Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Downton Abbey’s Jessica Brown Findlay on how talking helped her overcome her eating disorder


The actor Jessica Brown Findlay, who played Lady Sybil Branson on Downton Abbey, has spoken out about how she overcame the eating disorder she had struggled with since the age of 14.

Findlay stars alongside Lesley Manville and Samantha Morton in upcoming ITV Encore/Hulu series Harlots, about sex workers in 18th century London. The 27-year-old actor says that talking about her eating disorder was crucial in helping her tackle it.

“I felt so alone for so long, and I just hid,” Findlay tells The Telegraph. “And then I started talking and held my head up, and instead of saying sorry, decided to tell myself that I matter.”

Therapy helped her pick apart her disordered thinking about weight and food, says Findlay.

Read more: “Anorexia isn’t a silly teenage girl’s disease. I should know”

“We can feed certain ideas of what beauty is and what success is,” she explains. “There has to come a time when those aren’t the rules anymore.

“Then we can have a mature conversation about what that is about and about depression.”


Jessica Brown Findlay in new series Harlots, set to air at 10pm on Monday 27 March on ITV Encore.

Crucial to Findlay’s recovery was coming to the understanding that the number she saw on the scales did not reflect her value as an actor – or as a human being.

“It’s about learning to stand up and say, ‘This is me, and that’s OK’,” she says. “I’m not going to be a better actor if I’m a dress size smaller. It’s nothing to do with my brain.”

Read more: A brief history of period drama’s most iconic scenes of sexual tension

People with eating disorders often try to keep their eating habits and disordered thoughts a secret from others, and there can be many different motives behind this secrecy. Some sufferers might think that their friends and family will force them to seek help when they don’t want it; others may be concerned about causing others to worry.

In light of this secrecy, Findlay says that she hopes speaking out about her own experiences will help other sufferers in opening up.

“If you are lucky enough to speak and be heard, it might be something that could be useful to others,” she says. “The more we have brave discussions like that going forward, the easier it is to talk about things, and the less alone we feel. It’s certainly made me feel less alone.”


Findlay as Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey.

It’s estimated that more than 725,000 people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder, with women making up a little under 90% of this figure.

While eating disorders are often blamed on the societal pressure to be thin, the reasons behind why someone develops one are usually far more complex, according to NHS Choices. Risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a person having an eating disorder include certain underlying characteristics – for example, having an obsessive personality, an anxiety disorder, low self-esteem or being a perfectionist – and particular experiences, such as sexual or emotional abuse or the death of someone significant.

For advice and support on eating disorders, visit Beat, the UK’s eating disorder charity.

Images: Rex Features / ITV Encore / ITV


lena dunham (2).jpg

Lena Dunham hits back at people congratulating her weight loss


How the fashion industry is tackling mental ill-health


Thandie Newton on the struggle facing black British actors


This massive star was very nearly in Hocus Pocus

Oh sisters, how very different things could have been

by Nicola Colyer
20 Oct 2017

Quentin Tarantino on not doing more to stop Harvey Weintsein

“I knew enough to do more than I did”

by Nicola Colyer
20 Oct 2017

Lupita Nyong’o says she was harassed by Harvey Weinstein as a student

“He told me not to be so naïve. If I wanted to be an actress, then I had to be willing to do this sort of thing.”

by Moya Crockett
20 Oct 2017

Mary Berry takes part in heartbreaking film about child bereavement

“I would thank him for being a brilliant son.”

by Amy Swales
20 Oct 2017

Margot Robbie writes stirring open letter to Hollywood

by Nicola Colyer
19 Oct 2017

Gabrielle Union shares a powerful message about rape and harassment

The star says she’ll “keep talking out” for survivors like herself

by Susan Devaney
19 Oct 2017

Why the singer has opened up about her mental health

The singer says it was “really, really bad” during her time with the band

by Susan Devaney
19 Oct 2017

The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Madonna’s touching tribute to a Cruel Intentions reunion

by Nicola Colyer
19 Oct 2017

Anna Faris understands why people were obsessed with her relationship

She and Chris Pratt were often hailed as #relationshipgoals

by Amy Swales
19 Oct 2017

Cher is starring in the Mamma Mia! sequel and we can’t wait for 2018

Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

by Susan Devaney
18 Oct 2017