Do You Have To Be Underweight To Have An Eating Disorder?

All of us can relate to having some insecurities about our bodies, which is quite normal. A problem arises when our insecurities become so loud that they affect our thoughts and actions in an unhealthy way. For example, eating disorders have become more common in recent years. A 2019 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition noted a significant increase in eating disorder prevalence from 2000 to 2018. 

It's equally concerning that disordered mindsets about eating appear to be influencing young children. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 42% of girls in first to third grade express wanting to be thinner and 81% of 10-year-old children have fears about being overweight. Eating disorders don't discriminate and can affect anyone, including men as well as individuals in the LGBTQ+ community.

Coming to a greater understanding of what contributes to the development of eating disorders is imperative, as eating disorders are the second most deadly mental illness after opioid overdoses. As explained by the Eating Recovery Center, there are many contributing factors to eating disorders, including genetic, environmental, psychological, and sociocultural aspects. They could appear in multiple generations of a family line, or be exacerbated by societal pressures and social media. 

A common public perception is that having an eating disorder must mean that a person is extremely thin. However, are there any real truths to this mindset or is it a harmful myth that we should put an end to?

People can have an eating disorder at any weight

The truth is that you can't tell if someone has an eating disorder based on their weight. As shared by the National Eating Disorders Association, the myth that only thinner people can have an eating disorder is not only untrue, but is harmful and invalidates the seriousness of eating disorders. Importantly, the association explains how the misconception can even intensify a person's disorder, contributing to them feeling not "sick enough" to reach out for eating disorder treatment. 

It might even surprise you that out of everyone with eating disorders, less than 6% are medically diagnosed as underweight, per the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. Additionally, a study published by Stanford University School of Medicine proposed that individuals at a normal body weight can be just as sick as patients who are underweight.

Those with larger bodies are half as likely to be diagnosed with eating disorders as those who are underweight, even though having a larger body size can be a risk factor. According to McCallum Place Eating Disorder Centers, teenagers who were overweight in childhood can be at a greater risk for bulimia as well as binge eating disorder

If you are struggling with an eating disorder, or know someone who is, help is available. Visit the National Eating Disorders Association website or contact NEDA's Live Helpline at 1-800-931-2237. You can also receive 24/7 Crisis Support via text (send NEDA to 741-741).