The power of becoming the advocate you needed

Presented by William Hornby Advocate, Creator, and Influencer

Although apps like TikTok have been shown to influence disordered eating and eating disorder development, they can be used for good—many influencers and advocates use their platforms to educate others, spread awareness, fight stigma, and encourage people to seek treatment. 

Men have historically been excluded from eating disorder treatment due to the misconception that eating disorders only affect girls and young women; however, more and more men are becoming advocates for eating disorder recovery and helping new generations of men recognize their conditions.

Gaps in eating disorder advocacy

Although there are many eating disorder advocates out there, some people may find that they aren’t getting the specific representation they need from these advocates. Some gaps may include:

  • Male ED representation
  • Advocates that discuss self-gaslighting
  • Advocates that discuss the limitations of diagnosis
  • Representation for lesser-known EDs like Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)
  • Fat-informed advocates
  • LGBTQ+ ED representation, especially amongst queer and trans men

Male representation

Less than 1% of all eating disorder research is conducted on men, yet 25% to 40% of all people with eating disorders are men. (1) As a result, eating disorders frequently go undiagnosed and untreated in males—cis men and trans men alike.

There are limited resources for men with eating disorders, including social media influencers. Without helpful resources, men may never realize that they have a problem, especially given the misconceptions about eating disorders only affecting women. This myth can perpetuate stigma and shame for men and non-women.

Toxic masculinity is also an insidious influence on physical and mental health. It prevents men from admitting they have a problem and seeking help, and they may feel attacked when their eating is called into question by anyone. One way to help deconstruct toxic masculinity and normalize eating disorders in men is more representation and education. More men need to know they have eating disorders and seek treatment. When more men realize they have an eating disorder and go into recovery, more men in recovery will be able to speak up about their journey and be responsible advocates in this space.

Discussions of self-gaslighting

Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation and emotional abuse that makes people question their sanity. And while we often think of gaslighting as being between two people, self-gaslighting is also very common. Self-gaslighting occurs when someone doubts themself so much that they begin to question their own reality.

When it comes to mental health conditions like eating disorders, many people engage in self-gaslighting by convincing themselves that they don’t have a problem or that their situation “isn’t that bad.” Many people gaslight themselves into believing they aren’t sick enough, which prevents them from getting the treatment they need to recover. Talking about this concept and reassuring people that if they are concerned about their eating or their relationship to food and movement, they should seek help.

The limitations of a diagnosis

A diagnosis can undoubtedly be helpful and validating for many people with eating disorders, and a diagnosis can also help someone access treatment easier. But it’s important to remember that diagnoses aren’t perfect—they are typically used for insurance purposes, and there are limitations. 

On the other hand, diagnoses can also be inaccessible since healthcare is generally inaccessible. Many uninsured or underinsured people cannot afford screening assessments and doctor’s appointments. Not having a formal diagnosis doesn’t make someone’s problem any less real or debilitating. When advocates talk candidly about the limitations of a diagnosis, they validate countless people who don’t have access to healthcare.

Knowledge about lesser-known eating disorders

While there tend to be a lot of resources or influencers talking about anorexia and bulimia, there are fewer advocates discussing lesser-known eating disorders like Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Many people may have no idea that these conditions exist and, thus, not realize they are struggling with an eating disorder. When advocates educate the public about lesser-known eating disorders, they’re potentially helping thousands of people recognize their problem so they can seek help.

Fat scholarship

A crucial part of eating disorder advocacy is fat scholarship. Although not all eating disorders are rooted in fatphobia, they exist in a fatphobic society, and everybody has the responsibility to unlearn and dismantle their anti-fatness. Fat people are disproportionately affected by diet culture and systemic anti-fatness

Fat-informed advocates who have studied fat scholarship and texts can help debunk myths about eating disorders, combat weight stigma, and educate people on the far-reaching consequences of systemic anti-fatness.

