Did Miriam McDonald have an eating disorder? (+7 risk factors)

In this blog post, we shall answer the question, “did Miriam McDonald have an eating disorder?” and also look at how her character in the famous series, Degrassi, triggered and worsened her eating disorder. We shall also look at other eating disorders and their symptoms and discuss why teenagers are more prone to developing eating disorders.

Did Miriam McDonald have an eating disorder?

Yes, Miriam McDonald had an eating disorder. The actress opened up about having anorexia nervosa during the 20th anniversary of ‘Degrassi’ and mentioned how difficult it was for her to play her character Emma with anorexia while she was actually going through the same. 

During an Instagram live with her former co-star and friend, Cassie Steele, she said, “I do not think it was done justice. That is such a massive issue for me… They know ‌my sister passed away after 15 years with a very serious eating disorder, so I think that the small way that the episodes glossed over it was, in my opinion, almost a disservice.… There’s a spectrum where you can dabble in an eating disorder the way Emma did and you fight your way back after a matter of weeks and there’s a point of no return.”

Miriam got emotional when speaking of how difficult it was to act as being anorexic while still having an eating disorder of her own. She mentioned that she did not put much of her heart and soul into the storyline as a way to keep it at arm’s length since it was a very relevant experience for her.

Before we discuss eating disorders among teenagers, let us look at who Miriam McDonald is and the role she played in Degrassi.

Who is Miriam McDonald?

Miriam Katherine Macdonald was born on July 26, 1987. She is a Canadian actress who is famous for her role in playing the main character, Emma, in the television series, Degrassi: the next generation from 2001-2010. She has also appeared in many other movies and done voiceovers for the ripping friends, cyberchase, pecola, and Englebert, an animation. She is also an accomplished dancer and a professional yoga instructor.

Miriam’s role in Degrassi

Mirriam played the lead role in Degrassi when she was 15 years. The television series discussed in-depth, issues affecting teenagers and did not shy away from talking about things that people filtered about what young people went through when growing up. The series depicted the struggles of teenagers in middle school who are in the adolescent stage.

In one of the episodes, Emma got her first period while in class and she was wearing a white skirt. She handled the situation well and ended up borrowing oversized basketball shorts, and when she was teased about it, she answered boldly that she had her first periods like any other young woman. She then petitions for the girls’ bathrooms to get a tampon dispenser.

What were Miriam McDonald’s thoughts on the representation of eating disorders in Degrassi?

In the Instagram live with Cassie, Miriam delved deeper and gave her views on the representation of eating disorders in the show, Degrassi. Although she was grateful that the show tried to bring up real issues that affected teenagers, she felt like the topic of eating disorders was glossed over and not given the attention it deserved. We will look in detail at the episodes they brought up regarding eating disorders and body image.

Manny being fat

They talked about the episode where Manny tried to be an actress, but the agent refused because she was too fat. Cassie mentioned that the episode hit too close to home as she grew up being curvier than her peers, and that made her uncomfortable around others.

This is a real issue that is facing many young people in the world today. The unrealistic societal standards regarding beauty have deluded young people, especially girls, into believing that being skinny is beautiful. Many are adopting crazy diets, counting calories and purging so as to cut weight.

Like Miriam, many in the film industry are affected because of the scrutiny they get from agents, producers and fans.

Eating disorder episodes were triggering for Mirriam

Playing the character Emma, when she was recovering from an eating disorder, was triggering for Miriam. She was recovering from an eating disorder in real life and getting the role of having to act the symptoms of anorexia made her uncomfortable. To add to this, her sister had also passed away after battling an eating disorder for 15 years. 

It was risky and also reckless for a teenager to act in such a role when it hit too close to home. People recovering from eating disorders can be triggered easily and this can cause a relapse. Even people who have been through treatment for years still have to be careful and aware of their triggers at all times.

Miriam confessed that she did not put much of her heart into the storyline so as to protect herself from the overwhelming emotions. Cassie agrees that it also made her uncomfortable and angry that they let Miriam act the part when they knew what she had gone through.

Many people in the film industry have eating disorders

During their discussion, Miriam brought up the reality that many people in the film and creative industry suffer from eating disorders. Factors contributing to this include:

  • Unrealistic beauty standards
  • Influence of media
  • Demand from work
  • Increase of non-evasive corrective surgeries

The show portrays the reality of eating disorder prevalence among actors and other creatives.

