Fatorexia: Overweight People Who Deny They Are Fat

By Mike Howard

fatorexiaThe dangers of a distorted self-perception of being fat (as in anorexia) are clear, present and well-documented.

But, what about a distorted perception of being thin? Or at least “not fat”?

British author Sara Bird examines this phenomenon in her book Fatorexia: What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?”

Bird herself was shocked to discover that she was overweight. At 5’10” and 238lbs, this may be hard for many to believe, but Bird says this of her epiphany;

When I looked in the mirror, I saw a confident thin person, when in fact I was obese.

How She Deceived Herself

Bird had developed what article author Suzanne Leigh described as a “magician’s menu of optical illusions”, which included:

  • Wearing generously cut clothing with elastic waistbands
  • Looking at hand mirrors to check her appearance, rather than full-length ones.
  • Favoring ornate jewellery and fabrics to draw the eye away from the expanded flesh beneath.
  • Using talc to avoid chafing, rather than stepping on the scales for a reality check.

More Common Than Once Thought

Since the release of her book, Bird has been flooded with emails of people who shared her disillusionment. Says one of her readers

I’ve said for ages that I suffer from the opposite of anorexia. My friends are sizes 10 to 14, I’m a 20. But, when I’m with them, I think that I’m the same size as they are, until I see photos of us together. Then I have an almighty shock to see that I’m huge compared to them.

Science seems to back up Sara Birds’ thesis. A study in the British Medical Journal found that one-quarter of obese or overweight adults did not view themselves as fat.

Another study showed that 70% of obese people just saw themselves as overweight.

Experts say our self-delusions about weight appear to be fed by the apparel industry with its prevalence of “vanity sizing” – cutting clothing to appear more flattering and skewing sizes.

Bird has since dropped 20lbs through minor lifestyle changes, and advises a similar approach to fellow “fatorexics”.

Fatorexia: big problem, minor problem, or no problem?

In my estimation, “fatorexia” is a legitimate concern for many individuals. Although I don’t necessarily think that really obese individuals see themselves as thin per se, I do believe there is a significant amount of people who are in denial about their weight being problematic.

I don’t think we’ll see funding, support groups, or treatment centers for “fatorexia”, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to say it is a form of body dysmorphia.

What do you think? Is “fatorexia” a real problem, or just some pop-psychology buzzword with little significance?

Source: SFgate


  1. JD Bennett

    I live a strangely similar life. But different. I am a 51 year old man who weighs 285lbs the problem is that until i was 25 or so i weighed very little and was actually too thin. when i am asleep and dreaming i see the small man i was. when i do unconscious acts i do them as if i was thin. this causes me to loose my breath when i overexert myself. and sometimes hurt myself before i realize my limits and have to stop.

  2. John Smoot, Sr?

    Obesity is dangerous! Why are we attempting to glorify “fat”!? It is a health hazard! Fat is beautiful! No it is not!

  3. Zoey

    I have a friend in California who I made a dress for last spring. She gave me her measurements in November of last year, and I’d just seen her the summer prior, so I had a decent approximation of what size she was. She was considerably bigger than me in the summer, but she was still at what I would have considered a healthy weight. When I met up with her in the spring, however, I was shocked to find that she had gained a ton of weight! And didn’t tell me! Her dress still fit, thank god, but it was definitely tighter than it should have been. We were with our other friend at the time and although that friend was also pretty large, she was not at all as big as the Californian friend. Yet California still insisted that she was “not quite thin, not quite fat” when we went shopping together! I am absolutely in favour of body positivity, but I think being delusional about your own size accomplishes nothing. If you can realize you are overweight, you can still celebrate yourself and be proud of who you are, but you should be mindful all the same.

  4. Vero

    I am overweight. It is a fact; I know cause others tell me I am (98kilos).But when I see myself in the mirror I think I look good. So I wonder, is it just that I have a good self esteem? But then I look at myself in videos and I see that I am an overweight person wearing good-fitting clothes. Anyways, I play basketball twice a week, eat good food and see myself as normal in the mirror. So, this is so confusing!! Am I ok or not? Cause I feel fine.

  5. Richie

    I’ve always said I have this, I look in the mirror and see a good looking guy looking back at me, but when I see photo’s of myself I want to run and hide. I’ve worked with people with anorexia and know that’s exactly how they feel, and now I’m ashamed to have even been near them, as this must f*#k up their perceptions! I’m a 37 year old 21 stone man. I’ve accepted, many times, that I’m overweight (morbidly obese) or worse, and have even requested bariatric surgery from my GP (I now know that I’m disgustingly fat, although I still think I look good in the mirror #ComplexIssues), but I’m apparently not quite fat enough!
    What scares me is that when I loose a little bit of weight, I feel as though I look even better and the psychology of that (there are head dynamics that wouldn’t make sense to many people) makes me think that I can ingest more than I should – and therefore put on more weight than I’ve lost.
    Obviously I know I’m nuts, and don’t want to continue this, but it IS harder than just going on a diet! Jeez I’d have to be on very strict diet to lose half of what I want to: could you do that?

    • Richie

      very strict diet for a number of years, is what I meant to put

  6. Sarah

    I think obesity is one of two sides of the same eating disorders coin. We, the obese, use food for all the similar types of issues as do anorexics. I too am guilty of denial of how big I have become. The only difference is that in our culture thinness is hailed as desirable and fatness isn’t. But the truth is, when taken too far, health problems begin to surface for both of the disorders. How many times have we heard comments like just stop eating / just eat for EACH of these groups of people. For BOTH of them, it’s just not that easy. Once you’ve used food or lack of it to manage your life…it can then turn around and take your life. And yes, BOTH can be in denial.