LGBTQ+ eating disorder representation

Eating disorders are incredibly prevalent in the LGBTQ+ community, especially among queer men. This may be for many reasons. First, hook-up culture, a major part of the queer male community with apps like Grindr and Scruff, perpetuates eating disorders in gay men. “No fats, no femmes” is a phrase commonly found on these apps, contributing to anti-fatness, toxic masculinity, sexism, and more. Moreover, gay men portrayed in pop culture are typically lean and muscular, which contributes to the notion that this is the “ideal” body type for men, especially queer men.

Queer male eating disorder advocates who are living in higher-weight bodies and/or are femmes or embrace their feminity have the power to validate and empower many gay men who are silently suffering with eating disorders while also providing much-needed representation.

How to be a responsible advocate for eating disorders

Many harmful and problematic “advocates” are out there, spreading misinformation about eating disorders and alienating those struggling. 

In order to be a responsible advocate for eating disorders, you should be learning from fat scholars about various issues related to weight stigma, healthism, diet culture, anti-fatness, and eating disorders. You can’t do the work of inclusive recovery without learning from fat scholars, especially those sitting at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities. An easy way to get started is to follow fat people on social media. Here are some Instagram accounts to follow:

Update your vocabulary

Another way to use your platform responsibly is to constantly be learning and updating your vocabulary. The words you use to communicate how much you care about various marginalized communities. For example, “obese” and “overweight” are out-of-date words based on BMI scale categories. These words are frequently weaponized against fat people in healthcare settings. As for the word fat, many people living in larger bodies have reclaimed it, including fat scholars. However, since it has historically been used as an insult and not a descriptor, it’s important not to refer to someone as fat without knowing whether they use that word or not.

Another word to integrate into your vocabulary is anti-fatness as opposed to fatphobia, the latter of which implies that people are afraid of fat people when they’re actually hateful. Anti-fatness communicates the systemic oppression of fat people and the ways in which people in higher-weight bodies are targeted, harmed, and discriminated against.

Many people of low or average weight complain of “skinny shaming” on social media, and while it can be harmful to shame people’s bodies at any size and weight, skinny shaming is not the same as fat shaming. Fat shaming actively perpetuates and participates in systemic anti-fatness and social anti-fatness.

When learning and updating your vocabulary, be gentle when telling others about new words. Offer to teach people what you know without judging or shaming them for not knowing. You also shouldn’t expect others to educate you—you need to actively seek an education for yourself, which shows your commitment to doing the work.

Don't get personal

It’s also essential to avoid getting too personal when advocating on social media. There can be danger in telling personal stories, including triggering details like numbers, weights, meals, meal sizes, and more. While sharing your general experience and why you became an advocate is OK, going into details can invite comparison. Before deciding what to share and what to keep to yourself, you might want to stop and consider whether what you’re sharing is helpful to others. Your job as an advocate is to help validate people going through problems and encourage them to reach out to professionals and look for resources—it’s not to publicly talk about your trauma. 

How to become an advocate

If you’re considering becoming an advocate for eating disorders or another mental health disorder, you’ll first want to identify the voice missing from the advocacy space. For example, maybe the space is missing a queer, nonbinary Filipino person or a fat, disabled man. You must then determine if you are the right voice to fill that gap or if someone else is better suited.

Once you determine who the right voice is, you should consider how to amplify the missing voice, especially if it isn’t you. You’ll want to start by building a network, talking to other advocates and people in recovery, and doing thorough research into who is already in the space.

If you decide your voice could be a positive contributor to eating disorder advocacy, some guiding principles for advocacy include:

  • Always operate with empathy
  • Listen and learn
  • Never stop educating yourself
  • Never assume you have all the answers
  • Build caring community

And no matter what, make sure you are becoming an advocate for the right reasons—because you want to help others and support them on their journey to healing and recovery. Advocacy must come from a compassionate and selfless place that centers on the needs of others.


  1. Gorrell, S., & Murray, S. B. (2019). Eating Disorders in Males. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America, 28(4), 641–651.