Eating Disorders: More Than Just Food

Tina Luo, Editor-in-Chief

With the second-highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, exceeded only by opioid addiction, eating disorders represent complex but largely misunderstood mental illnesses. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2022, from February 21 to 27, aims to educate the public about eating disorders and help those affected by them. In light of NEDA week, it is of utmost importance for individuals to learn about eating disorders, work to eliminate existing misconceptions, and extend support to those struggling. 

The stereotypes surrounding eating disorders obstruct the ability of affected individuals to seek help. The typical image of a frail teenage girl fails to illustrate reality: eating disorders affect those of every size, gender, age, and background. They do not have a “look,” and the perpetuation of such an idea only invalidates the many who do not fit the “expected” appearance. The illness, in fact, often extends far beyond body image. 

“The thing that a lot of people don’t understand is that eating disorders don’t just come from wanting to look a certain way. It appears that way, it comes out that way, but a lot of it comes from other mental disorders, like anxiety, depression, OCD, and PTSD,” Student A said. “It can be used as an escape, to forget about what’s going on and to feel in control. It’s a coping mechanism, but it’s definitely not a healthy one,” Student B said. 

Social media tends to normalize and glamorize eating disorders, depicting them as desirable. The falsified reality crafted on social media, rampant with filters and editing, encourages disordered behaviors to achieve the “ideal” body. Certain posts portray eating disorders as an attractive, alluring state of suffering. Some side effects are flaunted while others are ignored, fitting a distorted narrative that strategically overlooks the unglamorous realities of eating disorders. 

“I’ve been to a treatment center, so I’ve seen how bad it can get for some people. You see people that got put in the hospital, and they literally almost died or died and were brought back. People don’t realize how deadly it is to romanticize it,” Student B said. 

An eating disorder can assume complete control of an individual’s life, depriving them of activities and experiences and destroying relationships with family and friends. The misconception that eating disorder recovery is straightforward severely oversimplifies the process: it is not a matter of ‘just eat normally.’ Both underlying issues and the eating disorder itself must be treated, demanding extensive effort and energy from the affected individual. 

“It’s not just something you can ‘get over,’ it’s a mental illness, and it needs to be treated as seriously as any other,” Student C said. 

However, many of those struggling with an eating disorder hesitate to seek help, believing their eating disorder is not severe enough to justify recovery.

“If you are questioning if you are ‘sick enough,’ you are. There is no ‘sick enough,’ there will never be ‘sick enough,'” Student A said. “An eating disorder is dangerous and deadly at any time. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve had it or how severe it is, you always need help. It’s so important because it can completely overtake your life,” Student B said.

Choosing to recover represents a significant decision on the part of an affected individual; it symbolizes a commitment to self-love, growth, and healing. Those surrounding the individual should strive to exercise patience, recognizing that recovery is not linear. Eating disorders are not choices, and recovery demonstrates immense strength. 

“Every day is different, even now. Some days were absolute torture, and some days were perfectly fine. Some days I wanted everybody to leave me alone, and some days I wanted people to distract me. There’s no true way to know ‘this is what I need’ because you don’t even know yourself,” Student A said.  

Both online and in real life, individuals should be conscious of their influence on others. A seemingly helpful post or harmless comment can easily trigger a downward spiral and contribute to the development of an eating disorder. In general, discussions of weight and body size should be avoided, even if intended as a compliment. 

“If you need to comment on someone’s appearance, comment on something they can change. Accept that bodies are bodies. We are made to eat and to live,” Student C said.

For those struggling with an eating disorder or disordered thoughts, know that recovery is possible. Asking for help, though difficult, reflects courage and initiative to heal. 

“Anything that happens in recovery is purely for yourself,” Student A said. “And while it may start off as recovering for your parents or to get your life back, it does come later.”


By request, the students quoted in this article are referred to as Student A, B, and C to preserve anonymity. For more information and resources on eating disorders, visit, the official website for the Nation Eating Disorder Association (NEDA).