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Social Phobia and Low Self-Esteem as Factors behind Unhealthy Eating Behavior

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Eating disorders are a serious health problem. Nowadays such disorders are highly spread, and the numbers of people who suffer from it are increasing on a daily basis. There are many leading factors that can result in eating disorders; one of the main reasons seems to be the obsession of having a perfect body image that all celebrities, models and advertisement girls have. The media presents a great deal of beauty and thinness on television and magazines that are viewed by many people. There are many possible leading factors of this widely known health problem such as social anxiety, shyness and fear of negative appearance evaluation. In this research paper, I intend to present social anxiety and negative appearance evaluation as risk factors resulting in eating disorders.

Rodebaugh states that, social anxiety arises from the gap between the motivation to give the desired social image and an expectation that the person will fail to do so (126). Highly social anxious individuals do not appreciate their social performance abilities. They assume that their “interactions will be negative because of their failure to meet perfect standards” (Rodebaugh, 125).Moehn, in her book, Coping with Social Anxiety suggests that “Unfortunately, social anxiety is not an easily diagnosed” (6). “Distinguishing social anxiety from normal shyness is sometimes difficult” (Moehn 7). Shyness may cause distress just like social anxiety; it may affect your life, and the way you act. She also states that Literally millions of people are affected by self-consciousness that they have difficulties in social situations. For some, the anxiety occurs during very specific events, such as giving a speech or eating in public. For others, social anxiety is part of everyday life (5). In cases where socially anxious people keep self-monitoring themselves, they feel intrusive and unpleasant. Socially anxious individuals experience negative self-images. These images tend to be distorted and unrealistic representations of the self. However, “the negative self-images phobic individuals create, are perceived and processed as being accurate. These images allocate cognitive resources and, as a result, prevent the creation of socially supportive environment “(Moscovitch 183).

Social anxiety may lead to bulimic symptoms and body dissatisfaction, which is the primary stage of eating disorders. Levinson claims that experimental manipulations such as giving public speeches have consistently shown that individuals either overeat or under eat in the presence of stress or fear activation (27). These individuals require a relevant audience to provide self-rating. Under social threat, phobic individuals may create severe social anxiety which might turn into eating disorders. Socially anxious individuals usually have high levels of perfectionism. Perfectionism is not only an important risk factor for maintaining social anxiety; it is also an important risk factor for eating disorders. In other words, people who have high standards may suffer from eating disorders. According to Rodebaugh, perfectionism is connected to critical self-evaluation which may lead to anorexia and bulimia (126).

Fear of negative evaluation can be associated with social fears. Social interaction anxiety that is a social fear includes fear of making friends, attending parties and initiating conversations. “Fear of rejection due to poor performance or lack of appeal”(Levinson 28). Social anxiety is defined earlier as the fear that one will be negatively evaluated because of his appearance which according to Levinson, is directly connected to fear of negative evaluation and negative body image (28). Fear of negative appearance evaluation is the fear that one will be negatively evaluated because of one’s appearance. According to Rodebaugh, Fear of negative evaluation is the fear that one’s self will be negatively judged(26). Individuals who perceive flaws in their appearance suffer from a pubic fear of criticism and mostly fear attending social events in which they may be evaluated negatively.

In his study, Levinson states that “It has been suggested that general fear of negative evaluation may link social anxiety disorder with eating disorders” (28).Negative social evaluations of appearance may lead to disordered eating. Individuals diagnosed with bulimia or anorexia had higher levels of social appearance anxiety. Nevertheless, eating disorders might stem from emotional instability, behavioral disorders, and low self-esteem. The appearance anxiety may cause an overall appearance concern. Individuals might seek methods to avoid their anxiety through appearance change. The appearance change might turn itself into eating disorders. Researchers have found that fear of negative evaluation may cause bulimic symptoms and body dissatisfaction. Women who suffer from eating disorders have high levels of negative self-evaluation. They think of their environment as judgmental and indiscreet; they feel like they are watched and criticized all the time. Rodebaugh indicates that women have higher tendency to strive for thinness and body dissatisfaction that eventually lead to severe eating disorders ().

To conclude, the combination of social appearance anxiety and fear of negative appearance evaluation results in significant amount of weight and eating concerns. One`s concern about the way he/she looks and whether his appearance is accepted or not is likely to have a huge pressure on people. This pressure may lead in most cases to over eating, under eating and some serious known eating disorders. We should raise the levels of self-awareness about the importance of having a healthy body rather than having an advertisement body. Likewise, minimizing the negative impact of the media’s false role models is crucial and vital. Educators should build programs that prepare children and teenagers to be healthy, to have high self-confidence, and not to be affected by any factors like negative evaluation and social anxiety that may lead eventually to eating disorders.

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GradesFixer. (2019). Social Phobia and Low Self-Esteem as Factors behind Unhealthy Eating Behavior. Retrived from
GradesFixer. "Social Phobia and Low Self-Esteem as Factors behind Unhealthy Eating Behavior." GradesFixer, 03 Jan. 2019,
GradesFixer, 2019. Social Phobia and Low Self-Esteem as Factors behind Unhealthy Eating Behavior. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 13 July 2020].
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