the “ordinary” faces of eating disorders: you cannot always tell by someone’s appearance what they’re going through

October 19, 2017
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Eating disorders can develop in anybody. Men, women, children—they do not discriminate. And for as varied as the victims are, so to are the manifestations of these illnesses. Many people, especially woman, have mixed relationships with food. Be it from the guilt we experience for not living up to societal pressures to look a certain way or as other means of controlling our agency, which is constantly challenged by the world around us.

While it’s true that diseases like anorexia can physical symptoms, it’s important to remember that those symptoms aren’t definitive proof and without knowing someone’s eating habits in entirety, judging someone based on how they appear isn’t scientific.

I’m no doctor, either, and eating disorders are a complicated matter. What I hope to accomplish in this piece is to pass along a few tips on creating safer, healthier environments for people around you who may be struggling with an unhealthy relationship with food, and relieve some of those pressures on yourself.

Rule #1: Don’t make assumptions about someone’s relationship with food based on their appearance.

Fat people develop eating disorders, too. And doing so is just as harmful as it is for thinner people. It’s important to never make assumptions about someone’s relationship with food based purely on how they look. Being thin isn’t an indicator of anorexia and people
with all body types
suffer from it, and other restriction or elimination disorders.

Rule #2: Think before you speak

It’s normal and fine to be happy for a friend when they take measures to make their lifestyle healthier. But at risk of being too paranoid, I think it’s important to be really considerate about the ways in which we talk about each other’s bodies and our own. This isn’t to say that you can never compliment a friend who has purposefully changed their appearance or when they have picked up healthier habits. What we don’t want to do is to trigger painful or complicated food dynamics by re-enforcing a prioritization of thinness at any cost. Asking a friend or loved one how they feel verse how they feel about how they look, might be a better way to express concern or happiness.

Rule #3: Check the way you talk about food and your body, in front of others and to yourself.

While my general advice surrounding eating disorders in those around you is to not feel self-righteous in your approach to deciding what may or may not be normal for someone else. Instead, you can opt to be more mindful about the ways in which we cut each other a break when it comes to the unfair pressures society places on us as it pertains to eating and appearance. Maybe don’t body shame or food shame yourself on Facebook. Or anywhere else for that matter. Re-frame your own relationship with a positive way that not shows respect for yourself, but the others around you who may be going through life with an ED. Be gentle and kind, always.