Eating Disorders Pop Culture & Mental Health

Faces of the Diagnosis – Raising Awareness on Eating Disorders

Celebrities are constantly under public scrutiny making them among the most vulnerable to develop an eating disorder. The following are some who’ve used their diagnosis to raise the public’s awareness on the various manifestations of the disorder, and in return inspired other celebrities to do the same.


When 21-year old Brazilian model, Ana Carolina Reston, died after walking the Milan Fashion Week catwalk in 2006, Isabella Caro made the decision to bring extreme visibility to anorexia by putting a face (and body) on the disorder. At the time, Caro stated, “the idea was to shock people into awareness. I decided to do it to warn girls about the danger of diets and fashion commandments” to show that it was not a lifestyle choice, but an actual disease.


Isabella Caro


Fitness guru, Richard Simmons, opened up about his battle with anorexia during a time when he viewed food as the enemy to talk show host, Oprah Winfrey. He sourced his belief that ‘only thin people are successful’ for the onset of the disorder; describing how he would starve himself in order to lose the weight. “The thought of food – when I saw spaghetti, I saw worms… My highest was 268 and my lowest was 119.” Simmons broke his unhealthy eating habits by adhering to the formula: Love yourself, move your body and watch portion. He used his own personal mantra and spirited workout videos to inspire others to lose weight while promoting the importance of self-love and health.


Richard Simmons Portrait Session


In a 1995 BBC interview, Princess Diana described bulimia as “a secret disease… you inflict upon yourself because your self-esteem is at a low ebb, and you don’t think you’re worthy or valuable. You fill your stomach up four or five times a day – some do it more – and it gives you a feeling of comfort. It’s like having a pair of arms around you, but its temporarily, temporary. Then you’re disgusted at the bloatedness of your stomach, and then you bring it all up again.” Princess Diana’s vulnerable admission resulted in other women identifying with her. There was such a significant increase, in Great Britain, in the number of women seeking treatment for bulimia that the press dubbed the phenomenon the “Diana effect.”




Singer and songwriter Elton John was one of the many that was influenced by Princess Diana’s confession. He spoke on how much it helped to know that his close friend was struggling with bulimia, as well. This helped him acknowledge that he had a problem as he struggled with bulimia, alcoholism and drug abuse for 16 years before seeking treatment. Sir Elton’s transparency regarding his battle with bulimia has inspired millions as he was one of the very few men, during the ‘90’s, to come public with an eating disorder.




Janet Jackson spoke on her experience with binge-eating disorder to encourage others to ‘accept themselves and let go of the emotional/mental obstacles blocking them from experiencing happiness’. She referred to her acting debut on Good Times, at the age of ten, as the catalyst to her disorder; describing how the wardrobe department would bind her breasts with gauze to make her appear younger. That experience, coupled with her brothers’ light teasing, fueled a persistent belief of not being worthy, even as she reached critical acclaim in television, film, and music. This belief initiated her disorder, as she described how the bingeing was triggered when she was in a negative space. “When I’m feeling down on myself or not feeling good about who I am, or maybe something happened and I’m feeling depressed, I eat to fill the void. Afterwards, I’ll beat myself up about it. I regret doing it, but I’ll turn around and do it again.”




Two years after leaving One Direction, Zayn Malik began to speak publicly about his struggle with an eating disorder while being a member of the group. He revealed, “it wasn’t as though I had any concerns about my weight or anything like that, I’ d just go for days – sometimes two or three days straight – without eating anything at all. It got quite serious, although at the time I didn’t recognize it for what it was… I think it was about control. I didn’t feel like I had control over anything else in my life, but food was something I could control, so I did.” After coming through, what he referred to as, his ‘secret hell’, he said he felt society didn’t expect men to have emotional problems so he specifically appealed to other males that may be suffering: “We’re all human. People are often afraid to admit difficulties, but I don’t believe that there should be a struggle with anything that’s the truth.”




Rapper Eminem revealed his habit of obsessive exercise to lose weight. He admitted that he would get up in the morning, before going to the music studio and run 8 ½ miles in about an hour. Then he’d come home from the studio and run another 8 ½. His obsession with weight loss and burning calories eventually began to cause him physical injury, leading to his recovery from the disorder.





  • Butler, Jess. Richard Simmons Confesses He Weighted Only 119 Pounds When His Eating Disorder Was At Its Worst. 
  • Fahey, Nicola, and Davies, Howell. ‘It Was A Control Thing’ Zayn Malik tells how he finally conquered his eating disorder and crippling anxiety. March 2017.
  • Frontline. The princess and the press: Diana’s 1995 BBC interview.
  • Gonzales, Michael. “I eat to fill the void”: Janet Jackson Interview. The Telegraph. Nov. 2010.
  • Grimes, William. Isabelle Caro, Anorexic Model, Dies at 28. NY Times. Dec. 2010.
  • Healthline Editorial Team. 9 Celebrities with Eating Disorders. Healthline 2017.
  • Hermann PhD., Allison. The “Diana Effect” – How Princess Diana helped many seek help for bulimia. Cornell University, College of Human Ecology Human Development. Oct. 2017
  • Jackson, Janet. True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself. Feb 2011.
  • Kim, Victoria. Richard Simmons Talks Childhood Eating Disorders. July 2013.
  • Matus, Mizpah. True You: Janet Jackson. Dec. 2017.
  • Maxwell, Kate. 6 Male Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Eating Disorders. Spoon Healthier.
  • National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA). Eating Disorders in Men & Boys.
  • Richard Simmons on Anorexia: “I started picturing food as an Enemy”. OWN Network, Oprah show.
  • Stewart, Dodai. Isabelle Caro, Anorexic Model, Deat at 28. Dec 2010.
  • Wootton, Dan. ‘I’d Go Days Without Eating’ Zayn Malik reveals that he suffered from a crippling eating disorder while in One Direction. Nov. 2016.



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