Eating Disorders are an Invisible Illness

Only recently have I realized that not many people understand that eating disorders are, in fact, an invisible illness.

Image borrowed from  Screen Relish

Image borrowed from Screen Relish

So I'm going to say this louder for the people in the back because it's very, very important:

you can't tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them.

It's kind of like you can't tell if someone has diabetes just by his/her appearance. Sure, some may need a insulin pump just like some disorders may cause the person to be very frail, but eating disorders do not discriminate. No matter how much you weigh, what you look like, your socioeconomic status, your gender, your race, your religion, your age, your sexual orientation... eating disorders can, and do, affect everyone.

I have no doubt this misunderstanding has been perpetuated by the media's often macabre focus on anorexia—blasting their articles with shocking "before and after" photos and bold headlines that state the person's extreme low weight. And while talking about the deadliest mental illness is important, there is so much being overlooked and left out, and that is far more damaging than people may realize.

Often, a big component of these illnesses is the lie that "you aren't enough". In direct relation to the eating disorder, it often becomes "you aren't sick enough to have an ED", or "you aren't thin enough to have an ED". This is continually enabled by the aforementioned articles, as well as the misunderstanding of people in general. (Not to mention medical personnel, but that's a whole other rant for me to get into another day.I cannot tell you how many people I've heard say they don't think they have an eating disorder because their BMI (which is a crap measure of health to begin with)/their weight/whatever doesn't qualify or isn't "enough". Not to mention people having said such things to them (i.e. "You weigh too much to have an eating disorder." "Men don't get eating disorders.") And with an illness as dangerous as these, when early intervention is vital, that false belief can literally mean life and death.

Besides—when it comes down to the nitty gritty—eating disorders aren't about weight anyway. It's a far more sinister internal struggle that manifests in the person's relationship with food. But, still, many people are kicked out of treatment programs when they reach a "healthy weight " even though that does not, by any means, mean they are cured of their disorder. In fact, some people have been refused treatment or insurance coverage because they don't meet a certain criteria.

Certainly doesn't help combat that falsity that "you aren't thin enough to be sick", yeah?

It's a dangerous and difficult path to wager as someone who struggles with a disorder as well as those around them who care, and I would encourage people to check out Types & Symptoms of Eating Disorders by NEDA. Listed there are ones which have a clinical diagnosis under the DSM-5. But some—like orthorexia nervosa—aren't listed and aren't in the DSM-5 (another avenue which can lead to feelings of not being "sick enough" etc.) However, all eating disorderswhether recognized in the DSM, have other variations, disordered eating, etc.are valid; there is no hierarchy.

And we, as a whole and as individuals, must start looking past the outside and start seeing the invisible.


If I missed a disorder of any kind please let me know so I can add it; it is important to me that all are represented.