For better body image, consider your relationships: UW study

If you're feeling bad about your body, instead of changing your diet or exercise, a new University of Waterloo study suggests you might improve things by changing your relationships.

Spending time with weight-fixated friends can worsen self-image, researchers say

A study out of the University of Waterloo suggests a person's body image changes across relationships. (CanStockPhoto)

If you're unhappy with the way you look, a new University of Waterloo study suggests instead of changing your diet or exercise you might improve things by changing your friends.

The study, which appears in the journal Body Image, asked college-age women how they felt about their bodies and if that changed depending on who they were with.

Researchers found that women felt worse about their bodies when spending time with people who fixated on their own weight.

The body size of another person could also make a difference. For example, spending time with someone who is thinner can make you feel worse, according to PhD candidate Sydney Waring.

"Women may feel like they're stuck with bad body image all the time … but this study suggested that if you take the time to pay attention to how you're feeling about your body when you're with different people, you may notice your body image is changing," said Waring, who was a lead author of the study.

"If that's the case, there might be some things people can do to experience better body image more often."

Poor body image and poor mental health

To feel better, Waring suggested being more intentional about how you spend time with people in your life.

For example, it might not be possible to completely avoid a diet-obsessed friend, but you could opt to see a movie together rather than meeting for a meal.

Improving body image is important, Waring said, because poor body image can lead to poor mental health. In some cases, poor body image is linked to eating disorders which have the highest mortality rate of any mental health issue.

In addition to thinking about how others affect one's own body image, Waring said people should also consider their influence on others.

"It may be helpful for all of us to take some time to reflect on how we might be impacting body image of people around us," she said.

The study asked 87 college-age women about 10 different personal relationships from their social circle. Most of the specific relationships were with women.