Posted by: Jess Riley | February 4, 2009

Roleplaying Disorders: Anorexia Nervosa

In my experience, not many people really play anorexia or bulimia just for the intrigue in playing it. This, despite the fact that I feel like it could be a very intriguing and interesting character – albeit, in much the same way as I feel that role-playing obsessive-compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder could be interesting. Others may disagree with me.

What I do see a lot of – and not amongst even most role-players, but often enough that I feel it needs addressing – however, is descriptions using something like this as a descriptor:

Slender almost to the point of anorexia…

To this, I only have one reasonable response.

Bad puppy! No!

Alright, perhaps I’m over-reacting a little bit with that response. However, I do think it is worthwhile taking the time to talk about anorexia and bulimia as eating disorders and, hopefully, convince a few people who seem to misuse the terms to change their phraseology.

First of all, I’d like to point out that while the eating disorder anorexia nervosa is commonly referred to as ‘anorexia’, the actual word ‘anorexia’ means ‘lacking an appetite’. If, in fact, these people are trying to say that their characters are thin almost to the point of lacking an appetite, I apologise for misinterpreting the phrase.

I think it’s fair to say, though, that people are usually referring to the eating disorder in this context.

Now, nost people have a pretty general idea of what anorexia nervosa is. It’s characterised by intense fear of gaining weight, undue pre-occupation with weight and size (or denial of their low body weight), and refusal to maintain a normal body weight (usually defined as their body weight being less than 85% of a healthy body weight).

(I would note that this is taken straight from the DSM-IV-TR, and as such, I am far from qualified to question the diagnostic criteria; however, I think when most people discuss the disorder, they think of fasting behaviours specifically, regardless of weight; that is, people consider that someone is just as affected by an eating disorder when they start fasting as when they fall to a certain weight. However, for the purposes of the article, I will refer only to those who are already at a low body weight.)

Consider, also, that refusal to eat at all isn’t a feature of anorexia nervosa. Or, more to the point, it is – but not the only one. Restricting diet to only a few, very limited foods is still indicative of anorexia nervosa, even though many people don’t think of this when they discuss the issue.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to describe a character of mine as being approaching only 85% of a healthy body weight, and I certainly wouldn’t intend this as a compliment, the vast majority of the time. Particularly, I would not want a healthy character’s weight, however low, associated with poor body image, obsession with size, and refusal to maintain a healthy body weight.

Perhaps you would, however, like to role-play a character with an eating disorder – and as noted above, this could potentially be a very interesting way to take a character. However, I implore you to be careful with the way in which you take the character, for it is a delicate subject area and should only be approached with caution and care, not recklessly.

And I don’t care how you mean it, don’t describe a healthy character (or a character who is supposed to look healthy) by making a comparison to anorexia.

The most obvious way to incorporate anorexia nervosa into role-play on World of Warcraft is with regards to foods; make a point of not accepting food when low on health, or only selecting certain foods that you have carefully decided upon beforehand. Cheeses are almost certainly right out, as are breads and probably meats. Something that appears low-calorie might be alright, depending on the character.

Keep in mind that the word ‘anorexia’, as in lacking appetite, is a misnomer when it comes to the eating disorder; people who experience eating disorders are not, as a rule, lacking appetite. More likely, they are both hungry the vast majority of the time, and pre-occupied with food – in terms of what they cannot have, in terms of calorie content, among other things.

Possibly the most important thing to keep in mind, if you were thinking about playing a character like this, is that people who suffer from eating disorders do not generally want other people to know about it. They make excuses for not eating, make an effort to hide their weight, and so on. Do not advertise that your character is not eating, or have your character remark, in general company, upon these things – while some might, this is usually a behaviour associated with crash-dieters and others who do not fit the diagnosis for an eating disorder.

And in case I wasn’t clear enough before, don’t use anorexia as a descriptor for the low weight of an otherwise healthy character, and don’t glorify the eating disorder; it is a serious topic, and should be treated as such.


  1. Exactly.

    And those who play characters who are seven feet tall and a hundred pounds, read a freaking BMI chart! Or use this handy-dandy WoW races height and weight chart.

  2. I have two issues with people who play characters seven feet tall and a hundred pounds; one, the fact that it’s totally implausible, and two, I wouldn’t have the faintest idea by looking at them how much they weigh! How about words, describing how they look? (Without comparing them to anorexia, please.)

  3. Yeah, I wish some RP addons would ask for “build” and not “weight”.

    My personal favorites are the petite-yet-curvy warriors. What?

  4. Using anorexia as a descriptor to normal range weight is like stating a sexual preference for being raped (which, yes, I have actually hear ICly and then had the player confirm it ooc). It’s offensive, it’s a misnomer, and just impossible.

    • Thats absolutely terrible.
      Anorexia is a MENTAL disorder,NOT a body type.
      I’ve been hospitalized during both normal BMIs and underweight BMIs.
      Have struggled with an ED majority of my life and it is extremely hurtful and triggering to see others invalidating those who struggle so horrifically with restriction and anorexia symptoms even though they are still normal bmi category.
      Some might have underlying health issues that prevent them from losing weight even while obsessively excersizing and restricting calories.
      Lots of people starve themselves for years and usually yo-yo up and down 15-20 pounds.
      Most lose menstrual cycles(or have irregular cycles) EVEN WHILE IN A NORMAL BMI CATEGORY.
      People can DIE from anorexia and STILL be a “normal” weight.
      Also,you can lose hair, become heavily anemic, faint and have tons of stomach problems(the stomach shrinks drastically from food restriction) and have sone many other problems while being considered a “normal bmi”.
      Doctors now days diagnose anorexia more for it’s symptoms than it’s weight.
      You don’t go up to a person and put a body type to those with depression or schizophrenia(ect). They come in all shapes and sizes.
      Same goes for eating disorders.
      Yes it’s typical to compare skeletal figures to eating disorders but that isn’t the same case for everyone. There are lots of people that are not underweight but are still at risk of a lot of health problems and not to mention the emotional and mental anguish that comes with it.

  5. Having seen far too many “Oh poor me!” victim RPs, I tend to shun them in my own characters and flee from those who play those roles.

    However, I grant you that the situation in Azeroth is such that a lot of people probably are victims in one way or another. Perhaps along with the poor self image etc., an Azerothan suffering from Anorexia Nervosa could be said to be trying to control some aspect of her life in a world that mostly seems completely out of her control.

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