‘Plus-Size Women Suffer From Eating Disorders Too’

Stephanie Yeboah talks about her experiences of having an eating disorder and says the pressure on women to lose weight if they don’t conform to conventional beauty standards is toxic

Stephanie Yeboah

by Stephanie Yeboah as told to Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

I’ve always had a complex relationship with food. I was plus-size as a child and when I was 13 my parents - with the help of my doctor - decided to enrol me into weightwatchers. That experience gave me an extremely unhealthy attitude towards food. I would obsess over counting calories, and if I went over my allowance of 800 per day, I would purge.

For years, I didn’t see what I was doing as symptomatic of an eating disorder because I was plus-size, so I just thought losing weight by any means necessary was what was best for my body.

Everything changed when I was 23, though. I was on holiday in Barcelona for my birthday and had spent four months attempting to lose enough weight in order to be ‘bikini body ready’. I punished myself with a combination of using laxatives and dodgy diet pills that I’d bought from illegal websites as well as seriously restricting what I was eating all the time.

I had a flat stomach, sure. I wore my bikini and my friends and family congratulated me, patting me on the back for losing so much weight. But in myself, both mentally and physically, I felt awful.

I’d pushed my body so far in order to lose weight that I was ill all the time. My acid reflux meant my throat was in bits and mentally, I was at my lowest. I didn’t feel confident at all, just unwell. At that point, I realised everything I had done to my body in order for others to find it acceptable was actually incredibly damaging.

I had clearly had an eating disorder for years, but I had never seen my body represented within the eating disorder community. If anything, I’d been encouraged to lose weight by any means necessary because I was plus-size.

In our society, the way that eating disorders are talked about is so wrapped up in a cultural obsession with thinness and cisgender normative beauty standards that anyone who doesn’t fit that mould is excluded.

Women who are extremely thin are essentially the poster girls for eating disorders, and while they absolutely deserve to have that visibility and acknowledgement, it leaves the rest of us – plus size women, men, everyone else affected – without any visibility or validation that our experiences are equally as harmful.

As a result, our eating disorders are essentially validated. There is so much pressure for plus size women to lose weight that they’re taught to do it no matter what. People have this idea that it’s your own fault, so you deserve to be made fun of, that you should be doing whatever it takes to lose weight, even if it is dangerous.

There are plus size women who throw up after they eat, starve themselves or go on extreme diets, but because we're expected to look a specific way people encourage. At no point did anyone stop me and say 'Steph, the way that you're eating is really bad.' If I’d been slim to begin with I wonder whether that would have been different?

Throughout the entire time I was in the throes of my eating disorder, my weight-loss was celebrated by everyone around me. Even when I started to acknowledge that what I was doing wasn’t healthy, my doctor told me it ‘didn’t sound like an eating disorder’. They thought I was just doing what was best for my body, because when you’re plus size, people think that whatever your body is going through in an attempt to lose weight must be better, by default, than what it was going through before.

Eating disorders affect all bodies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re bigger or smaller, a man or a woman, or what you look like on the exterior.

It’s time that bodies which exist outside of normative beauty standards were included in conversations about eating disorders. In fact, cisgender normative beauty standards are really harmful to the psyches of all women. Things need to change but, as we know, there are entire industries dedicated to making women feel fat so that they buy expensive diet products.

Click through for inspirational Instagram accounts you should be following


Inspirational Instagram Accounts You Should Follow

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Illustrating inspirational images and depicting women in comic form, this account will brighten up your timeline with some home truths in the form of pretty pictures.

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This insanely beautiful model founded GURLS TALK, an online community where women from all backgrounds can share their personal experiences in a safe space.

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Alicia is an editor and activist who co-created #BlackLivesMatter. Her feed is a mixture of relatable memes, unfiltered selfies and educational posts to keep you woke.

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You might recognise this actor from The Hunger Games, when she played the character only character we cried endless tears for, Rue. Now, while still acting, she's a full-fledged activist posting about everything gender, feminism and black culture.

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Amani created the fast-growing activism account @MuslimGirl, another one you should definitely follow. She has spoken across the world about Muslim women and posts everything from badass selfies to stats you need to know.

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Amber created @CreatingConsentCulture which aims to educate people on rape culture and support rape and sexual assault survivors. She's also outspoken about racism and sex work, her feed will be endless many dinner party talking points.

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You may only know Amber Rose as Kanye's ex, but think again. Amber is a sex positivity icon, with her own pocast 'Loveline with Amber Rose' up until 2018 that aimed to promote healthy sexual relationships and self-love. If you can get past the fact she advertised flat tummy tea once (fgs Amber), you'll love her feminism-filled feed.

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Cameron Russell

An american model who called out the fashion industry for sexual harassment and assault, she started the #MyJobShouldNotIncludeAbuse hashtag. Her instagram is full of inspiring stories and educational videos exposing different injustices within her industry and beyond.

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If your not already following Iskra, your living under an Instagram rock. The body positive model started her own business, everyBODY with Iskra, to give health and fitness advice beyond just getting super skinny. You need her body posi vibes in your life.

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Another super body positive account to follow, Jessamyn is a yoga teacher regularly posting about the emotional and physical benefits of body positivity and practicing yoga.

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Shun your timeline of filtered selfies and over exposed holiday destinations. It's time for some feminist, mental health aware art! This account is amazing for cute cartoons that say everything we're already feeling.

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We - plus size women - deserve visibility and acknowledgement in our experiences of disordered eating. If we want to promote healthy eating for all women and prevent plus size women from succumbing to the endless messaging that they must weight no matter the cost then this needs to happen urgently.

To anyone reading this who feels like nobody will believe they’re struggling with an eating disorder, I want you to know that you are not alone. There are communities waiting with open arms to support you. Talk to your doctor, nurse, anyone that you trust and if someone notices that the way you are eating could by symptomatic of a disorder, don’t disregard it because we’ve been brainwashed to believe plus size people must resort to extreme weight-loss tactics.

It’s important to have these conversations about healthy attitudes towards dieting and food. Do not suffer in silence

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