Erasing Societal Stereotypes: Here are 9 Truths about Weight and Eating Disorders

Recently, the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED) released a list of nine truths about weight and eating disorders to generate increased awareness among people of all body sizes. The AED wrote that “despite the stereotype of patients being extremely underweight, eating disorders can occur at any weight.”

This list serves as a companion piece to the previously published “Nine Truths about Eating Disorders,” and aims to “eradicate the stereotypes and educate both medical professionals and the public about these deadly disorders.”

The nine truths are as follows:

  1. Weight is influenced by multiple factors – these include biological, behavioral, social, and economic factors.
  2. Weight and health share a complex relationship that is different for every individual. Moreover, body mass index (BMI) is an imprecise and indirect measure of fat and is not an accurate measure of one’s health.
  3. Weight is both sensitive and personal and is determined and experienced uniquely for each individual. When appropriate, weight should be approached thoughtfully and respectfully. At the same time, weight remains a highly politicized issue with social and economic links that intersect with social inequalities.
  4. Weight bias and discrimination are prevalent and have a profoundly negative impact on health, social relationships, education, employment, and income. Weight bias stands as one facet of the cultural appearance ideals that emphasizes thinness and are implicated in the development and maintenance of eating disorders.
  5. All people, regardless of their weight, deserve equal treatment — in both health care and society.
  6. Eating disorders are defined by one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and obesity is NOT an eating disorder.
  7. Accurate judgments about a person’s thoughts, personality, or behaviors cannot be made based on their weight and appearance and eating disorders cannot be diagnosed based on a person’s weight or appearance.
  8. Dietary restrictions can augment the risk for developing an eating disorder and can be detrimental for many individuals across the weight spectrum.
  9. Having a positive body image, regardless of weight, protects against disordered eating and other mental health issues, and is associated with improved health outcomes.

“Weight stigma is pervasive, pernicious, and cuts to the core of our mission by both increasing the risk of eating disorders and making sustained recovery so much more difficult,” said Dr. Bryn Austin, President of the Academy for Eating Disorders in a press release.

“The more a person takes the ubiquitous demeaning and dismissive messages in media and in society about fat bodies to heart, the likelier they are to develop an eating disorder and the more they will struggle with recovery, regardless of how much that person weighs. In addition, frank discrimination in healthcare against people living in larger bodies takes a direct and sometimes devastating toll on health and well-being regardless of whether or not a person believes the stigmatizing messages.”

With the release of this list, Dr. Austin and AED hope “to offer our fellow health professionals — whether pediatricians or geriatricians, social workers or cardiologists – new insights on these topics, new ways of understanding patients’ and families’ experiences and, hopefully, more compassion to the care they provide.”