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Friday 6 January 2012

Anxiously fat?

My wonderful friend, Carrie Arnold, posted this blog.  I am posting a link to it because she talks about me - so flattering.

Extralongtail has also explored this theme here.

I notice that many non-eating disordered people say "I'm fat" when anxious.  What "I'm fat" seems to mean is "I'm stressed, sad, angry, confused and have no confidence today.  I need to express my frustration in a language that people understand, without having to explain why I am stressed, sad, narky, lacking in confidence and generally having the worst hair day ever."  Simple.  Two words that the majority of people understand and empathise with. We have all felt like that.

For an eating disorder sufferer, expressing this anxiety has meant that a symptom of their illness (extreme anxiety expressed as "feeling fat") has been mistranslated and interpreted by clinicians as the actual illness itself.  I believe this is particularly unhelpful and, quite frankly, wrong.

It is not that an ed patient won't eat.  They can't eat.  They are too stressed, anxious, narky and sad to eat.  This is not the brain disorder itself.  It is a symptom of it.  To the patient, it is a real emotion.  They are unable to interpret "feeling fat" as anything other than literally feeling fat and subsequently setting about trying to do something about it - restricting, purging, exercising.  Seeing a problem and trying to fix it is part of the profile - perfectionist, difficulty with set shifting, extreme diligence. Ultimately destructive but weirdly logical, none the less.

I am hoping that therapists and other clinicians will stop misinterpreting what ed patients are trying to say, even if the patients are convinced that they are feeling fat.  I hope that we will stop misinterpreting eating disorders as ALL about body image and begin to understand that they are maybe neurodevelopmental disorders, extreme anxiety disorders, OCD spectrum disorders.  In other words, a brain disorder, not an emotional response to society's obsession with size.


  1. Oh sweetpea - after years of denial and tacitly agreeing to absolutely not discussing it ever again with my ma, I'm cutting and pasting this blog for her with a 'here's the best explanation ever' message on it. Thank you for being so concise, astute,aware and you, Sx

  2. Um, Um... Am I not your wonderful friend too, Charlotte? (*Sniffle*).

    By the way, I tend not to mention other people on my blog because they may not want to be mentioned.


  3. Extralongtail

    Of course you are a wonderful friend. One of the best.

    I love your blog. It is so much more rational and informative than mine!

    To Anonymous

    Thank you. I am deeply, deeply touched.