Hidden in Plain Sight: How People With Eating Disorders at Higher Weights go Undiagnosed and Untreated

There is a large population of people who suffer from undiagnosed, and therefore untreated, eating disorders. Many people are shocked to discover this and have a hard time believing that they were not able to identify the symptoms of an eating disorder; after all, they are obvious, right? What do you think of when you imagine a person who is suffering from an eating disorder? If you are like most people, you may have an image in your head of a frail young woman who is clearly underweight and malnourished. While this image is not incorrect, it only represents a small portion of those who suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are crafty villains who prey on victims of all shapes and sizes, taking on different forms.

Invisible With a High BMI

Normalized “Dieting”

There are several reasons why persons of higher weight may go undiagnosed with an eating disorder. First, being overweight or obese is considered as being sub-par by societal standards. “Fat” is seen as failing as a person, and those who are overweight are encouraged to lose weight to fit society’s standard of normal or beautiful. So, when people of higher weights (and even higher end of normal, healthy weights) restrict their diet, it may go unnoticed or passed off as dieting. It is often assumed that restrictive public eating is countered with gorging behind closed doors. And, while binge eating is a common eating disorder, restrictive eating disorders are just as debilitating in people of higher weights as they are for people who are underweight.

Encouraged Unhealthy Restrictions

On top of going unnoticed, the higher a person’s BMI, the more unhealthy intake restrictions are encouraged. Not only by society as a whole, but by close friends, family, and even medical professionals. First suggestions for weight loss are to dramatically cut calories and restrict intake. Fad diets that limit intake to a handful of specific foods only seem to perpetuate unhealthy encouragements. This is not to say that all limitations or suggestions encourage eating disorders, as some limitations are necessary to attain a healthy BMI for those in the obese category. However, society’s opinion is that bigger people should essentially just starve until an acceptable weight is attained, and this is simply unhealthy and untrue.

Fat Shaming

When someone of a higher weight indulges in a treat, it does not typically go unnoticed and unjudged. Many are quick to pass judgment and mutter things like “you shouldn’t be eating that” or “are you sure you want some?” as if the only acceptable food for someone of a higher BMI to consume is kale and celery. Additionally, larger people are met with more ridicule when attempting to be active than their more healthy appearing counterparts, even though weight and fitness are not necessarily synonymous. Instead of recognizing signs of an unhealthy eating disorder, obese people are often congratulated on their weight loss.

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is the most common eating disorder and more people suffer from it than anorexia and bulimia combined. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of those who suffer from BED are males, which “violates” every preconceived notion that society has of eating disorders. BED causes the sufferer to feel powerless over their ability to control their eating and causes them to eat until they are uncomfortably full, even when not hungry. This is often done rapidly, and often hidden as a secret. This secrecy often contributes to a lack of diagnosis.

Normalized at an “Ideal” Weight

Those people who fall in the “healthy” BMI range of 18 and 25 and display symptoms of an eating disorder are often dismissed or even praised as a normal dedication to weight maintenance. People are quick to acknowledge the hard work it takes to reach an ideal weight and many unhealthy restrictive eating disorder symptoms are praised as motivation and dedication. No one bats an eye when an average sized woman refuses to partake in appetizers at dinner when she says “oh, no thank you, I am trying to fit into (insert event ensemble here)” or when a chiseled beefcake refuses to eat anything but chicken breasts and broccoli. However, it is these comments and beliefs that easily lead to incredibly unhealthy practices that are common in eating disorders, but are socially acceptable and passed off as normal to obtain or maintain an ideal weight.

Eating disorders are vicious beasts who rob the lives of their powerless victims. Victims come in all shapes, sizes, colors, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Simply put, there is no face of what a typical eating disorder patient is. If you or someone you love suffers from symptoms of an eating disorder, honestly confront it and seek help. The sooner you begin recovery for your eating disorder, the better your outcome will be. Contact us at Canopy Cove for more information about eating disorders or to enroll in one of our eating disorder and recovery treatment programs.