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Anorexia Nervosa

What Is An Appropriate Body Weight?

Friday, March 16, 2012 - 14:57

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

There is no agreed-upon simple answer to this question. There are a number of "standards" used, such as weight charts that provide an "expected weight" depending on height, age, and gender. However, these are of limited value because they do not take into account the large differences between people in terms of genetic and related factors that determine where body weight settles comfortably.

Weight, just like most other physical features, varies naturally among people. You can make small changes in your body weight, but when pushed too far, the body tries to make biological adjustments to get back to its more natural weight.

  • People with anorexia nervosa usually weigh less than 85% of their body's normal weight.
  • In anorexia nervosa, regaining weight should be slow but steady. Most experts recommend a rate of weight gain between two to four pounds a week on average.
  • The goal should be a weight that is above the weight where normal menstruation occurs. This is almost always above 90% of average weight as reported on weight charts (taking age and height into consideration).
  • However, rather than establishing an exact weight expectation, it is preferable to try to normalize eating and let weight settle at its natural level.

What Is "Normal" Eating?

"Normal" eating for an adolescent or young adult woman is around 2000 calories a day spread over three meals and snacks. During recovery from anorexia nervosa, many more calories may need to be consumed in order to get back to a normal weight. The number of calories varies depending on the person's weight, metabolism, current eating patterns, and tolerance for change.

The amount eaten should be enough to ultimately reduce hunger. Increasing the amount eaten causes an increase in metabolic rate, so more calories are required just to maintain a stable weight.

Another aspect of normalizing eating involves learning to feel more relaxed eating a wide range of foods. Weekly and even daily meal planning should gradually but explicitly incorporate foods previously avoided. Normalizing eating also involves spacing meals properly throughout the day.

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