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Eating Disorders

What Does Someone With an Eating Disorder Look Like?

The answer may surprise you.

Source: Pixabay

If I asked you to picture someone with an eating disorder, what comes to mind? For many, the image that comes up is a young, thin, Caucasian female. However, the reality is that someone who is struggling with an eating disorder could look like your brother, your grandmother, your father, or your mother.

Eating disorders do not discriminate based upon gender, age, social status, body size, race, or ethnicity. They are life-threatening mental illnesses and often are highly misunderstood. The myth that you can tell who has an eating disorder based upon their appearance is incredibly dangerous to those who are struggling. They might choose not to seek treatment, may not receive support, or might remain in denial about their illness, due to not fitting a stereotypical mold.

Additionally, eating disorders can occur in people of all shapes and sizes. Why is it that if a thin individual is engaging in compulsive exercise and restrictive behaviors they are considered to be sick and in need of treatment? However, if a larger person is engaging in the same behaviors they are often applauded for “working on their health?" This maddening perception can have highly detrimental implications for those who are struggling.

Eating disorders are one of the few mental illnesses where we judge an individual’s level of suffering on the basis of their physical state. However, it’s important to note that eating disorders can have dire mental and physical consequences for individuals who may outwardly appear to meet our societal standard of “healthy” or who are considered “overweight” via BMI (don’t get me started on how flawed BMI is). Further, eating disorders are mental illnesses and you cannot tell whether someone is struggling on the basis of their weight.

The misconceptions, stigma, and lack of access to proper treatment — which people with eating disorders often experience — is why I am so passionate about raising awareness for the first World Eating Disorders Action Day, which is today, June 2, 2016.

This day brings together organizations and activists from 30 countries, who are uniting to debunk myths about eating disorders, raise awareness, and advocate for resources and policy changes. This day also serves to combat stigma and share the message that individuals who are struggling deserve to be able to seek and have access to evidence-based treatment.

June Alexander, a writer, activist, and member of The World Eating Disorders Action Day steering committee explains,

“Eating disorders, by their very nature, are isolating illnesses. I know. I was held prisoner for more than forty years. I know the importance of reaching out, sharing, giving people a voice." June says, " I want everyone, everywhere, with eating disorder symptoms to know they are not alone, and to have access to the right care so they, like me, can recover. This is why I support the inaugural World Eating Disorders Action Day.”

Eating disorders can be deadly. However, with the right treatment and support, individuals can achieve a full recovery. Unfortunately, due to stereotypes and stigma surrounding what someone with an eating disorder “looks like,” as well as challenges in receiving insurance coverage, many people do not have access to the treatment that they so desperately need.

By supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day, you can be part of a revolutionary movement aimed at creating real and impactful social change. Together, we can help to change the public perception of eating disorders, raise awareness, and improve access to resources and life-saving treatment on an international level.

Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW is a mental health therapist, intuitive eating counselor, and blogger on The Huffington Post and Psychology Today. She specializes in treating adolescents, survivors of trauma, and individuals with eating disorders and mood disorders. She is a junior board member for The National Eating Disorders Association. “Like” Jennifer on Facebook at Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LGSW. Or check out her website at

Join Jennifer in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day (June 2, 2016). Be sure to follow along on twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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