What I Wish People Knew About Eating Disorders

Photo by Pixabay. Written by Sophie Smith.


  1. Eating disorders aren’t about what people look like
    I can’t emphasise enough that eating disorders are mental illnesses. Yes, they often have physical manifestations such as weight changes, but ultimately, they’re about what’s going on in a person’s mind, not what’s on the outside. You cannot tell if someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them. 
  2. Eating disorders aren’t just about food
    Likewise, eating disorders aren’t just about food and eating. They’re often a coping mechanism, caused by trauma or a way to control things around the person. For me, I used my food rules to gain a sense of achievement and control. Another common misconception is that ‘people who have eating disorders just hate food’. This couldn’t be further from the truth, most people I know who have experienced eating disorders love food! 
  3. You don’t have to be super thin to have an eating disorder
    Unfortunately, there’s still a pervasive stereotype that people with eating disorders are walking skeletons. This is definitely not true. Eating disorders happen to people of all sizes and like I said above, we shouldn’t be focusing on the person’s body but rather their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Similarly, I think it would surprise most people to know that Anorexia Nervosa only accounts for a tiny 3% of all eating disorders. But again, not every with AN will fit the stereotypical ‘thin’ image that is reinforced in our culture.
  4. Eating disorders don’t just happen to females
    Eating disorders, whilst typically affecting female-identifying people, can occur in people of all gender identities including men, non-binary and trans folks. The stereotype of eating disorders as a ‘female illness’ is super harmful as it convinces other genders that they cannot possibly have an eating disorder, increases shame and makes it less likely that they will seek treatment and recovery.
  5. People don’t get eating disorders on purpose 
    Eating disorders are one of the few illnesses it seems, that we are ok with blaming the individual for getting. However, people don’t get an eating disorder on purpose, they’re not born out of vanity or simply wanting to ‘look like a celebrity’. Yes, the initial behaviours may be done in an effort to change a person’s size or shape, but I don’t think anyone wishes an eating disorder on themselves. Usually and in my case, what start out as relatively harmless and socially acceptable behaviours, quickly spiral into an eating disorder without the person even knowing, and by this point it’s often hard for the person to recognise that there’s a problem as denial and the comfort of the ED set in.
  6. Eating disorders are serious, no matter how ‘sick’ a person feels
    One of the most difficult things about eating disorders is that most people don’t feel ‘sick enough’ to receive treatment. They might think that because they’re not a certain weight or haven’t had an eating disorder for very long, that this invalidates their experience. Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t. Eating disorders actually have the highest mortality rate out of any mental illness. Everyone with an eating disorder deserves recovery no matter their symptoms, size, length of illness or anything else.
  7. Recovery is hard, but possible and so worth it
    I won’t sugar coat it; recovery is hard in diet culture. It takes enormous strength and courage to recover in a world that is often fixated on weight, shape, appearance, food and exercise, but it is possible, and not only that, it’s 100% worth it. I haven’t met a single person who’s regretted recovery from an eating disorder.


Written by Sophie Smith

Eating disorders advocate and lived experience advisor

MSW Student

@SophieClare1103 on Twitter

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