Eating disorders have no body type!
Sarah Ojikutu is a Young Champion who is currently working on Rethink Mental Illness’s co-production projects. For this year's Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Sarah discusses the impact of stereotypes and how these can act as a barrier to accessing the right treatment at the right time.
“She’s so skinny! She must be anorexic!...He always eats! I bet he’s a binge eater.”
All the time, people are labelled and ‘diagnosed’ based on how they look, how much they weigh and what they eat. Some people who happen to have a small appetite are commonly considered as ‘anorexic’, and other people are often wrongly categorised as binge eaters who never exercise.
Eating disorders are usually connected with certain stereotypes. Someone diagnosed with anorexia nervosa must be excessively thin... People with a binge eating disorder must be excessively ‘big’ and so on and so on…
This, however, is not true at all! An eating disorder is a mental illness, not a physical and directly visible condition. There is not one body type per eating disorder. It more or less all happens in the head and as a result, the body composition can change. Indeed, we all do have different body types, hence different energy needs in terms of food. For example, a short and slim person requires less energy intake than someone tall who weighs more, simply because their bodies require different amounts of calories.
When I was in inpatient recovery, such stereotypes as mentioned before, have acted as a barrier for me: I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and I used to believe that everyone with that illness must be a bag of bones. In my eyes, I wasn’t skinny and “sick enough” to be in recovery. I used to beat myself up for being bigger than some other girls who were diagnosed. I was constantly comparing myself to them. It didn’t get much better when I got discharged.
Why did I have to gain weight when there are girls out there who are skinnier than me – girls who didn’t even have anorexia?! Why do they not have to gain weight? The answer is simple: Everybody has their own highly individual and personal “ideal” body type and body composition. It’s what your body naturally looks like without you forcing any change. Unless you have any special health conditions, that’s within the healthy weight area.
Some people are naturally slim, others, including myself, aren’t. I forced my body to lose weight and almost destroyed it in the process.
However, at some point, I realised that my body doesn’t define who I am on the inside. And that’s what really matters. It doesn’t matter which clothing size you wear. People won’t like you for how you look (if they do, cut them off! You don’t need fake and superficial friends).
Anyway, takeaway message here: Healthy looks different on everybody. Let go of all the stereotypes connected to eating disorders. Most importantly, stop comparing yourself to others. A healthy weight for them doesn’t have to be a healthy weight for you. You are beautiful and worthy just the way you are.
If you want to know more about what eating disorders are and what treatment options are available then why not take a look at our factsheet. You might find it useful if you have an eating disorder or you care for someone who does.