Horses and Eating Disorders
About a month ago, I was studying as the news played in the background. The news was covering a story
about 48 horses that were rescued. The horses were near death and lethargic from malnutrition and
other physical ailments that couldn’t be observed by the naked eye.
I put my book down and watched the story. I saw horses with ribs showing. I also so horses that looked
like they were in pretty good shape despite being rescued. Then my brain started spinning. Now before I
go on, this is NOT a blog conveying horses aren’t important. This blog is about my thoughts about eating
disorder stigma, diet culture, and how this story impacted my thinking.
I was curious. Why was there a news story showing ribs of malnourished horses and the need for more
hay? Why are there news stories about how much weight celebrities have lost, glorification because
their ribs are showing, and the diet that worked for them? This wonderful organization is raising money
to nurse horses back to health. I wonder how many people know that those struggling with eating
disorders need to be nursed back to health and it’s expensive? The story said that on average it takes
164 days to rehabilitate a horse in these conditions. 164 days is roughly 5.5 months. During my times in
treatment, I was there for approximately 90 days, 3 months because insurance dropped me because I
“seemed ok”. Just like horses need time to be in a healthy space, so do those with eating disorders. I
have peers that were very sick as well that were dropped from insurance after two weeks because they
gained weight or insurance decided they were doing better.
Then, my jaw dropped. These are actual quotes from the director of the non-profit:
“Your eyes will lie to you. Because, your eyes look at it [horse] and says it looks fine… But, what happens
when you start to push in, and you peel all this hair back and touch the neck, there is zero fat there. It is
“… many would believe the horses were healthy, at first glance. However, when the horses were
contacted and physically examined, law enforcement believed they were in extreme need of
“… they expect to invest more than $40,000 to heal the emaciated horses…”
“It is going to be very expensive to provide nourishing feed to these animals.”
ARE YOU FOLLOWING ME?
I don’t understand weight and eating disorder stigma in our culture. It seems the general public doesn’t
question that these horses need to be fed. Those working with the horses including law enforcement
and veterinarians understand you can’t tell if the horses are healthy by looking at their bodies. They
didn’t risk relying only on how the horses looked, they actually physically examined the horses and I’m
assuming did blood work, x-rays, listened to their heart, etc.
When it comes to humans, we continually make assumptions and judgments about who a person is
based on weight, body size, body shape, movement choices, and food choices. We assume someone in a
bigger body is unhealthy, has no self-control, rarely moves, and shouldn’t be eating [insert what culture
calls “bad” food]. We believe those in a smaller body are healthy, lucky, disciplined, and are “so good”
eating [insert what culture calls “good” food]. We also assume, based on how someone looks, that they
can or can’t have an eating disorder or aren’t “Sick Enough” as Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani’s book is called. The
person we are making the assumptions can also be ourselves.
Are you hearing me?
In this story, the news is asking us to donate money to feed the horses back to a healthy place. And, I
have no idea what that means for each of the horses. I have never thought about what a horse weighs,
let alone its weight compared to another horse. Have you?
How crazy is it that there are organizations right in Denver and around the country that ask for
donations to help nourish those struggling with eating disorders back to health? I was blown away by all
the similarities in this story when compared to eating disorders and diet culture. Why is it that we aren’t
ok with a horse’s ribs showing and take care to do a physical examination to ensure its’ health, but we
aren’t for human beings? I’m grateful there are organizations to help these horses too. But, what about
What will it take to change culture to treat one another how we treat horses with compassion, care,
seriousness, funding, understanding, full examination, and reality of weight stigma, diet culture, and
eating disorders? What can you do to educate yourself and those around you? We all must do our part
to change culture!