Being overweight doesn’t mean you don’t have an eating disorder


When a larger person declares they are going to lose weight, no one ever asks any questions. People congratulate them and encourage them on the path to shedding pounds. Many have likely been pushing them to “get fit” for years.

We should always celebrate getting healthy, but that isn’t what is going on here. The focus is entirely on the body. No one worries about the method.

For 12-year-old Alysse Dalessandro, the method was Weight Watchers – and it worked. She began shedding the pounds and no one questioned her.

Alysse Delassandro
Source: ReadytoStare

“I was starving myself to do it,” says the now-adult plus-size fashion blogger. Instead of driving her to live healthier, the program taught her restrictive eating habits that would develop into a binge eating disorder that would go undiagnosed for 16 years.

The lack of diagnosis wasn’t from lack of trying on her part. However, when Dalessandro would seek help or raise concerns about her disorder, she was left with more questions than support.

“No one understood of believed me,” says Dalessandro, who is currently in treatment. “I thought that an eating disorder would only show in your physical appearance by being very thin. I feel that belief is very common because of how the media wants us to look at fat bodies.”

Dalessandro isn’t wrong. There is a widespread belief that eating disorders are most characterized by thin bodies or some form of “ideal” body shape. The media has undeniably contributed to this misunderstanding by repeatedly portraying eating disorders as a “thin, young, white girl problem.”

“The truth is that most marginalized bodies, with the exception of cisgender women, are thought not to be affected by eating disorders,” Melissa A. Fabello, a body acceptance activist and scholar, recently explained to The Lily. “The dirty little secret is that eating disorders affect people of all ages, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, socioeconomic statuses and body weights and shapes.”

Overweight individuals are particularly negatively impacted by this narrative. Even when they are living with a severe eating disorder, weight loss tends to be congratulated. This, in turn, imbues guilt into the very act of eating.

Plus-size model Natalie Hage remembers this phenomenon affecting her from as early as 9-years-old. She started dieting, not realizing this was really the first presentation of binge eating disorder. In her teens, she says, “I realized that I was doing it as a means to punish myself.”

Natalie Hage
Source: Instagram

Of course, her dieting was rewarded and celebrated. She began hiding food in her room and lying about it to hide the shame she felt from eating.

“The hardest part about recovery for me has been unlearning the shame and guilt when it comes to food,” Hage says.

The impact of the misconception that only thin people get eating disorders is three-fold: it creates an environment which encourages overweight people to adapt behavior likely to trigger eating disorders, it prevents these people from recognizing their eating disorder until later ages than most, and it keeps them from receiving treatment from doctors who don’t recognize eating disorders in overweight individuals.

To undo this, expert Kelsey Johnston says we will have to completely unlearn our assumptions about what eating disorders look like and represent. They are not “diets gone wrong” or “simply about vanity,” she explains. They are serious mental illnesses that are almost entirely unrelated to body shape or size.

Johnston, an outreach and education coordinator at the National Eating Disorder Information Center (NEDIC), believes the first step is representing eating disorders in a more diverse way, representing the people across all genders, races, ages, and body sizes who live with these disorders.

Delassandro hopes by telling her story, she has done just that.

“I think there’s a lot of stigma around eating disorders, so people really don’t share their experience that often,” Dalessandro says. “I hope that stories like this will help to open the minds and hearts of those who don’t see fat people with eating disorders as valid. We exist. Let’s dismantle fat stigma.”

If you or someone you love are living with an eating disorder, give Brookhaven a call at (888) 298-4673. We can answer any questions you have and help find the best treatment plan for you.

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