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Physical Appearance Has Nothing to Do With How 'Valid' Your Eating Disorder Is

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About a month ago, I started a new job as a front desk agent at a new boutique hotel. I studied hospitality in college, so I was super excited about this opportunity. I had spent the past 18 months in treatment for my eating disorder, and this was the first real step toward a sense of independence and “adulthood.”

During the interview process, I didn’t mention the eating disorder. When conducting the interview, my (now) supervisor asked about the gap in my employment history on my resume. I simply explained I was dealing with a medical issue, but that I am healthy now and that it wouldn’t affect my ability to perform in this role.

That was it. He did not ask any further questions. This was a completely different reaction than what I had gotten from another interviewer just weeks before. The man asked me, “So, how did you get an eating disorder?” I so badly wanted to respond by saying, “Someone coughed on me on the train and I just caught it.” You cannot make this stuff up.

After about a month into the job, I decided to tell a co-worker. His response was, “Well, you certainly don’t look like you have an eating disorder! You look fit and healthy!” Ugh. To anyone reading this who has heard this and is in recovery, I rolled my eyes too.

Because I am at a “healthy weight,” I obviously must not be anorexic.

Immediately I felt the need to defend myself. My automatic response was, “Oh, well I didn’t always look like this! I’ve gain X pounds in the past year. Trust me, I used to look much different.”

I believe that the number one misconception about eating disorders is that you must look a certain way in order to qualify as someone who struggles with an eating disorder. To be honest, I was one of those individuals who thought this way before I went to treatment. Obviously, you have to be underweight to be anorexic, right?

False. No. Wrong.

Physical appearance has little, if nothing, to do with how severe someone’s eating disorder is. Weight and BMI are certainly factors when it comes to a diagnosis, but what people fail to realize is that the eating disorder behaviors and thoughts are what truly mark the severity of the illness.

Bodies are weird. They’re like snowflakes — no two bodies are the same. For some people, certain behaviors and symptoms lead to their diagnosis. For others, those same symptoms and behaviors may not.

But despite weight or shape, an eating disorder is still causing tremendous damage to your mind and body. Just because your outsides aren’t changing, doesn’t mean your insides aren’t. It doesn’t matter whether someone weighs X or Y. If they are not properly nourishing themselves, they aren’t the healthiest version of themselves, no matter what the scale says. It’s not always just about behaviors either.

I know that for years I put on a façade. I was the smiling hospitality major who was incredibly involved in academics and campus life! Some of my peers even called me “Ms. Hospitality.” But on the inside, I felt the complete opposite of how I was presenting myself. I felt ashamed, embarrassed, inadequate, the list goes on. Almost all of my thoughts were self-deprecating. I thought this was “normal” though. Again, I was wrong. The thoughts and feelings I experienced throughout college and my early 20s were not healthy.

It is not healthy to think that you are incapable, hopeless, repulsive, unworthy, contaminated and an embarrassment. But unfortunately, those struggling with eating disorders may tell themselves these horrible things every single day. You do not need to look a certain way or be a certain weight for an eating disorder to convince you that you are a failure.

My hope is that society eventually understands that numbers do not define an eating disorder. Behaviors and thoughts do. Although I am at what is considered to be a “healthy” weight, does not mean I am recovered. I struggle with disordered thoughts every day. Walk into an eating disorder treatment facility, and you will see people of all shapes and sizes. And they are all struggling.

So to all of you beautiful souls out there, please know your struggles are valid.

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 Archv

Originally published: August 21, 2017
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