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Why You Shouldn't Say I Don't Look Like I Have an Eating Disorder

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

When someone mentions an eating disorder, you might imagine someone frail, bones protruding, too weak to walk, attached to an IV drip. Or at the very least, someone who looks like they haven’t eaten in weeks.

That isn’t true. Just like any illness, eating disorders manifest in many different ways and fall on a spectrum in terms of severity. Just because we don’t “look” like we have an eating disorder doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with food — and more than that, we may struggle with the way we view it and how we think about ourselves in association with eating.

Sure, I may have an “average” body type with a regular BMI, regular weight for my regular height, and everything seems pretty regular about me. Looking at me, you might not think I battle my eating disorder every day.

Under the dark baggy clothes, you don’t see I’ve been starving myself for days, that I look forward to seeing my ribs poke out, that I like the feeling of my empty stomach, to match the emptiness that is inside of me.

You don’t see that for over two years, I didn’t touch the color green. I don’t know why. I just woke up one day and had an un-triggered anxiety attack and the decision to stop eating the color green was the only thing that could help me slow my breaths and heart rate. And I don’t mean I didn’t eat vegetables; I meant anything green, from Smarties to gummy worms to frosting to blueberries (they’re green on the inside) to refusing to drink out of green cups because I didn’t want green to touch my lips. I don’t know why. All I knew was I didn’t want it and it wasn’t some elaborate joke, nor was it for attention.

You don’t see that I can’t eat my food when certain colors or textures touch other things. You don’t see the hours I spend, staring at my body in the mirror, grabbing at it in disgust. You don’t see the frustrations as I look down and see my belly. You don’t see the stomach pains from fasting for so long. You don’t see me dizzy and almost fainting because I haven’t eaten all day but tried to exercise.

Eating disorders come in many different forms, and they look different from person to person. Invalidating someone’s illness is unacceptable and must not continue. It’s stereotyping and increases stigma, making it much harder to reach out for help. There are a lot of disorders you don’t see. While the pain, anxiety and frustration may be invisible, the hurt, pain and emotion turmoil certainly are real. It’s a daily struggle. Please don’t make my daily battles harder than they already are, simply because it doesn’t “look” like it’s that bad.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via BrandonToomey.

Originally published: April 6, 2017
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