When you picture someone struggling with an eating disorder you probably imagine a young, extremely thin white female. Yet the truth is that eating disorders don’t discriminate. I recently read an article by Carly Dyer (https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/yes-overweight-anorexia-nervosa-143536776.html in which she discussed her struggles with anorexia and being overweight. Carly shared that because she was overweight, she didn’t see herself as anorexic. She also shared that her weight kept her from telling family members that she was struggling with an eating disorder for fear of being shamed and that her doctor praised her for losing weight even while she was struggling with anorexia. The truth is that eating disorders don’t discriminate. Eating disorders impact people of all ages, genders and weights.
If you’re struggling with your relationship with food, you might think that if you are a normal weight or overweight you can’t have an eating disorder. Often when struggling with an eating disorder we minimize our behaviors. We say things to ourselves like “I’m not as thin as her” or “men don’t have eating disorders”. Or you might feel undeserving of treatment or too ashamed to ask for help if you have an average or large body. You may feel worried that people won’t believe you’re struggling with an eating disorder or shame you for having an average or large body. Medical professional such as doctors can further complicate the issue by telling people who are overweight but struggling with an eating disorder to lose weight or praising people for losing weight, no matter how they lose the weight.
If you have a challenging relationship with food and think you might have an eating disorder, there are 2 important things to remember. The first is that eating disorders impact people of all sizes. Eating disorders are about your relationship with food; if you’re not eating, eating too much or purging (making yourself throw up after you eat) you might have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are also about how you feel about your body. Being anxious about your weight, not liking the way you look or trying to lose weight no matter the cost are also red flags you might have an eating disorder.
The second important thing to know is that everyone’s body is different, and you can have an average or large body and still have an eating disorder. There are two reasons for this. The first is that we all have a natural set-point for our weight. This means that your body naturally wants to be at a certain weight. For example, if your set point is 170 lbs. your body is going to work hard to stay at that set point. You can starve yourself and over exercise, but your body may still linger around that set point. The second reason is that if you have a large body you may engage in eating disorder behaviors such as starving yourself and experience the side-effects of an eating disorder (drastic weight loss, hair loss, fatigue, malnourishment) but because your body was larger you may now be at an “average” weight. For example, let’s say your weight was 200 pounds. You lose 20 pounds very quickly due to not eating and start to experience symptoms of being malnourished. If your doctor, friends and co-workers praise you for losing weight you may start to think, “this is a good thing. I’m healthy. I don’t have an eating disorder.”
Unfortunately, these stereotypes about eating disorders are alive and well and often well-intentioned professionals such as doctors feed into these stereotypes. If you are struggling with your body image or relationship with food, it’s important to know that your weight has nothing to do with whether you have an eating disorder. These stereotypes may have caused you to feel ashamed or minimize your eating disorder. Please know that an eating disorder is a medical condition and even if you are not underweight, your eating patterns can still severely impact your body. Regardless of your size your body deserves respect and you deserve to get the help you need.