Many eating disorder cases go unnoticed

Miriam also talked about why many eating disorder cases go unnoticed. She said that many people are sick and they have no idea. Sometimes,it requires an outside person to notice the disordered eating patterns of the afflicted person. It is therefore important for all people to educate themselves about eating disorders, and their signs and symptoms.

The show glossed over the issue of eating disorder

Miriam felt like the show glossed over the issue of eating disorders and did not give it the attention it needed. Speaking from a personal experience, she is aware of how fatal eating disorders can be. Continuous sensitization is needed on the issue so that people are able to talk about it freely without fear of being discriminated against.

Risk factors of eating disorders among teenagers

Miriam’s story portrays the danger young people are in as they are at a high risk of developing eating disorders. The main risk factors include:

Life changes and transitions

Some life changes and transitions can cause emotional and psychological distress and instabilities, which can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like the development of eating disorders. These transitions can include moving houses or schools, the death of a loved one, or relationship breakups.


Teenagers who have experienced trauma, i.e., emotional, sexual or physical abuse are at a high risk of developing eating disorders. Research has shown a very strong correlation between eating disorders and trauma.

Hormonal changes

Puberty comes with hormonal changes that can trigger eating disorders. These hormonal changes can make the body of a teenage girl grow bigger and this might trigger disordered eating which can lead to the development of an eating disorder.


Weight loss has been getting positive reinforcement as the media glorifies and portrays beauty and health as being skinny. This has encouraged many youths to adopt dieting and extreme exercises to keep up with the norm and societal standards of being healthy and “sexy”. Excessive dieting and exercising lead to the development of eating disorders.

Extracurricular activities

Teenagers are at an active stage in life where they get involved in extracurricular activities outside class. They include; gymnastics, swimming, modelling, and cheerleading, among others. This puts them at a risk of developing eating disorders as they work on maintaining their body shapes and sizes.

Miriam became famous at an early age and this could have put her at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. Some become too focused on their bodies, thus progressing into developing eating disorders.

Family history and genes

Genes are considered a big factor in the development of eating disorders. This means that teenagers with close relatives who have eating disorders are at a high risk of developing eating disorders. Miriam’s sister had died after struggling with an eating disorder for 15 years and this could have contributed to her development of hers.

Body dissatisfaction

It is very common for teenagers to have a negative body image. Body image refers to how one feels about his/her body shape and size. Teenagers who dislike their physical appearance are at a higher risk of developing disorders.

Anxiety and depressive disorders

Research has shown that teenagers and young adults who have met the criteria for anxiety and depressive-related disorders, i.e, OCD, generalized anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder.

Media and cultural tendencies

Miriam talks about how many people are affected by eating disorders in the film and creative industry. Social media plays a huge role in influencing the attitudes and behaviours of young people. There is also a cultural tendency where people judge others by their physical attributes.

Media and people portray images of ideal weight as people who are slim and fit. 


We have looked at Miriam McDonald’s struggle with anorexia nervosa, defined what eating disorders are and the types of eating disorders. We have also looked at the major risk factors of eating disorders among teenagers. If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently asked questions: did Miriam McDonald have an eating disorder?

What happened to Miriam McDonald?

After acting Degrassi for nine years, and a cameo on Degrassi, Miriam continues to act in Canadian productions.she has also worked as a real estate‌ agent and yoga instructor.

Does Emma Nelson have an eating disorder?

Yes, Emma’s dieting has developed into a full-blown eating disorder and she keeps it a secret by dating Peter so that Manny cannot talk to her. As the condition worsens, she pushes away people who genuinely care for her.

Did Miriam McDonald have anorexia?

Yes, the actress got emotional when talking about how the writers made her character have an eating disorder when she herself was battling it. Her sister had also died after battling an eating disorder for 15 years.


Hearon S. (June 28, 2021). Miriam McDonald Recalls ‘Degrassi’ Writers Making Emma Anorexic Amid Her Real-Life Eating Disorder Battle. Retrieved from https://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/miriam-mcdonald-degrassi-made-emma-anorexic-amid-my-irl-battle/

Czachor E.M., (July 6, 2021). Cassie Steele And Miriam McDonald Recalled Challenging “Degrassi” Storylines And Some They Wish Happened Differently. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeed.com/emilymaeczachor/cassie-steele-miriam-mcdonald-degrassi-q-and-a 

Primeau J. (October 1, 2018). ‘Degrassi’s Period Episode Set An Example Of Being “Unashamed,” According To Miriam McDonald. Retrieved from https://www.bustle.com/p/emmas-period-episode-on-degrassi-was-just-as-impactful-for-actor-miriam-mcdonald-as-it-was-for-fans-12081897

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