Why is it SO HARD for people to get their minds around eating disorders as a real and distinct mental illness?
There are a few reasons but here's the most difficult barrier: WE AGREE WITH THEIR SYMPTOMS. We agree that people should be afraid of gaining weight, should be pressured to be thin, that more exercise is better, and that food should be a daily battle of morals and good character. We think extreme measures to manipulate our body size are understandable and obsession with the scale is a healthy behavior. Not eating and not enjoying food are considered virtues. Our collusion with these ideas blinds us to when they are symptoms of something terribly, terribly wrong.
It's horrible, but a life-threatening mental illness causes symptoms that are so normalized by society that it can make the ill seem normal and the normal rather sick!
We don't do this with the symptoms of Tourettes or schizophrenia but our society's collective inanity about appearance mimics the horrific suffering of the most deadly mental illness to the point where it is not uncommon for people to actually express, OUT LOUD, envy, as in "I could use a little anorexia, myself!"