I have an eating disorder – it doesn't mean you can ask me for medical advice

‘Can you help me design a diet on what I should be eating?’

‘Do you have any tips on how I can gain 10lbs back without getting fat on my stomach?’

‘I haven’t been diagnosed, but do you think I might have an eating disorder?’

These are all genuine messages I have received online.

Perhaps reading them would make you assume I’m a dietician, or a personal trainer, or a doctor.

But no.

I’m just a person with an eating disorder, trying to muddle my way through the brutal process that is recovery like everyone else. I just so happen to share my journey with the world.

When I began seeking help in spring 2019, I wrote a blog post about my decade-long battle, which was the first time I’d ever addressed the reality of what I’d been going through, even within myself.

The initial response was, and continues to be, one of utmost love and support.

Since then, I’ve been sharing my recovery story online, and I’ve become an advocate for raising awareness of not just the existence of eating disorders, but the barriers that many face when accessing treatment.

I love the safe spaces I have created online for people like myself. I love the recovery community: I have found friends and discovered that being real about my struggles, both the euphoric highs and crushing lows, has helped me make sense of them.

I love writing articles offering education around eating disorders, giving interviews discussing issues related to EDs, writing to my MP to demand better funding for our services… but no matter how much activism I engage in, I will never be an expert in anything but my own recovery.

At the start, I think people wanted to steer clear of prying or asking me for advice, because me being so open about something so personal was very new and raw.

But as time went on and I spoke more about my reality of living with an eating disorder, which was completely of my own accord, people started mistaking my honesty for expertise.

I know what my triggers are, what coping techniques work best for me, how to achieve my long-term goals and the daily routine I need to stick to, to keep myself healthy.

That does not make me qualified to offer very specific advice for other people with eating disorders.

When I read these messages, I get flashbacks from the darkest moments of my own ED. The weighing myself, measuring the size of my thighs with a tape measure, creating workouts to burn off calories. These messages make me feel anxious and uncomfortable and give my eating disorder an excuse to pipe up and torment me.

They also make me feel burdened and pressured, which then makes me sad, because I want to help people so badly… but I just can’t.

This impacts my recovery too because I will then spend my day worrying about those people in my DMs, hoping they’re OK and wishing I could do more.

Receiving questions wasn’t an issue at first, because they were harmless and I was able to help by guiding people to support services. But it was a shock when I had more followers and, after about a year, the messages became more graphic, seeking diagnoses or particular pieces of advice. I wasn’t used to that.

Don’t get me wrong: I love helping people. I get DMs on a daily basis thanking me for raising awareness and asking for general guidance on managing recovery or supporting a loved one. Knowing I’ve helped another person, in even the smallest way, means the world and it is why I do what I do.

However, when the posts turn into, ‘I’m doing xyz, does that mean I have an eating disorder?’ and the lines blur as people mistake me being an advocate for being an expert, it can be hard to manage.

When I get messages like this, my response will always be the same. The only advice I can give is to reach out to a medical professional. I can’t do any more.

I am very much still in the thick of an eating disorder myself and I can’t be anyone’s first port of call. I can’t offer a diagnosis or referral. I can’t analyse symptoms. I can’t create meal plans. Not only am I not trained to have those conversations, I’m not recovered enough to discuss the ins and outs of other people’s illnesses.

I understand why people think it’s appropriate to approach people who talk about eating disorders, thinking we have all the answers. Leaning on others gives me such reassurance in recovery, but there have to be boundaries, especially as some of the messages I’ve received have been incredibly triggering.

People send me their weight, their BMI, the number of kgs they’ve lost, the exact measurements of their waist, their calorie intakes, and specific details of their eating disorder behaviours. It is dangerous for me to read such things, particularly when I’m not expecting them.

I’ve worked hard to curate social media feeds that are positive and uplifting, after once using the internet to fuel my eating disorder. The thing is, most people who share their mental illness recovery journeys are not fully recovered – we are often seeking the same things as everyone else.

We can’t be what people so often want us to be and it breaks my heart to say that, because I know all too well the feeling of just wanting to be told how to make things better.

I understand all too well why someone might feel it’s a shortcut to DM someone who knows what they’re going through instead of reaching out to a professional. Making that initial GP appointment for my ED was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but it was crucial for my recovery.

Treating people you follow online as your doctors and therapists is dangerous.

For one, treatment plans are specially created for individuals, so following mine will not help anyone else, because everyone’s illnesses are different and require various treatments.

Secondly, offloading unsolicited details about your illness can seriously harm the person on the receiving end. If they are not secure in their own recovery, it might set them back, as well as put immense pressure on them.

The next time you want to contact someone about a potential mental illness of your own, take a step back. Consider what you’re asking. Can they actually help? Will your words trigger them? Are you expecting the impossible?

The only way to ensure a proper recovery is to seek help from someone knowledgeable and experienced enough to give genuine, appropriate advice.

Everyone deserves their best chance at recovery. Allow yourself to be helped in the way you deserve to be. Contact a doctor instead of sending your symptoms to people already battling their own mental illnesses.

It isn’t fair on us to do that, and it also isn’t fair on you.


If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at [email protected], for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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