Mental Health Bites

You can ‘look healthy’ while dying from an Eating Disorder

I wish this title was ‘clickbait’ – but it’s not.  You can ‘look healthy’ while dying from an Eating Disorder.  I’ve said it before, a million times, and I will keep saying it; Eating Disorders kill.  Eating Disorders have life threatening consequences whatever the weight of the affected individual.

Since I spend so much of my time working with those affected by Eating Disorders – the predominance of whom ‘look healthy’ – I forget that this myth still prevails.  I say I forget…because, personally, I don’t determine the health, stability, or emotional wellbeing of my clients by a number on a scale… but almost every week a new client tells me they’ve been dismissed, not taken seriously, had medical testing overlooked, and even been ridiculed because they ‘don’t look sick’.

In my last post I talked about the need for Eating Disorder Services to look beyond the physical health of clients, and place more of a focus on their psychological wellbeing.  I don’t know if I worded that post poorly, but one reader suggested that I needed to understand how physically at risk underweight clients with Eating Disorders are….

THIS.  THIS is EXACTLY my point…

I am acutely aware of the physical risk associated with Eating Disorders – but that risk cannot be determined by the client’s weight.  ALL clients with Eating Disorder are at medical risk, not just those that are underweight.

The notion that mortality in Eating Disorders is tied to emaciation is not true.  Despite the common proclamation by media outlets, and even Eating Disorder charities of Anorexia Nervosa presenting the highest risk of these disorders, research has long since proven that clients with EDNOS (who typically ‘look healthy’) are actually more at risk; both physically, and of suicide.  Therefore, the weight of a client is not a firm indication of their risk.

If you want to hear me talk more about this topic you might be interested in reading an article which I wrote entitled ‘Eating Disorders – is inaction tantamount to negligence?’.  My article is the month’s front page piece to the ‘Health care in Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal’ and, because it’s the featured article, anyone can download and read it free.

Got more questions?  A topic you want to hear my opinion on?  Don’t forget to let me know by leaving a comment.

2 thoughts on “You can ‘look healthy’ while dying from an Eating Disorder

  1. Katie

    Yes, this is so important. The two times I was most critically ill and ended up in hospital thanks to my ED I wasn’t particularly underweight, I think one of those I was at the low end of healthy. But I still struggled to access any kind of therapy outside of my K+ being stabilised and being told I should seek counselling and they’d talked to the ED services… that was, two years ago now I think, and I’ve never heard anything else.

    “You look healthy though” is a killer.

    1. Kel Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experience Katie. I’m sorry you had to deal with that. It’s very frustrating as a professional to see fellow professionals not giving people the care they deserve. I hope in time we can improve the awareness that contributes to this.

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