The body type that is most associated with anorexia is a stick-thin figure, devoid of any muscle or fat tissue. Many presume that having an eating disorder and being overweight, or even a healthy weight, are mutually exclusive.
The unfortunate assumption that an unhealthy weight is the only viable diagnosis for anorexia is leaving those who do not fit the bill in a lurch and forcing them to suffer through their disorder in silence.
There are many different faces of anorexia that need to be brought to light by a better understanding of the disease, the first of which being: you CAN be overweight and still suffer from anorexia.
Anorexia is a Mental Illness
As a result of its classification as a mental illness, the requirements for diagnosis do not need to be physical, just mental. The key factors that characterize this disease are a restriction of food, an intense fear of weight gain and a distorted body image.
Mental illnesses exist in a person’s mind and rarely are directly exhibited outside of the body. A person who suffers from depression is capable of smiling every now and then. A person with anxiety is sometimes calm. A person with OCD may not care about organization sometimes.
All mental illnesses have different severity levels, as well as different outcomes and impacts. Just because someone doesn’t look like they’re starving themselves or struggles with healthy body image, it does not rule out the possibility of an eating disorder.
Anorexia is Not Always a Visible Disease
Often times, the components of anorexia do lead to extreme weight loss and do cause victims to be considered underweight. What is often overlooked is that, while extreme weight loss is a common result of the disease, the anorexic mentality is able to be present in a person who does not show the symptoms as blatantly in terms of weight.
A person can starve themselves for a week, but gain it all back through a binge episode. A person can go through only brief periods of food restriction, making it more difficult to achieve major weight loss. A person can lose only muscle tissue, making them look the same, but weigh much less.
Anorexia is not ALWAYS easy to see, and it sometimes takes an observation of a person’s eating habits, mentality and relationship with food, to diagnose.
How Can You Be Anorexic and Not Lose Weight?
It isn’t that people who are anorexic and overweight don’t lose weight. It just isn’t as easily seen. A vast majority of people with eating disorders will develop these habits when they are already at a high weight.
When starting at a high weight, even serious weight loss is not as noticeable. A loss of twenty pounds is much more noticible in a 120-pound person, than it is in a 180-pound person.
Let’s say there is a person who weighs 200 pounds, and they starve themselves for two months, resulting in a 40-pound weight drop.
This person will still be weighing 160 pounds, which is still considered a very high weight at most heights. Even though this person is still most likely considered to be overweight, they already caused irreparable damage to their body.
The lost weight would have been mostly muscle mass, not fat. This loss of muscle includes heart tissue, which has the possibility to lead the heart to simply stop beating; one of the most deadly side effects of anorexia.
The person is probably facing malnutrition as a result of nutrition deficiency, and a loss of bone density, leading to osteoporosis. The metabolism will have slowed to a crawl and if they are a female, they most likely have stopped menstruating, making it more difficult and sometimes impossible, to have children in the future.
This person, although not stick thin, would still be facing some of the most dangerous side effects of anorexia and would be in dire need of not only medical attention but also psychiatric aid to recover from the disease.
Those who suffer from anorexia and other eating disorders, but do not find themselves considered “underweight,” are much more at risk of being overlooked in the medical field.
There are many other ways to notice that a person is suffering from an eating disorder. When diagnosing eating disorders, we must start paying more attention to eating habits and mentality, rather than strictly weight. It is rare that someone with an eating disorder will speak up about their struggles.
If you think that a friend or loved one could be suffering from an eating disorder, do not hesitate to confront them and offer them help.