Eating disorders vs media representation


Please be aware that the following content may be triggering to individuals that are currently or previously have suffered from eating disorders and/or poor mental health.



According to Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity, approximately 1.25 million people in the UK have an eating disorder. Despite affecting anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, and sexuality, there is a harmful but common media representation of eating disorders affecting young Caucasian females who are particularly concerned with weight loss. Similarly, news articles and research focus on anorexia and bulimia, often eclipsing the representation of other, lesser-known, eating disorders.

A serious lack of representation within media may lead people that lie outside of the female Caucasian teen stereotype to feel their eating disorder is less valid due to their differences from the individuals being represented. This is particularly true for men, especially when taken with the wider stigma around discussions and treatment for mental health. This could and does, prevent people from seeking the professional help they are entitled to. 

As well as this, the media emphasis on anorexia and bulimia restricts society’s understanding of other eating disorders. Eating disorders are commonly linked to body image and weight loss, and associated behaviours such as excessive exercise, purging and calorie counting. This is dangerous primarily because there are limited signs of anorexia and bulimia which don’t always present themselves in other eating disorders. This can lead to people having their symptoms being overlooked or ignored because they don’t fit the stereotype. Without knowing that eating disorders can take a variety of forms, people can be unaware of their eating disorder/s and unable to access help.

There is a clear need to broaden the conversations around eating disorders and highlight their diverse nature. The remainder of this article will detail a (non-exhaustive) range of eating disorders to draw attention to the variety of forms they can take. It is important to note that this is only a summary of a few key details; in reality, the behavioural, emotional and physical symptoms are much more complex and do not all need to be present for diagnosis.

Anorexia Nervosa refers to the limited intake of foods and drinks to reduce weight. Body image is a key concern and leads to behaviours such as calorie counting, excessive exercising, rules around food intake and purging.

Avoidant / Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) also centring around the restriction of food, often with only a very limited range of safe foods. Unlike anorexia nervosa, this is not directly due to body image. However, lack of confidence can still occur as a secondary consequence, for example, due to low weight or delayed growth. A broad condition with no single reason for limiting food intake, however common factors involve disliking taste, texture, or smells, fear of eating and lack of interest in food.

Binge eating disorder (BED) involves eating large quantities of food in a small period without feeling in control. This can be due to a variety of reasons and can lead to negative psychological consequences such as shame and guilt.

Bulimia Nervosa consists of bingeing and purging, particularly as a coping mechanism, with a lack of control.

Orthorexia refers to an obsession with ‘pure’ food as a coping mechanism and to maintain control. This causes negative emotions when eating ‘impure’ food and potential physical problems from restricting certain types of food.

Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED) is used when a person’s symptoms don’t fit another eating disorder. This could include behaviour similar to anorexia but maintaining a healthy weight, purging not as part of binge-purge cycles, or infrequent binge eating.

Pica is the culturally and developmentally inappropriate eating of substances without nutritional value, particularly in children. These things, such as paper, may be eaten in addition to a healthy diet but are still dangerous.

Rumination disorder refers to repetitive bringing up partially digested food to be rechewed or spat out, without the feeling of control. This can cause dental issues and malnutrition.


 Eating disorders are a spectrum of symptoms and experiences. Although this list is by no means extensive, it acts as the basis for most eating disorders and diagnoses. 

If you think you, or someone you know, may be displaying these symptoms, or to get more information on symptoms and support, please see the links below:

Links to get support


Durham Mental Health and Advice:

Counselling Service: Mental Health Advice Team – Durham University

Counselling & Mental Health Service – Durham University


Email for Counselling and Mental Health support:


Joshua Rappeneker on Flickr with license

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