World Eating Disorders Action Day: Real People, Real Recovery

By Cara Spagnola

This World Eating Disorders Action Day, we share stories from people in recovery as they bust common eating disorder myths. Find the truth here.

The team behind World Eating Disorders Action Day, which takes place annually on June 2, adopted the Nine Truths About Eating Disorders as a model for understanding and debunking the common myths surrounding eating disorders.

This year’s theme for World Eating Disorder Action Day is Real People, Real Recovery to highlight that:

  • Lasting recovery is possible and expected
  • Evidence-based treatment is essential
  • Government health systems need to fund quality and accessible care

To commemorate this important day for our community and honor this theme, we compiled submissions from recovery advocates and Eating Recovery Center (ERC) alumni to match each of The Nine Truths, showing that real people get eating disorders and that true recovery is possible.

World Eating Disorders Action Day: Eating disorder myths, explained

Truth #1: Many people with eating disorders “look healthy,” yet may be extremely ill.

“As someone living in a larger body, it’s frustrating and hurtful when people are surprised to hear I live with an eating disorder. Having to explain that eating disorders come in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders is an emotional burden we didn’t sign up to have on top of living with our intrusive thoughts. All my friends who live with an eating disorder are all shapes and sizes, showing eating disorders don’t discriminate.” – Christina, Eating Recovery At Home alum

Truth #2: Families are not to blame and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.

“When I was in the depths of my eating disorder, my family provided me with a rock-solid source of love, care, empathy and motivation. While my family could not make the decision to recover for me, they empowered me to make the decision myself and acted as one of my main sources of motivation to do just that. I woke up every day knowing that each extremely difficult, recovery-focused choice I made would bring me one step closer to being the son that treated them the way they deserve to be treated. I would not have reached this point in my recovery without my family.” – Grant, Eating Recovery At Home alum

Truth #3: An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.

“At the height of my eating disorder, I had a full-time job, close relationships, and I volunteered at two nonprofits. I thought I had everything under control until I didn't, and I was forced to take time away from work to enter treatment. It was terrifying because I went from a functioning human to a shell of myself who couldn't even drive or hold long conversations. Now that I'm in recovery, I realize that I was merely surviving before, and I kept myself busy as a coping skill; my life now feels full and complete in a way I couldn't comprehend when I was sick.” -- Julia, ERC Denver alum

Truth #4: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.

“I developed an eating disorder without knowing what it was. I didn't know I had one, let alone choose one. I did not have any access to social media or the outside world as a child and adolescent. All I knew was that I felt this overwhelming drive to limit my food intake. I could not explain why, I didn't even realize it wasn't okay. ‘Surely,’ I thought, ‘my brain knows what is right and wouldn’t tell me to do anything that would hurt me.’ I now understand that was my eating disorder talking." – S.D., ERC alum

Truth #5: Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations and socioeconomic statuses.

“All my life I have known that I did not have a healthy relationship with food, but I assumed that was normal for someone living in a larger-sized body. I had no idea that what I was experiencing through my thoughts and behaviors were all signs of an eating disorder. Luckily, in my 40s, I had a therapist who saw past the size of my body, realized that I was struggling with an eating disorder and encouraged me to seek treatment.” – Jessica, ERC Chicago alum

Truth #6: Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.

“As an eating disorder patient, not only was my eating disorder the enemy, but so were my depression and anxiety. Having an eating disorder, coupled with incredibly poor nutrition, made it impossible for me to heal physically from a variety of ailments, but also from low mood and suicidal thoughts. On days when my eating disorder behavior was rampant, so too were my thoughts of self-harm. Every step I took in the direction of my eating disorder was also a step in the direction of what seemed like everlasting depression. I couldn’t cure one without fixing the other.” – Siobhan, ERC recovery ambassador

Truth #7: Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.

“With genetics and environment playing a role in eating disorders, my adolescence was like a match in the middle of a dry spell. By age nine, my binging behaviors were in full force as I was literally hiding in the pantry pushing away the emotions of my parents' impending divorce with each handful of treats. By then, I had already experienced several traumas from a burn, and, in the next few years, there would be even more. Using food to numb wasn't something I was taught; it was instinctual and primal. It was as if this seed of an eating disorder was in my genetic code waiting for this perfect storm to emerge. Perhaps, even with decades of space and recovery, it is still within me. However, I've learned to recognize my feelings for what they are and conjure the resilience to manage when life feels unmanageable. And when it is all too much to reach out, share and learn that these circumstances that I was born into don't have to be dealt with alone.” – Kara Richardson Whitely, advocate and author

Truth #8: Genes alone do not predict who will develop an eating disorder.

“In my experience, I found it true that genes alone did not lead to my development of an eating disorder. I identify a lot with the quote ‘genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger.’ I do have a family history of eating disorders, but it was the combination of environmental factors such as trauma, lots of attention placed on food as a young type 1 diabetic, family stress, etc., that combined and ultimately led to my development of an eating disorder.” – Sydney Fitzgibbons, ERC alum and recovery ambassador

Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.

“Having had my eating disorder for most of my teen and adult years, I had grown weary of my struggles and felt like recovery was always just out of reach. I spent years in and out of treatment initially as a ‘functioning anorexic’ and then back in treatment. On my final admission, I was in bad shape. I was tired, had developed medical complications and didn’t care what happened to me. However, with intervention from the staff who fought for me until I could fight for myself, I am proud to say I am now in recovery. Recovery is truly possible for everyone. You just have to want it enough to hold onto those moments of clarity that peek out from behind your eating disorder. You can do this!” – Kim, ERC Dallas alum

This World Eating Disorders Action Day, join us in raising awareness around these truths and spreading the word that lasting recovery is possible. Read more stories of hope here.

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Clinically reviewed by Maggie Moore, MA, LMFT, National Family Outreach Manager, on May 22, 2023.

Written by

Cara Spagnola

Cara has over 10 years of experience working with children and families in a variety of settings. She learned along the way that connection, education, and support help alleviate the stigma and…

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