When singer Zayn Malik first told the public about his experience with an eating disorder, he helped chip away at the misconception that only women are affected by these types of disorders.
Now, in an interview with U.K. publication The Times, the former member of One Direction is shedding more insight into his experiences and turning another common belief about eating disorders on its head.
Eating disorders are typically thought to be entirely based around issues with weight and body image, but disordered eating is rarely so simple as someone restricting or purging food to lose weight.
For Malik specifically, his eating disorder and struggles with anxiety were more about control.
“Every area of my life was so regimented and controlled, it was the one area where I could say, ‘No, I’m not eating that.’”
His experience isn’t uncommon. Many say they’re eating disorders are born out of an attempt to take control of a life that seems chaotic or out of control. By “re-taking” control of their diet, and thereby their body, they feel like they can find structure or agency.
Of course, the problem develops when the behavior itself spins out of control into disordered eating.
As Malik found control in other areas of his life and learned to let go when necessary, he also found a chance to recover.
“Once I got over the control, the eating just came back into place, super naturally. Not supernaturally! Just really naturally,” he says.
He also credits his mom for helping him find stability and get “back in touch.”
“I came back to the UK and spent some time with my mum and got some TLC,” he said, “and she cooked me food and I got back in touch, mentally, with a lot of the things I’d lost.”
In addition to his eating disorder, Malik also publicly struggled with anxiety. In 2015, the singer was forced to cancel a series of performances due to anxiety, as well as one performance last year. Now, he says he has recovered from both conditions.
Malik’s willingness to publicly discuss his experiences are a refreshing reminder that eating disorders are not a simple illness. They cannot be summed up as a “weight issue” or “body issue.” They are a mental disorder that is hard to easily categorize because they are often related to a number of both mental and physical health issues.