Well Being

Anorexics Try To Squeeze Through Doors

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Anorexics Try To Squeeze Through Doors alice larger jpgThis study reminded me of that awful, fat-shaming, playground taunt ‘fatty, fatty// two by four// can’t fit through the kitchen door’ only it’s more heartbreaking.

Anorexia Nervosa, as a disorder, alters the sufferer’s perception of their body. That is well known, but how do people with anorexia and their warped perception of their size relate spatially to the physical world?

A group of researchers lead by Anouk Keizer at Utrecht University in the Netherlands conducted an experiment to attempt understanding how anorexic patients perceive their physical relation to the world. The study, titled Too Fat to Fit through the Door: First Evidence for Disturbed Body-Scale Action in Anorexia Nervosa during Locomotion, found that the anorexic’s body dysmorphic turmoil translates into physical action.

Here is the abstract to the study:

To date, research on the disturbed experience of body size in Anorexia Nervosa (AN) mainly focused on the conscious perceptual level (i.e. body image). Here we investigated whether these disturbances extend to body schema: an unconscious, action-related representation of the body. AN patients (n = 19) and healthy controls (HC; n = 20) were compared on body-scaled action. Participants walked through door-like openings varying in width while performing a diversion task. AN patients and HC differed in the largest opening width for which they started rotating their shoulders to fit through. AN patients started rotating for openings 40% wider than their own shoulders, while HC started rotating for apertures only 25% wider than their shoulders. The results imply abnormalities in AN even at the level of the unconscious, action oriented body schema. Body representation disturbances in AN are thus more pervasive than previously assumed: They do not only affect (conscious) cognition and perception, but (unconscious) actions as well.


Basically, the researchers asked 39 subjects, 19 diagnosed with anorexia and 20 without, to go through doorways of various widths and studied their unconscious movements. When the subjects without eating disorders were asked to pass through doorways that were 25% wider than their shoulders, they would rotate their shoulders as if they had to squish through a tight space, but the anorexic subjects would do that squeezed shoulder rotation when asked to pass through doorways 40% wider than their shoulders.

The researchers concluded that people with anorexia’s perceptions of their size affect their unconscious actions and not just their conscious decisions. Those with anorexia do not just think they are larger than they are, they’ve internalized their perceived size and move about the world as though they’re too large to accomodate.

Story via Cosmopolitan via The Atlantic// Image via Shutterstock