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Taylor Swift Shares Eating Disorder Struggles: What to Know About the Illnesses Affecting Millions of People

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In her new Netflix documentary, “Miss Americana,” Taylor Swift reveals that she struggled with an eating disorder and that she’d sometimes be triggered by seeing pictures of herself plastered across magazines and screens.

“It's not good for me to see pictures of myself every day," she says in the documentary, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival on Thursday. "It's only happened a few times, and I'm not in any way proud of it… a picture of me where I feel like I looked like my tummy was too big, or... someone said that I looked pregnant ... and that'll just trigger me to just starve a little bit -- just stop eating."

Swift got more in depth with Variety, saying that it was hard for her to open up about her struggles in the film

"I didn't know if I was going to feel comfortable with talking about body image and talking about the stuff I've gone through in terms of how unhealthy that's been for me -- my relationship with food and all that over the years," she told the magazine. 

But through the documentary, Swift said, she was able to be honest about the positive and negative reinforcement she associated with her body and eating habits.

“All I know is my own experience. And my relationship with food was exactly the same psychology that I applied to everything else in my life: If I was given a pat on the head, I registered that as good. If I was given a punishment, I registered that as bad."

Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are the three main types of eating disorders. Therapist Molly Carmel (LSCW-R) and author of "Breaking Up With Sugar" says that triggers for people with eating disorders can look vastly different. 

“There are many triggers that someone with an eating disorder can be impacted by. Certainly, people being critical about your body, extreme dieting messaging from the media, and general emotional distress can bring up disordered thoughts that can lead to eating disordered behaviors,” Carmel added. “Past traumatic events are most definitely linked to the development of eating disorders and addictions.”

For many people, as Swift described, the pressure to look a certain way can come from the media. Carmel also thinks our society has a huge impact on body image and that it begins with “unrealistic expectations” around beauty standards, despite strides in size acceptance.

“Diet culture is pervasive - we participate in it even more than we know - and we are bombarded with messaging about how being thin means we'll be successful, beautiful, and happy,” Carmel said. “Those suffering with body image often don't have the skills or tools to know what to do, and that can easily lead to disordered eating patterns, body image issues and the like. It's a vicious cycle that our culture makes it near impossible to break out of.”

Eating disorders are pervasive in the U.S., with higher rates seen in women, those who identify as transgender and people in the military, Carmel said. An estimated 30 million Americans struggle with some kind of eating disorder in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

“Depending on the level of severity of your particular disorder, there are many support groups, nutritionists, eating disorder therapists, medication management, outpatient and inpatient facilities that can be helpful in assessing and treating an eating disorder,” Carmel said. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with eating and body image, you can talk to someone at the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at 800-931-2237. You can also chat with someone online at the NEDA website.

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