The Mighty Logo

The Problem With Our One-Size-Fits-All View of Eating Disorders

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: This piece has an image that may be triggering to some. 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.

Between the media, Internet and social platforms, we pretty much all have an image in our head about what an eating disorder “looks like.” But there’s a problem with that one-size-fits-all view of eating disorders:

An eating disorder is not a body size.

The truth (yep, the raw and unspoken truth) is that eating disorders actually aren’t all about food! Yep, you heard me right.

You see all those pictures of pretty, skinny teenage girls shyly refusing a cupcake? Not always the reality. 

The truth is not all people affected by eating disorders are underweight.

Yet still when I search the words “eating disorder sufferer” into Google Images, this is the first image I’m met with:

So if this isn’t the reality, then what is?

Left: Lauren in 2013, Middle: Lauren in 2015. Right: Lauren now

What do I have in common in all three pictures?

An eating disorder.

I’m glad to say that in the most recent picture (right) I am on my way to recovery.
The girl on the left? She was in a very bad place with restrictive anorexia.

But what about the picture in the middle?

A happy, healthy teenage girl? Think again. This girl had tormented her body. She had starved it, punished it and scarred it. The girl in the middle had only just recovered from a torturous spiral of depressive episodes, she was trying to find herself after spending months dictated to by an invisible narrator in her head.

It told her to binge. To stuff her face until she could barely move, not because she wanted to, not because she enjoyed it, but simply as a method of painful self-punishment.

After the shameful episodes of binging she’d spend hours with her head in the toilet bowl. Her gums would bleed, her oesophagus was torn and damaged, her potassium dropped to levels that could have killed her…

But she doesn’t look like she has an eating disorder, right?

Yes. Yes she does. The raw reality is that an eating disorder does not “look” like anything. Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified are secretive and manipulative, they take over your head and force the smile onto your face.

They speak for you. They say the words “I already ate” or “I’m not feeling well” with a well-rehearsed smile, whilst the victim is left buried inside silently screaming, “Help me!”

So I urge you, if someone tells you they have been suffering and you’re hesitant to believe them based on how they look — stop. Think. And remember this blog post.

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.

Originally published: March 12, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home