You’re more than a number on the scales

March 2023

This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Molly reflects on her own experience of anorexia, expels some of the myths around eating disorders and offers advice to help loved ones who may be struggling

In the UK alone, 3.4 million people suffer from an eating disorder. Despite being widespread, eating disorders are often misunderstood and plagued by unhelpful stereotypes, such as the idea that they are the product of dieting that has gone too far. However, the reality is that eating disorders can affect anyone – of any gender, age, ethnicity or background.

Eating disorders are often a coping mechanism to block out difficult emotions. They may result in people ‘losing themselves’ and forgetting how amazing life can be. They are mentally torturous and people literally become prisoners of their own minds – with the eating disorder controlling their life. The mind of a person with disordered eating can feel like a jungle – consumed with negative thoughts, numbers and controlling voices – all of which makes carrying out everyday tasks difficult.

Mental illness and addiction

Although anorexia is the eating disorder most people are aware of, only 10 per cent of eating disorders are diagnosed as anorexia. Other disorders, such as binge eating, bulimia, pica, ARFID (Avoidant/restrictive Food Intake Disorder) and many more exist, and none are more or less serious than the other. Of course, eating disorders can involve physical changes, but this is by no means the only measure of severity. Eating disorders are mental disorders. They may have weight changes as a side effect; but weight isn’t an indicator of how much someone is struggling. In fact, in my own experience of anorexia, the hardest part of my recovery came after I was weight-restored; by this point, I wasn’t using anorexia any more to cover up hard emotions, and this meant that I felt everything, which was at times overwhelming.

People with eating disorders may be very deceptive – about their food intake, weight, and much more. But it’s important to recognise that eating disorders are addictions, and sufferers will go to all sorts of lengths to maintain this addiction.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by caring, positive people during my recovery, who offered gentle encouragement and never doubted my ability to recover. Although I didn’t necessarily believe what they were saying at the time, it gave me hope, which in turn launched me into recovery


For a carer, this can be distressing, but try to externalise the illness from your loved one. Yes, they are unwell, but always confront them. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, and the only way to defeat them is by shining a light on them. Your loved one may be angry at you in the moment; however, one day, they will look back on it, and thank you for it.

Unconditional love

When I was in the depths of anorexia, it made me believe that people would only like me if I were ‘thinner’ or ‘unwell'. Of course, this is a lie that I told myself. If you know someone who is suffering from an eating disorder, please remind them that you do not love them for their external appearance, but you love them unconditionally. This is the most powerful thing you can do to dispel the negative image they have of themselves.

When a person with an eating disorder can no longer feel hope, please continue to hold hope for them, no matter how dark things may seem. This is very important. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by caring and positive people during my recovery, who offered gentle encouragement and never doubted my ability to recover. Although I didn’t necessarily believe what they were saying at the time, it gave me hope, which in turn launched me into recovery.

The initial stages of recovery can be particularly challenging, because people typically experience the full force of the bottled-up emotions, which their eating disorder numbed for them. Pushing through this stage is important, as sufferers will soon reach a point where they will realise that the sun doesn’t shine any brighter if they can fit into those jeans. Of course, coming to this place takes time, and the best advice I was ever given was to take ‘one day at a time’.

Towards recovery

People with eating disorders can and do recover, but don’t mistake ‘weight-restored’ for ‘recovered’. Someone with an eating disorder deserves just as much support at a healthy weight as at a lower weight (if weight restoration is part of their recovery).

The thoughts people with eating disorders have may at times seem irrational and silly, but they are very real and scary for them. Remind people that a thought is just a thought and isn’t reality. Remind them that they have the power to knock thoughts down and are strong enough to counteract them.

Recovery requires mental changes, and you can only make mental progress if you are proactively dismissing and reframing negative thinking. It's essential that we learn to love ourselves, and when this feels difficult, we must still respect ourselves. Everyone is so much more than the number on the scales, and we deserve to be kind to ourselves.

Remind sufferers that they do not have to do it alone. I wouldn’t be where I am without the support I have been given, for which I’m endlessly grateful. Recovery is essential for a life of freedom, and strength and power reside within that individual; they may just need some help unlocking that strength and power.

You won’t always get it right first time when helping someone with an eating disorder. But the fact that you’re trying to help and educate yourself is amazing. If we all treat each other with kindness and compassion, we can’t go too far wrong.

If you know someone suffering from an eating disorder, or have concerns for someone, seek help immediately, as the earlier the intervention, the better. Whether this is by telling a trusted adult, contacting a mental health charity, or asking the person you are worried about open questions, it is vital to seek help early.

For help and advice about eating disorders, see BEAT's website.