The Link Between Body Image and Chronic Illness

Blog, Written by Sophie Corbett

Living with a chronic illness presents a multitude of challenges, both physical and emotional. One aspect that often gets overlooked is its impact on body image. As an eating disorder dietitian, I’ve encountered numerous individuals grappling with this issue, I also have my own first-hand experience with this problem which I will talk about later on. It’s time to shed light on the intersection of chronic illness and body image.

 

Body Image Explained

 

Body image refers to how we perceive and feel about our bodies. It’s more about our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about our bodies than our actual physical appearance. It’s influenced by various factors, including societal standards, media portrayal, our personal experiences and the environment we grew up in. It’s important to note that it can change, there are things we can do to improve the relationship with have with our body.

 

How Chronic Illness Can Impact Body Image

 

When you’re living with a chronic illness or disability, the relationship with your body can become strained. Chronic pain, unpredictable symptoms, and the constant battle against the illness can lead to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and even self-hatred. Barriers to accessing society when being disabled can also make you feel like it’s your fault.

 

My Personal Experience

 

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a teenager and the disease impacted my ability to eat and digest food, and the worst symptom was the debilitating pain. I couldn’t go to parties with my friends, I spent months away from school, I felt as if my body had taken away my life. I’m sad to say it made feel a lot of hate towards body and wish I lived in a different body. This is a common struggle among individuals facing chronic illness. Through the years I managed to make peace with my body, hold compassion for it and be kind to myself during periods of illness. I hope this gives some hope that your body image can change. I also recognise that my experience is not everyone’s experience, those with visible disabilities may find it harder to make their peace with their body for other reasons.

 

Improving Your Body Image While Being Chronically Ill

 

Despite the challenges, there are steps you can take to foster a healthier body image:

  1. Seek Support: Whether it’s through finding an experienced therapist, support groups, or confiding in loved ones, naming this difficulty, and reaching out for support can provide a much-needed outlet for expressing your feelings and receiving validation.
  2. Find Your Community: Being around people who look like us can improve how we feel about ourselves. It also can feel extremely validating to have someone genuinely understand what your experience is like. Online communities of people with the same illness or disability tend to be easier to find.
  3. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge that your body is doing its best to cope with the illness. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.
  4. Recognise That It’s Not All Your Body’s Fault: We live in a world that is ableist, it discriminates against people who are disabled and chronically ill. This is not your fault, this is a fault in the way the world is set up.
  5. Focus on What Your Body Can Do: Instead of dwelling on its limitations, celebrate your body’s resilience and strength. Engage in activities that bring you joy and highlight your body’s capabilities.
  6. Look after yourself: Don’t neglect your needs because of how you feel about your body- this reinforces the body image problem. Focus on nourishing your body with the nutrients that it needs, give yourself rest, it’s important to engage in general self-care.

 

Summary

 

Living with a chronic illness can take a toll on your body image and overall mental health. It’s normal to experience feelings of frustration, resentment, and even hatred towards your body at times. However, by actively working on your body image- holding compassion towards your body, seeking support and community, and properly looking after yourself, you can gradually improve your body image and cultivate a more positive relationship with yourself.

 

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We are here to help

 

If you feel that this topic personally resonates with you, and you need some support in this area then we are here to help. We are a team of specialist dietitians in mental health and eating disorders. We would love to support you to be your best and healthiest version, and to meet your personal goals. Send us a message here. Or find out more about us here

 

Blog written by Sophie

 

Sophie is a Specialist Eating Disorder Dietitian passionate about delivering great quality care and advocating for her clients. She is naturally curious and driven for continued learning both within the profession and outside of it. Sophie founded Mental Health Dietitians in 2024 to be able to work in a way that is value-aligned and makes a difference to the individuals in her care, as well as the wider profession. She currently supports international clients 1-1 in her online clinic.

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