When sufferers of anorexia move through doorways, they unconsciously turn sideways as if they are much larger.
The startling observation was made in a recent study by researchers at the Utrecht University in Denmark.
While the disturbed perception of body image of anorexics is well documented, researchers were interested to examine how these disturbances might manifest in unconscious body movements.
A groups suffering from anorexia nervosa as well as a healthy participant control group were asked to walk through a door, observed as they rotated their shoulders to squeeze through.
Healthy participants began to turn when the doorway was 25 per cent wider than their shoulders, but anorexic participants did so much earlier on, when the opening was almost 50 per cent wider.
The study’s findings showed that the anorexics’ skewed view of their body size as ‘”fat” was more pervasive than previously thought – affecting both the conscious and unconscious actions of sufferers.
Anouk Keizer, the study’s lead researcher, believes the findings demonstrate that for anorexics, experiencing their body as fat went beyond their thinking and perception and was played out in the way they moved.
Keizer believes the research, published in the journal PLOS One, will influence the way the eating disorder is treated:
“Current therapeutic interventions should not only focus on changing how patients think about their body and how they look at it but also target the body in action,” she said.
“In other words, treatment should aim to improve the experience of body size as a whole,” the researcher argued.
The study was one of the first to link body representation to physical actions when considering eating disorders and could have great implications for how psychologists treat the illness in future.