‘Looks can be deceiving’: People with anorexia don’t always look scrawny or malnourished

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[A]dolescents and young adults with disordered eating habits or outright eating disorders often go unrecognized by both parents and physicians because their appearance defies common beliefs: they don’t look like they have an eating problem.

One such belief is that people with anorexia always look scrawny and malnourished when in fact they may be of normal weight or even overweight, according to recent research at the University of California, San Francisco.

The researchers, led by Dr. Jason M. Nagata, a specialist in adolescent medicine at the university’s Benioff Children’s Hospital, found in a national survey that distorted eating behaviors occur in young people irrespective of their weight, gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. And it’s not just about losing weight.

The survey revealed that among young adults aged 18 to 24, 22 percent of males and 5 percent of females were striving to gain weight or build muscle by relying on eating habits that may appear to be healthy but that the researchers categorized as risky. These practices include overconsuming protein and avoiding fats and carbohydrates.

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The Covid-19 pandemic has likely exacerbated the problem for many teenagers whose daily routines have been disrupted and who now find themselves at home all day with lots of food being hoarded in kitchens and pantries, Dr. Nagata said in an interview. “We’re seeing more patients and referrals for eating disorders and their complications,” he said.

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