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  • Mandy Hendrickson B.A.

Weight Stigma & its Impact on Medical Diagnosis of Eating Disorders

Author: Mandy Hendrickson B.A.


Four women standing together

The negative attitudes, internalized beliefs and behaviours toward people perceived as having a higher BMI (body mass index) is a societally accepted. The stigma associated with those living in larger bodies is similar to the stigma experienced by people with disordered eating behaviours.


Counter to popular belief about eating disorders, studies show that people of higher body-weight are in fact more susceptible to the development of eating disorders when compared to other weight groups.


Despite knowing this, weight bias remains alive and well in the treatment of EDs. A common notion is that the healthcare system tends to misdiagnose and even facilitate disordered eating habits for clients that live in larger bodies. In part, this is most likely due to the DSM-5 diagnostic requirement of significantly low body weight, in the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa. Individuals that do not meet certain criteria tend to be diagnosed within another ED category, inaccurately due to the inherent bias of the medical field.


Some health care professionals strongly suggest the avoidance of the BMI, especially as a marker or indicator of eating disorder diagnosis, or recovery measure. Rather, they place focus on the physical health outcomes and psychological improvements seen throughout recovery. In doing so, we may see reductions in weight bias, and increased early recognition of eating disorders. Early recognition of eating disorders reduces and may prevent severe medical health challenges for individuals!


Reminder: the BMI was initially used to categorize people, only white European men, and look at their distribution in the population, by Lambert Quetelet who was a mathematician, astrologer, and statistician, not a medical professional.


In essence, eating disorders are mutli-faceted, and in various ways connected to weight stigma, which are deeply rooted in our cultural norms. Undoubtably, it’s important for us as a community to stand against weight stigma, and understand the complexities that create weight stigma.


Weight stigma continues to promote the notion that the body is the enemy, when in fact the beauties held within our bodies are indeed what we should utilize to fight the oppressions created by weight stigma. We aim to fight, and create awareness of the destruction weight stigma creates.


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