Food is a vital factor in human existence. The right food intake is greatly necessary for survival, hence the propaganda for ‘healthy eating’ by the medical world. Among other things, food plays an important role in human growth. A malnourished child for instance, can easily be differentiated from a well nourished child by virtue of the physique of the child and the amount of flesh covering the is ready

A person’s body weight is mostly a function of his/her food intake; which in turn is a function of his/her eating habit. Overtime, a person learns and develops a particular eating habit, either positive or negative. A positive eating habit is one in which the person ingests the right food at the right time, while a negative eating habit is one in which the person may starve himself/herself of food or ingest inappropriate food.

Various factors are responsible for negative eating habit. However, a major psychological factor that could be responsible for negative eating habit is ‘self-esteem.’ Self-esteem is how worthy one feels. It includes confidence, respect, and satisfaction with oneself. Self-esteem is your perception of yourself; your sense of worth as a person. It is the sense of contentment and self-acceptance that stems from a person’s appraisal of their own worth, significance, attractiveness, competence and ability to satisfy their aspiration. Self-esteem is closely tied with body image. Body image is your perception of your physical appearance. It is the picture an individual has of his or her body, what it looks like in the mirror, and what he or she thinks it looks like to others.  Body image also includes how you feel in your body, and not just about your body.

A person with “positive body image” has a true and clear perception of their body shape, celebrates and appreciates this shape, and understands that one’s physical appearance says little about one’s character and value as a person. As well, one accepts and feels proud of one’s unique body and refuses to spend unreasonable amounts of time and energy worrying about weight, food, and calories. A person with a positive body image feels comfortable and confident in their body. On the other hand, a person with “negative body image” feels awkward or uncomfortable in his/her body. The person has a distorted perception of body shape in which he/she perceives parts of the body unlike they are. He/she believes that only other people are attractive and that his/her body size or shape is a sign of personal failure. Likewise, the person feels ashamed, self-conscious and anxious about his/her body.

Low self-esteem contributes to a distorted body image, and the distorted body image cannot be fully corrected until self-esteem issues are resolved. Low self-esteem is one of the primary characteristics in girls who develop eating disorders (eating disorders develop overtime from unhealthy/negative eating habits). Throughout history, the standards societies have set for the ideal body – especially the ideal female body – have varied greatly. In the “westernized Nigeria” of today, the ideal has progressed steadily toward increasing thinness. Gone are the days when being an “orobo” (the state of being chubby) was very much in vogue and appreciated. What we see today is that most women want prefer “lepa” (the state of being very slim/thin) because that is what they perceive as the attractive body shape. The media has also done so much in promoting this so-called ‘ideal’. For instance, in any beauty pageant, the ‘virtue’ of thinness is highly encouraged.

People (especially women) battling with low self-esteem are especially vulnerable to this deception and because they have a very low sense of self-worth and a very distorted body image, they do all kinds of things possible to see that they become and remain thin to portray that ‘ideal’ image that society celebrates so much. This invariably somewhat compensates for their low self-esteem. This vicious cycle is what makes people develop a bad and unhealthy eating habit/attitude, which in extreme cases leads to a chronic eating disorder. Ladies who want to keep their perceived attractiveness (by being thin) become so obsessed that they literally starve themselves of food and engage in other unhealthy eating habits just to keep up things as they are. Unfortunately, this does not increase self-esteem in any way but only leads to severe health challenges that could be very dangerous in the long run.

We cannot overemphasize how important it is for a person to have a good self-esteem. It is important for people to constantly seek to keep up a good state of self-esteem always, as lack of this can make people engage in a number of demeaning things to compensate for their lack. People who are struggling with low self-esteem should not hide in the corner but come out to seek professional help from trained psychologists and counselors. Healthy self-esteem equals healthy and happy living.

(Note: This article does not imply that every slim/thin person has a self-esteem issue or a negative eating habit/an eating disorder. Some people have natural slim build).

©2013 AyotundeElegbeleye

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