Lesson Plan for Psychology of Eating and Body Image

A bit before Thanksgiving, I had the incredible honor of co-teaching a freshman seminar on the Psychology of Eating and Body Image with stupendously awesome Traci Mann. It was her class and I got to sit in and lead the discussion for the day.

I reeeeeeeally wanted to videotape the class so you guys could get a peek, but Traci pointed out that, since this is pretty personal stuff, the students might be less inclined to open up and be frank if they knew they were on camera. So we didn’t record it. But when I tweeted about it, I got a lot of responses so I thought I’d do the next best thing and post my lesson plan here.

At the end of the discussion, I had the students do a modified version of this exercise.


Shifts in perspective:

Actions you can take to change YOUR body image:
(Read at least 3 letters.)


  1. When you saw the women in Kate Harding’s BMI project slideshow, did their designated classifications surprise you? How did that slideshow make you feel? Did you think it was eye-opening? Done for shock value? Do you ever consider BMI when thinking about your own body, or do you focus on weight and pant/dress size?
  • What did you think of the Letter to My Body project? Did it seem futile? Did any of the letters present perspectives on bodies or body image that you hadn’t considered before? Would you ever consider doing this? (It changed my life forever!)
  • When you body bash yourself, how much of it is comparison-based? If you were to consider your body alone, and as a whole, do you think you’d be as negative?
  • #6 in the NEDA list is “I will refuse to wear clothes that are uncomfortable or that I do not like but wear simply because they divert attention from my weight or shape. I will wear clothes that are comfortable and that make me feel comfortable in my body.” Do you do this? When you shop and dress yourself, do you know what flatters your figure? How did you learn? How important are flattering clothes to your self-image and confidence?
  • How did looking at the portraits in the “This is Who I Am” excerpt affect you? Did you see beauty in every woman’s body? Why do you think the author chose to put a young, traditionally attractive woman FIRST in the PDF?
  • The “Our Bodies, Our Selves” resource focuses a lot on the media. Do you think a media fast would improve your body image? How long would you have to isolate yourself to feel any effects? What can you do every day to react to media portrayals of bodies and beauty in a healthy, resilient way?
  • Do you bodysnark? When? With whom? What brings it on? Does it make you feel better about your own body to criticize the bodies of others? What can you do to stop yourself from bodysnarking? Your friends? Your family members?
  • When do you feel best about your body? What activities make you appreciate what you’ve got? How can you carry that over into your everyday life?
  • What do you think it will take to adjust the communal beauty ideal to encompass multiple body types and shapes? What can WE do to shift that paradigm?
* * * * *

Please feel free to repost anywhere to generate discussion!

Image courtesy M Lyn.

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16 Responses to “Lesson Plan for Psychology of Eating and Body Image”

  1. Deja Pseu

    Wow, what a fabulous program! I really wish I'd had the benefit of something like this when I was a freshman in college.

  2. K.Line

    What a great plan! I'm sure those students loved the class. And I'm sure you were a fantastic teacher!

  3. Tina Z.

    Great lesson plan! I have to say though, my reaction to the BMI slideshow might be different than some and I don't want to be attacked for it: I think most of the images on the BMI slideshow are fairly accurate.

    I think a person's perception of what is normal is based largely on comparison and that can vary widely by geographical location and other factors. Americans are, on average, larger than other populations and I think that has negatively influenced our idea of "normal" to be higher. In other words, the pendulum is swinging the other way and dangerously so because of all the health risks of added weight. BMI and body fat % aren't perfect measures of health by any means but I think they're more objective than our own perceptions. For example, having a goal of reaching 25% body fat is far better than randomly selecting an ideal weight. I get the point that the BMI or body fat% alone are not always perfect measures, but they are good ballpark measures for health and that shouldn't be discounted to make ourselves feel better.

  4. Rosie Unknown

    That sounds like such a cool lesson!

    To bad you decided not to record it, I would have loved to see you as a teacher.

  5. jenloveskev

    wow- i agree what a wonderful program. So needed by somemany people!! I hope it helps out a lot of freshman!

  6. Sweet Machine

    I'm delighted that you used our BMI slideshow for your lesson and I'm glad to hear that the class went so well. (Also, delurking! Hello from Shapely Prose!)

  7. Kelly

    Honestly Kate Harding's BMI slideshow only surprised me on a couple of pictures. Overall the people looked how I thought they "should" according to their BMI.

