurate. Many people think they are overweight or underweight when they are not.
  • Frequent dieting can affect your health and can make you depressed.

More information

Healthy Mind

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This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by: Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV)

Last updated: April 2013

Page content currently being reviewed.

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.