Why We Need To Change The Way We Talk About Eating Disorders

talk about eating disorders - painting of mans profile with beard, colors are yellow, orange, blues, green and background is blue and red, with lines and circle shapes making up entire painting

Eating disorders are strange things. They are, essentially, an illness. Yet they can often become part – or all – of your identity. This can essentially add the difficultly of an identity crisis to an already challenging recovery process. The way we talk about eating disorders is very strange.

We tend to say that someone ‘is anorexic’ rather than that they ‘have anorexia’.

This does one of two things. At best, it make the anorexia a crucial part of the suffer’s identity. At worst, it reduces the sufferer to nothing more than their anorexia, because they literally are anorexic.

This is not the same as the way we talk about many other physical illnesses. For example, we do not say that some is a broken leg. That would be ridiculous! Instead we say that someone has a broken leg. The broken leg is not a part of their identity.

The impact on identity

Even without this harmful talk, eating disorders have a very real impact on identity. It is common for someone suffering from an eating disorder to not want to recover because they feel like their disorder makes them who they are.

Who will I be if I am not ‘the girl who never eats’?

Because eating disorders are all consuming, many sufferers find it hard to imagine who they would be without their eating disorder.

Sadly, combination of the way that we talk about eating disorders and their all consuming nature means that many feel that they are nothing without their eating disorder.

The truth?

The truth is, you are more than your eating disorder.

Without it the real you can shine through. You’ll be louder, stronger, and braver without it. Even if that’s hard to imagine.

The tricky task of separating your eating disorder from the real you can initiated by changing the way we talk about eating disorders. Rather than saying you or someone you know “is bulimic” say they “have bulimia”.  This can be a helpful start for seeing someone as more than their disorder.

Change the way you think about it

After that, we can change the way we think about eating disorders. Thinking of your eating disorder as a person that is separate from yourself can be helpful. Name your eating disorder. Talk to your eating disorder like you would an annoying child.

“No Edward*. You are being unkind and you are wrong. I do deserve to eat this and I do need to eat this”. Tell Edward (or whatever name you choose) to shut up and leave you alone.

This technique can also help heal your relationship with the people around you. For example, you know that your mum hates it when “Edward” comes out, but that she truly loves you.

Slowly, this separation of your disorder from yourself chips away at the eating disorder while keeping the real you in tact.  You begin to see who you are without Edward following you around all the time. You begin to like who you are without Edward there. You may become angry at Edward, but you need not be angry with yourself. Because, after all, this is an illness. It’s not you.

Give the real you a chance

Of course, some elements of your eating disorder will always be part of you. The experiences of an eating disorder and the recovery process will shape who you become. Ultimately, it will make you a stronger person. Someone who fights for themselves. And someone who wins.

However, your eating disorder will never be you. Eating disorders are not an identity.

You are so, so much more than an illness.

There is a real you ready to come out from under your disorder. An awesome, strong, fun, you ready to live life to the fullest. I promise.

*I named my anorexia Edward because Ed is shortened from Edward and ‘Eating disorder’ is often abbreviated to ED. I thought it was rather darkly humorous ????

Image: @gwennseemel

Join the Conversation


  1. says: Barbara Glass

    Thanks for your words But did you ever think of writing from the perspective of an older person still struggling I feel that no one really thinks or cares about usWhy?because we’re going to dye soon so it’s not worth the effort?maybe you’ll think about that Thanks

  2. Hello Barbara, I don’t believe anyone feels that way at all. I think we write from the perspective that we know. I often read articles written by moms and I don’t always relate to aspects regarding being a parent and raising a human being but I have to understand that they are writing from THEIR experience. There are many articles I have come across on this website and others that are written by people all over the age spectrum. Hope this helps and that you feel more connected to the community regardless of what age they median at! 🙂
    wish you well.

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