Eating disorders come with a lot of stigmas and misconceptions. Even among healthcare providers, there may be some misunderstanding about how serious disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are. We’re here to take down these myths about eating disorders and shine some light on a difficult topic.
1. “Eating disorders” are just strict diets
In our diet-crazed world, it’s easy to see eating disorders as a lifestyle choice, or self-obsession. It’s easy to think that it’s a phase or a strict diet, especially when eating disorders have an association with poor body image. However, this is not the only factor in the development of an eating disorder. There are deep psychological issues beneath every eating disorder. And these eating disorders go beyond the effects of a diet on the body; they can destroy every major organ when they go too far. In fact, of all psychiatric illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate. Around 20% of anorexia sufferers will die due to this disorder.
2. Eating disorders are just a cry for attention
Over 51% of teenagers ages 12-17 believe that those with eating disorders can and should “snap out of it.” Sometimes, even health professionals may react this way to an eating disorder. However, eating disorders are not simply phases or ways to get attention. In truth, those with eating disorders often try to hide or deny their actions, if they recognize it at all.
3. Only teenagers have eating disorders
While it is true that eating disorders peak between 12 and 25 years of age, it is not limited only to teenagers. At any age, the below people may be vulnerable to an eating disorder:
- Athletes, dancers, and models
- People under high stress
- Those with mental illnesses like anxiety or depression
- People with physical illnesses like diabetes
Eating disorders can also crop up in children as young as 5 or 6. Learning to recognize the symptoms in any person, not just teenagers, can help them get treatment sooner.
4. Only women and girls suffer from eating disorders
Along with the above, many people believe that only females–especially white, middle-class girls–have eating disorders. In reality, males make up 25% of those with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Men and boys also make up 40% of those with binge eating disorder. Of adolescents aged 13-18 with anorexia nervosa, there is no difference between boys and girls.
5. Anorexia is the only serious eating disorder
While anorexia nervosa is certainly a deadly disorder, individuals with bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED) have similar mortality rates. They all come with complications caused by binge eating, purging, starvation, over-exercise, electrolyte imbalance. Self-harm and suicide are also common among those who suffer from an eating disorder.
6. There’s always a “reason” for an eating disorder
There is a common misconception that family, especially parents of teenagers, are “to blame” for an eating disorder. But there is no actual “reason” for everyone, and certainly not always family. Some people have definite reasons or events that may have instigated their eating disorder. However, eating disorders may actually be linked to genetic factors as well as environmental factors. Plus, uncovering the reason does not always help a person recover faster.
Family, however, can help recovery. During treatment, it may help to get everyone–especially the parents–involved in aiding the patient return to health.
7. Eating disorders are only a problem if the person is underweight
The media tends to portray those with eating disorders as emaciated, but sufferers may not actually be underweight. Generally, you can’t tell if a person has an eating disorder just by looking at them. Believing that only the underweight are suffering perpetuates the fear that an individual isn’t “sick enough” to get treatment. Remember, these eating disorders also have serious psychological issues accompanying them.
Do you think someone you love–or yourself–may suffer from an eating disorder? Seek treatment today!