    I don't know if a media fast would change my body image. In college I was really NOT into the internet, I didn't even have a TV, and I read maybe one lady mag every couple months. Nowadays I love the internet, I have a TV, I get about 4 mags in the mail every month and I feel just as happy about my body now as I did in college. Well actually in college I was more unhappy with it, but I think that had to do more with gaining 20 lbs and being uncomfortable in my new body than anything else.

  8. angie

    hallo Sally,
    I've been feeling like a shallow person because I liked all style/fashion related things.Then I bumped into your blog and I stopped feeling weird .Today;s post about body image is nessessary to us all.
    I like your attitude about all things that matter to women.
    You seem to be a real woman .
    So keep up your smile and there are lots of us out there who appriciate what you do.
    Happy new year

  9. Phoenix Diva

    Coming from an ethnic point of view, I have to say that until recently there really hasn't been a lot of eating/body image issues with ethnic women. And I would step out on a very thin limb and say that the European culture respects curves much better than American culture. I think that women in general should understand that modeling and being an actress have qualifications just like being a doctor or a lawyer. Being thin is one of those qualifications. Many models have quit the industry because they realized that they were jeopardizing their health and wellbeing by trying to stick to standards that their personal body type wasn't prepared to handle. Men also come into the mix. Despite polls that say that most men prefer women with curves, the quality and size of those curves still come in to play. So who is left to make the decisions..we are..as you stated, make those decisions for yourself. I say that as long as your decisions do not endanger your health ( too overweight or too thin) GO FOR IT, GIRL!!!!

  10. Elissa

    Fabulous… I'm reading this at work, so I only got to briefly skim the resources you linked, but I'd like to go through in more detail later. I feel like I need to ask you some advice soon!

  11. La Historiadora de Moda

    Very interesting. Did you or any of your readers see the recent piece in Vogue about Lara Stone and how many in the industry consider her fat because she's a size 4 (instead of a 0)? I have to say that even though I gave up trying to be a size 4 much less a size 0 years ago and have since been working on being happy at a size 8/10 that article still managed to make me feel like a piece of poo.

  12. E and O

    Thank you so much for not only sharing your lesson with us, but also encouraging people to repost and share it. I'm sure it took quite a bit of time of effort to develop your guest lesson.

    I have to be honest and say that I think some of the steps in your plan require more introspection, particularly into some sensitive areas, than I'm currently ready for. But I plan on sharing this with friends and hope to go through all the exercises myself at some point.

    re: Tina Z. and Kelly's comments about BMI —
    I think I'm likely in the same mindset. Perhaps because I used to be very into physical fitness, so I was more familiar with the BMI-weight relationship than the average person.

    re: Phoenix Diva's point about ethnicity and thinness —
    I've noticed that when another country's entertainment industry starts becoming influenced by America the actresses NOTICEABLY begin slimming down to represent more of an American ideal (very thin, very toned, no thighs, no hips, no stomach, disproportionately huge rack). Regardless of the natural shape of their ethnic background.

    I noticed this watching Bollywood films and it made me kinda sad. Especially when you consider how a culture's dance moves develop in conjunction with the culture's body type, to some degree.

  13. hollarback

    This is something that really should be included in college age women, as they get bombarded with opinions on what they "should" be at that age.

    The BMI always annoyed me as it doesn't take things such as breasts and different builds into account. Boobs can actually weigh quite a bit, as can the corresponding butt that generally balances out an hourglass figure. BMI is NOT a good ballpark type of equation, it is quack science. It is not an accurate measure at all.

    Measuring actual body fat percentages IS accurate. The BMI is guesswork and assumption based on minimal information.

  14. kristophine

    To #9: Teach kids, especially girls, that weight-lifting is awesome. It makes me stronger and healthier, and it's what makes the difference for me between looking healthy and not looking healthy, regardless of what weight I'm at. I also think that making Anatomy & Physiology a mandatory science class in highschools, right after Biology, would do kids a world of good–they could learn for themselves why weightlifting is healthy, rather than having to take an "expert's" word on it. Osteoblasts are where it's at!

  15. A-C

    I've been thinking a lot about this post and have come up with lots of thoughts, too many in fact to reply in the comments. Assuming I remember, I'll probably respond in a blog post of my own. Just know that I also believe that this is an incredibly important lesson for young women, especially for those entering college/university and are setting out on their own for the first time.

  16. Elizabeth Jarrard

    what an amazing lesson plan. Thank you so much for sharing@@