Why “You Don’t Look Like You Have An Eating Disorder” Has To Stop

Highest Standards, Nationally Recognized:

woman saying no to apple

“That’s not good,” remarks main character Ellen in the highly controversial Netflix film To The Bone, as she steps off the scale in a morning weighing session at her residential treatment program. Ellen is portrayed by Lily Collins, an actress who has been open about her own struggles with eating disorders. The “not good” she is referring to is her very low weight, which is made obvious by her skin and bone structure. Ellen’s diagnosis is anorexia nervosa. Among all mental health disorders, anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of mortality. Heavy restriction and starvation deprives the body of the nutrients it needs, causing the body to take extreme measures for survival. Eating away at fat until the body eats away at muscle and bone, it will do whatever it has to do to gain its energy back and survive. The main character develops “furring”, a condition of anorexia in which the body starts growing extra hair in order to keep itself warm.

Ellen is troublingly skinny. Her anorexia nervosa has gotten extreme and at one point in the movie she is on the brink of having a feeding tube. She also passes out and turns down food when it is offered to her after. Unfortunately, to movie viewers, Ellen is the stereotype of anorexia. She is caucasian, pretty, a female, and comes from a middle to upper class family. In her treatment, there are representations of other bodies and genders with different types of eating disorders. However, as many different articles criticizing the film points out, Ellen’s character represents a small percentage of the way people with eating disorders look. They aren’t always that severe but because that level of severity is what the media chooses to portray, that’s what millions of people believe they have to look like in order to be considered “sick”.

One of the most dangerous statements people unknowingly make to someone who opens up about having an eating disorder is, “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.” If you ask  said person just what an eating disorder is supposed to look like, you would probably get a description of someone like Ellen- emaciated and “to the bone”. Not all eating disorders cause severe weight loss. Bulimia nervosa doesn’t typically contribute to weight loss. Binge eating disorder causes weight gain. Orthorexia is focused on maintaining a “healthy” body. Mild to moderate cases of anorexia might not include severe weight loss either. Part of the problem with this stigma is that the non-severe eating disorders can be hard to find treatment for, despite the chronic stress one experiences mentally as well as physically.


Eating disorder treatment should be open to everyone who feels out of control in their relationship to their body and food. Avalon By The Sea offers primary eating disorder care from our beautiful primary mental health residential treatment home located on the iconic Malibu coastline. For a confidential assessment on your eating disorder and information on our eating disorder treatment programs, call us today: 888-958-7511


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