There are many myths about eating disorders that are not often addressed. This can make reaching out and getting support harder for those who struggle with these conditions.
Here are five common myths about eating disorders that you should consider, whether you are struggling with disordered eating yourself or you are looking to help a loved one.
Eating disorders are all about food.One very common misconception about eating disorders that people have is that they are all about dieting and looking thin. Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses that are more closely connected with emotions and an inability to cope than with food itself. Many times, eating disorders are triggered by strong emotions, stress, anxiety and traumatic life events where a person feels a lack of control. Turning to eating disordered behaviors like counting calories obsessively, excessive exercise, emotional eating or purging are harmful coping mechanisms that people often turn to. If you are seeking to help out a loved one know that simply trying to encourage healthier diet choices will not solve the problem.
People with a normal weight, or who are overweight, cannot develop or have an eating disorder.Not all eating disorders are determined by the size and weight of a person. Eating disorders have more to do with the behaviors people engage in than with what a person looks like. There are many different eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia, anorexia, compulsive eating and others that, which have different symptoms and characteristics. For example, bulimics tend to be at an average to above average weight, while compulsive eaters are typically overweight. There are many symptoms and behaviors that make up an eating disorder diagnosis.
Eating disorders only affect women.Although women seem to struggle with eating disorders the most, this is not the case. For a long time it was believed that only 10 percent of eating disordered individuals seeking help were male. However, recent research suggest that the number has increased over time. It is uncleared whether numbers have increased because eating disorders have become more common in men, or if it is due to the fact that more men are now willing to seek treatment for it.
An eating disorder is not an illness; it is a lifestyle choice.There are many people who wrongfully believe that an eating disorder is a choice and that it has to do with vanity. People do not choose eating disorders. Although extreme dieting and exercising can lead to an eating disorder, there will almost always be a psychological underlying problem that will perpetuate disordered eating behaviors. Often what begins as a means of gaining a sense of control in one’s life can quickly escalate into out-of-control behavior. Eating disorders evolve over time and require medical treatment that deals with the complex psychological symptoms.
Eating disorders are not real illnesses.Eating disorders have a higher mortality rate than any other mental illness, including depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Anorexia, which is characterized by an obsessive fear of gaining weight, is the most lethal eating disorder an individual can encounter. Anorexia has a mortality rate of 20 percent within 20 years, which means that one in five people that had anorexia for two decades will die as a result of the condition. Eating disorders that are not fatal can affect a person's health negatively in many other ways. Some of the more common complications are: starvation, bone disease, heart problems, gastrointestinal distress, organ failure and infertility.
Eating disorders should not be ignored. If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important to seek out help as soon as possible. Don't let the lack of knowledge and information keep you from getting the help you deserve.
Sources: Eatingdisordersonline.com, The Huffington Post, Nationaleatingdisorders.org