Recently, I came across a post on Tumblr that I absolutely loved. The post reads –
“PSA on Anorexia Nervosa
No one looks anorexic.
Anorexia is a mental illness that often has biological side effects.
Noticeable thinness neither excludes nor implies the possibility of anorexia.
The extremely emaciated white women pictured in sensationalist magazine articles with nasogastric tubes and failing organs are not representative of the illness and those affected by it as a whole; these images perpetuate the false idea that anorexia is a white woman’s disease, and that all people suffering from anorexia are visibly, deathly ill.
Anorexia affects cisgender women, cisgender men, transgender women, transgender men, agender persons, intersex persons, and otherwise gender non-conforming persons, children, teens, young adults, middle-aged adults, seniors, people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and people of all socioeconomic statuses.
Anorexia affects the sufferer’s body based on that person’s unique individual biology (metabolism, chemistry, preexisting medical conditions, developmental maturity, natural set point, bone density, etc), behaviors, treatment or lack thereof, etc. The effects vary widely and are often not obvious to others, or even necessarily to the sufferer.” – dictionaryghost.tumblr.com
Anorexia is a mental illness that often has biological side effects. This is one of the most important sentences about anorexia I have ever read. There is a widespread misconception that weight is the main factor of anorexia and this misconception is an incredibly dangerous one. Physically, waiting until someone is exceptionally underweight is a serious threat to a person’s health. Media’s depiction leads to many individuals not receiving help until late into their eating disorder when their body has suffered significant health issues. Individuals are ignored until after they are extremely weak, fainting often, and their organs begin to fail, etc. instead of before when their condition is still just as serious. Mentally, research has supported, again and again, that treatment is most effective when someone can begin it as early as possible. The longer the individual is sick, the longer it takes to reframe their thinking because of how intensely ingrained anorexia’s messages have become.
Personally, not “looking anorexic” prevented me from getting the proper help I needed for many years. The nature of an eating disorder is to convince the sufferer that they are not sick. This, coupled with society’s message that I needed to be ___ pounds to be anorexic, lead me to discredit my own feelings. Even at my sickest, I have never looked like the commonly known picture of anorexia but that is still my diagnosis.
I have been fed through a nasogastric tube twice. The second time, I was not underweight at all and I did not visibly seem to have an eating disorder, and I was also the sickest I have been physically. I constantly felt weak and fainted often. My heart rate and blood pressure dropped down to dangerous levels and if I had not been in the hospital than I easily could have experienced cardiac arrest as a result. Beyond the physical symptoms, it is also important to note that having a nasogastric tube had less to do with my weight (both times) and much more to do with my mental state. I was engaging in eating disorder behaviors as a way to cope with extremely painful events in my life. My eating disorder was not triggered by a desire to lose weight, but a desire to survive through severe depression, anxiety, and the aftermath of trauma.
The obsession with anorexia being all about weight terrifies me. Thousands upon thousands of people are constantly invalidated daily as a result. Defining someone’s eating disorder by weight degrades them into an outer shell of a body and ignores the complexities behind their eating disorder. It takes away from what the individual has endured that has led to their disorder as well as who they actually are as a person. We need to see weight loss as a potential symptom of anorexia, not as anorexia itself. The focus needs to be put onto the factors that have led to an individual becoming anorexic, not on their weight or BMI. Whether an eating disorder is anorexia, bulimia, OSFED, Binge Eating Disorder, or something else, it is imperative to look at the entirety of the person regardless of outward appearances.