The Body Image Epidemic No One is Talking About

Written By


Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

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Tray Gazing (No More Comparison)

Walk into any college cafeteria in the United States and simply observe female college students’ behaviors and interactions with one another.

Notice their conversation, their own observations and their eyes. Try to get inside their heads.

What you will discover?

8 in 10 of these women are thinking about diets, their body and comparison with other girls.

They are sizing themselves up and down; Questioning how much she weighs or what she eats; And comparing their own food trays and bodies to the girls around them—“Tray gazing”.


One researcher at Princeton University, Catherine Sanderson, an Associate Professor of Psychology, coined this phenomenon as “tray gazing” — the way female students in a college cafeteria scope out what’s on other people’s trays.

In her research, she observed college women’s behaviors, in relation to one another, as well as conducted interviews with a series of questions relating to their bodies, food and fitness.

What she found?

Several things:

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In short: We usually think others have it more together than ourselves. And, in order to LOOK like we have it all together, we diet, restrict, purge, overexercise, or eat (more) in secret, and constantly compare our bodies, appearance, food, fitness and health choices to others.

Sanderson’s research is not just confined to the college girl—but womankind by and large.

It’s like when you were in middle school and constantly compared yourself to the other girls who seemed to have it all together—the non-frizzy hair, the perfect teeth, the hot boyfriend, the cheer squash captain position, the brains and the brawn and more popularity.

If only you could be “that girl.”



Who is “that girl” for you? “That girl” you see in a coffee shop, in the gym, in class, in the carpool line and think: “That girl” is prettier, leaner, fitter, healthier, happier, thinner than me.

If only you could just have her figure, her metabolism, her thigh gap, her bed-head waves, her will power, her beauty, or her diet…then life would be perfect.

There’s no escaping it: We are always going to find someone else who we think is BETTER than ourselves.

And in order to fit in or feel like we measure up, we keep fighting—inside to be a better version of ourselves within our own willpower:

This may look like:

  • Restricting your food and denying your hunger;
  • Constantly experimenting with a new diet philosophy: Paleo, vegan, vegetarian, macros, clean eating, fasting, ketogenic, etc.
  • Banning yourself from anything with chocolate or sugar—only to find yourself indulging every night after dinner;
  • Telling yourself “tomorrow, I will start” or “tomorrow will be the day to change”;
  • Telling others how “good” you were—you got our workout in or ate your no-carb breakfast;
  • Keeping your struggles with food and your body to yourself; Not feeling comfortable to talk about it (with your close friends, significant other or a coach/counselor);
  • Trying to figure out exactly what she eats and how she exercises—so you can do the same;
  • Taking 20 selfies in the gym for Instagram before settling on the “right” one—with the right light and all;
  • Throwing hundreds of dollars money in programs, and personal trainers, and diets—and believing (every time), this ONE will be the answer


We feel alone.

The reason no one is talking about their insecurities with their own body, food, fitness, or health?

Because no one else is doing it.

It’s like when you were in high-school American Government with the intimidating teacher (who makes fun of you if you ask a stupid question).

At the end of a complicated lecture on the electoral college, the teacher asked the class, “Does anyone have a question?”

And no one else raised a hand.

Probably all of them had questions, but when they looked around and didn’t see anyone else raising a hand, they ask , “Why is nobody else raising their hand? Obviously, they understand the material perfectly well. Why am I not asking a question? I don’t want to look stupid.

So no one raised a hand.  

The real power of the delusion comes from misunderstanding why other people are doing what you think they’re doing.

That is the EXACT same thing happening with the body image, food, thinness and fitness thing.

Everyone is talking about what results they are seeing or what healthy foods they are eating…but no one is really talking about: The days they don’t feel amazing in their own skin. Or the fact that, yes, they look at her pics or her food tray or her body and think: “I want to be that girl.”

You are not alone.

Action Step

Raise your own awareness to the messages around you today—on your social media, in the gym, at the PTA meeting, during lunch with the girls…

Try to get inside another girl’s head today and think about how she sees the world.

Better yet, open up a conversation with a close friend about the topic of body image, food, fitness and health—how does she really think? How do you really think? Chances are you’ll find more similarities than you thought.

Take this short quiz to see where you stand in your relationship with food.

Bonus: Don’t go it alone. Talk about it with a coach or counselor who can help you quiet the noise, and find a genuine peace with yourself, your body and your health (no fad diets or selfies required). Book a free phone consult at a time convenient for you with me at Thrive. I work with girls and women worldwide to be the best version of themselves—body, food, fitness, greater purpose and living out your passion.


Get a taste of what Thrive is all about with the Free 7-Day Thrive in Life Kickstart Guide when you join Thrive’s inner circle.

One thought on “The Body Image Epidemic No One is Talking About

  1. I can really relate to the study you included here. Food grazing is something I know I’ve struggled with, along with thinking that my body is so much bigger than other bodies around me. I think this is a great call to action for all of us to be more real, more honest and more vulnerable with each other. And then, to actually support and accept each other, wherever we are!

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