Question: That person doesn’t LOOK like he (or she) has an eating disorder.
How could they have one if their weight is normal?
I receive this question all the time from parents and loved ones of people with eating disorders. Please know that it is a DEADLY MYTH that someone can’t have an eating disorder if they seem to be of normal weight. Remember, eating disorders are complicated illnesses, and present themselves differently depending on the person.
Did you know that studies show most people with bulimia nervosa are of NORMAL weight?
Did you also know that you can have symptoms of different types of eating disorders all at the same time?
- a person can be anorexic and also make themselves throw up, or
- a person can be bulimic and also restrict their food intake, or
- a person can be a compulsive overeater and also use laxatives or compulsive exercise to purge.
Eating Disorders are Not So Straightforward
In my twenty years of experience counseling people with eating disorders, it is very rare that I see a person who is purely anorexic, bulimic or a compulsive overeater. It is far more common for people to have symptoms from more than one diagnosis OR, to have switched off and on between diagnoses during their lifetime.
For example, Gina (I have changed client names to protect confidentiality) was anorexic as a teenager, but became bulimic and a substance abuser as a young adult, but got back to a “normal” weight during these years. Jimmy was a compulsive overeater as a child, but because he was bullied relentlessly about his weight, he started exercise purging and became anorexic as a young adult.
Learning to Recognize the Signs
What does this mean if you think someone you love has an eating disorder? Remember that the eating disorder is like a chameleon; it can change its appearance and symptoms, but the underlying causes and danger is THE SAME. Just because someone seems to be normal weight doesn’t mean that they are not compulsively exercising, purging or using laxatives on a regular basis. It’s important to know the many symptoms and signs of eating disorders, which include changes in personality, secrecy, calluses on the hands from purging, and hair loss, just to name a few.
If you’re worried someone you love has an eating disorder, you can learn to recognize the chameleon-like symptoms and also learn exactly what to do in my Parent Quick Start Recovery Guide, available here.
And please know that I offer emergency parent coaching within 24-hours, even on the weekends, if you need professional help and guidance on how to help your loved one get better.