Who Really Looks Like They Have An Eating Disorder?

April 17, 2014 Jessica Hudgens

If there were one message I would want to beat into the collective conscious of our culture, it would be this: You can have an eating disorder at any weight, shape, or size. It seems that no matter how many eating disorder awareness weeks we have, we continue to have this idea of eating disorders that is dominated by Karen Carpenter, Mary-Kate Olsen, and a handful of other famous anorexics. Strangely, this belief seems to go both ways. If you are very thin, you must have an eating disorder, right?

If You Look Like You Have an Eating Disorder, Does it Mean You Have One?

In a word - no. I was stunned by a news article I read this week about a Yale University student being threatened with suspension for an eating disorder. That would be fine - I think colleges and universities should step up their game when it comes to screening and treating eating disorders and I think medical suspensions are a great way to send the message that eating disorders are serious and will kill you. Except this student has never had an eating disorder.

She is thin, but some people are naturally thinner. Some people are naturally larger. Such is the nature of the human genome - and that is what makes this world an interesting and beautiful place to be in. It's lovely to walk across my university campus and see people of all shapes, colors, sizes - seeing thousands of people that look like me would be incredibly boring.

I'll spare you all of the details, but in short, Yale's health services spent five months harassing this young woman and trying to force her to gain weight. I'm sure this woman was incredibly frustrated by the ignorance of these medical professionals. For that matter, as someone who didn't weight XX pounds (or whatever arbitrary number you have to hit to "look" like you have an eating disorder) at her sickest, I am incredibly frustrated.

The Problem of the Eating Disorder Image

My question for Yale is this: how many students with actual eating disorders passed through your health services while you were busy focusing on this one student who, by your standards, was "too thin?" How many students were in serious medical danger that you ignored and let continue to believe that their eating disorder wasn't really a big deal? If you just look at the statistics (one in ten people will struggle with an eating disorder), 1,400 students on Yale's campus will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Eating disorders affect people of all shapes and sizes - not just those who are thin. There is no one way to "look" like you have an eating disorder.And the majority of these men and women will fly under the radar because they don't fit our idea of what looks like an eating disorder. Every day, thousands of men and women are seen in doctor's offices, urgent care facilities, and emergency rooms and the medical community overlooks what is staring them in the face. Sometimes, these doctors and nurses actually say out loud things that minimize the struggle and broadcast their ignorance. Thousands of men and women will continue to believe that they are not actually sick because they don't "look" like they have an eating disorder.

And yet - they come through emergency rooms with low potassium or electrolyte imbalances. They come through dental offices with tooth decay. They stumble and fall when they walk. They are never asked about their eating disorders, never confronted with the fact that their eating disorders will kill them.

Yes, some people will "look" like they have an eating disorder. But many won't. We may not see the stories in the news of normal weight (or overweight) people dying of their eating disorders, but it happens every day. Just because someone doesn't fit your image of "eating disorder" does not mean they are not very, very sick.

Open your eyes.

Jess can also be found on Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

APA Reference
Hudgens, J. (2014, April 17). Who Really Looks Like They Have An Eating Disorder?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Jessica Hudgens

April, 26 2014 at 10:54 am

finally someone tells it just how it is

Patricia Lemoine
April, 20 2014 at 6:51 am

Yes, open your eyes, because the world is full of people fighting a quiet struggle and not bearing visible signs of it. Thanks Jess! :)

April, 18 2014 at 10:52 am

Thank you for this post. This is something that I am struggling with right now. As an overweight young woman with bulimia, I am just not sure where I fit in. And because I am over weight I feel like I don't have an eating disorder. So thank you for sharing this.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Jessica Hudgens
April, 18 2014 at 11:17 am

Colleen -
I'm glad this has validated your experience. I know how awful it is be constantly second guessing yourself because you feel like you don't "look" like you have an eating disorder. Actually, more people have eating disorders at "normal" weights - that's just not what the media shows us.
Stay strong!
j :)

April, 17 2014 at 7:19 am

Jess, thanks for another amazing post. I remember when you first put up that picture and talked about the various forms of eating disorders. It was eye-opening for me then as I confess I was one of those who unconsciously thought I knew what an eating disorder looked like. Thanks to you, I know I don't. Thanks for the reminder. Have a good one.

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