The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Like anxiety, eating disorders vary wildly from person to person and are often hard to understand if you’ve never had one yourself. That’s why we checked in with five people who have dealt with—and often continue to deal with—eating disorders, for the things they wish everyone knew about these serious (but treatable) mental and physical illnesses.
1. “Just because I don’t look emaciated doesn’t mean I’m not struggling.”
“When I was at the peak of my eating disorder, I didn’t look like a person you’d assume had an eating issue. You couldn’t see my ribs through my skin or anything like that. I guess my point is that, just like not every stick-thin person has an eating disorder, there are tons of people who do have eating disorders that might not ‘look’ like they do. It’s important to have your friends’ backs. Even if they don’t look like they’re struggling, noticing other signs of an eating disorder and raising the issue in a sensitive way can literally be life-saving.” — K.A.
2. “Hearing you comment on other peoples’ bodies can be extremely triggering.”
“My friends and family members have always been super supportive of me when it comes to dealing with my eating disorder, and they would never say something to intentionally hurt me or encourage me to relapse. BUT, I and other people who have had eating disorders hear the way you talk about your own weight or even make comments about other peoples’ bodies (yes, celebrities count, too). Even though you might not think your comments are triggering, offhand remarks like, ‘Oh god, I feel so fat today, I wish I could just skip dinner,’ can be really harmful.” — R.S.
3. “Even though I’m not actively dealing with my eating disorder doesn’t mean I’m ‘over it.’”
“I would do pretty much anything to be ‘cured’ of my eating disorder. I’m lucky enough to have had it under control for years now, but eating disorders don’t just go away. Much like addiction, no matter how much therapy or self-reflection a person does, there’s always the possibility for relapse, and that’s terrifying. My eating disorder no longer consumes my entire life, but it’s always going to occupy a little bit of the back of my mind.” — L.M.
4. “Anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only eating disorders.”
“It’s pretty fascinating to me how many people don’t understand that anorexia and bulimia aren’t the only eating disorders. Are they the most talked about? Sure, but there’s also binge-eating disorder, Pica (eating things that aren’t food) and others. The more people know and understand about these other disorders, the less hesitant sufferers might be to seek out help.” — C.O.
5. “Seeking help is really (like, really) hard.”
“Something that I’ve had to reiterate to my friends and family a million times is that there’s a ton of shame that comes along with eating disorders and that makes reaching out for help really hard to do. Eating is such a natural thing that not being able to do it ‘right’ was incredibly embarrassing for me. An important turning point for me was recognizing that eating disorders are a type of mental illness, not just a little habit that can be overcome with positive thinking alone. Would I be ashamed to get help for an ear infection? No, and coming to terms with the fact that getting help for my eating disorder wasn’t dramatic, weird or unnecessary was a huge step in the right direction.” — L.C.