When Keeli Cambourne's daughter had a heart attack at 18, hospital staff thought "she was just being naughty".
The South Coast mum has welcomed research that shows anorexia has a genetic component - and hopes it will change the conversation about the disorder.
Her daughter, Molly, was in and out of hospital with the life-threatening disease for five years, from the age of 14.
"I think previously it's always been considered a lifestyle choice," she said.
"When Molly got sick, they treated people with an eating disorder like they were just being naughty.
"There was this inference from the treating staff just snap out of it.
"It's not anyone's fault, there should be no blame placed on anybody, it is a legitimate genetic malfunction."
Ms Cambourne hopes the research, which has identified eight genes associated with the disorder, will reduce shame for sufferers.
"The research also showed things like bipolar and OCD depression are all linked on these same genes," she said.
"You can look quite normal, but there is so much going on in your brain and so many controls you put in your life to try and manage the noise in your head.
"Hopefully it will change the discourse around mental illness as something you shouldn't be ashamed of.
"Then they don't feel like they have to hide it, or tell lies, it takes the shame out of it."
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness in Australia. One in five sufferers die within 20 years of being diagnosed.
More outpatient facilities, particularly in regional areas, would go a long way towards giving sufferers the support they need.
"Public hospitals can only take you if you're medically stable, and a lot are unstable - their body weight is so low they're at risk of having a heart attack," Ms Cambourne said.
"They're too sick to go to hospital. What really needs to be done is have outpatient day clinics, where sufferers can get the help they need, but still come home to their family and support system.
"Hopefully now there's this study that says it's a biological fact, it will be like cancer or diabetes, where the family is told, this is what's gone wrong, and these are the avenues we can take to fix it."