Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness, but unfortunately, they are often also highly misunderstood. The stereotypical profile of someone struggling with an eating disorder is an emaciated, young, Caucasian, female. Certainty there are people with eating disorders who fall within this category. However, the reality is that eating disorders do not discriminate based on gender, race, socioeconomic status, ability, or body size.
Additionally, there is this myth that everyone who is suffering from a serious eating disorder “appears visibly ill.” This can cause people to believe that they are “not sick enough to need help,” or for their eating disorder to not be taken seriously.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses. While they can certainly have an impact on someone’s physical state, you simply cannot tell who is struggling based upon their physical appearance.
You do not have to be classified as “underweight” in order to be intensely struggling with an eating disorder. If fact you could even be classified as “normal” or “overweight” (I dislike these terms because of the weight stigma involved but use them for reference here), and have a severe eating disorder.
It’s kind of like saying that you can tell if someone is struggling with severe depression simply by looking at them. As we know, there have been public figures who were photographed with smiles on their faces who later would go on to take their own lives. It seems to be more widely accepted with other mental illnesses that you cannot tell who is suffering simply by looking at them.
If you are struggling with any kind of eating disorder, you are sick enough and you deserve access to treatment and support.
Recovery Is Possible!
As a therapist who works primarily with people struggling with eating disorders, I am thankful to be able to help people to recover. No matter what your “eating disorder self” may tell you, recovery is 100% possible.
I love working with people with eating disorders because they are some of the most intelligent, compassionate, resilient, and brave people that I know. Once they can learn how to channel their energy into more positive pursuits, they are truly unstoppable.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, please seek help. Seeking help when you are struggling is a sign of true courage.
You deserve a meaningful and joyful life. One that you cannot have if you continue to stay trapped in an eating disorder. Recovery is possible, and so worth it.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland, USA. Jennifer specialises in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues.