Eating Disorder Myths

There are so many misconceptions about eating disorders, and the sooner that we recognise them for what they are – myths – the sooner we are able to understand eating disorders more and be in a position where we can reach out to those around us who also may be suffering.

Myth #1: People who are overweight or a normal weight cannot have an eating disorder.

False. At the height of my bulimia, I was within a healthy weight range for my age and height. I was regularly taking laxatives, throwing up and overexercising – all behaviours that point to an eating disorder. Bulimia does not cause one to lose weight, as such – it is how the bulimic comes to maintain their weight. In saying that, bulimia can result in weight loss – each body is different, metabolisms are different and therefore weight loss will vary between individuals.

Myth #2: Only women are affected by eating disorders.

False. Statistics show that 1/10 individuals affected by eating disorders are male. Despite the fact that it is primarily women who are suffering from eating disorders, men are also struggling with body image. Eating disorders do not discriminate – they can affect men and women of a variety of ages, ethnicities and cultural upbringings and shapes.

Myth 3#: Individuals only suffer with 1 eating disorder at any given time.

False. I first had anorexia. There was a transition stage between anorexia and bulimia where I was still underweight and still engaging in anorexic behaviour, despite also participating in bulimic behaviour. Then I only had bulimia. Then I had EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) – that is, I was engaging in both anorexic and bulimic behaviour; however, I was no longer underweight, nor binging and purging each week as often as the diagnosis of bulimia nervosa states.

Myth 4#: Laxatives prevent calorie absorption.

Well no. They don’t. Laxatives actually cause colon problems and rid the body of its essential fluids – that is, it dehydrates the body. Weight loss is primarily due to a loss of water.

Myth #5: Eating disorders are not life-threatening.

It’s easy to shrug your shoulders when you hear someone has an eating disorder – but as I mentioned in this post here, eating disorders have a number of health consequences. Malnutrition, dehydration and muscle atrophy are particularly serious – low potassium also has effects on the heart, which in turn, can cause cardiac arrest. Another of my friends who is also in recovery from an eating disorder told me that a girl from her therapy group had died from her eating disorder. She was young, and she was within her healthy weight range. Don’t think that an eating disorder won’t kill you, because it can. In my opinion, the individual either recovers from their eating disorder, or they are tragically killed as a result of it. It is impossible to live an entire life in this way, with these health problems. Choose life.

Myth #6: Only teenagers suffer with eating disorders.

Primarily, yes. 86% of eating disorder sufferers are teenagers. But that still leaves another 14% who are over 20 and still suffering in just the same way. I attended a day program in Glebe earlier this year to attempt to get my eating patterns back on track and one of the women there was in her 40s. I was actually the youngest of the group.

Myth#7: Eating disorders are primarily a problem with food.

False. It’s not as if once the individual starts eating properly, their problems will be solved. There are reasons why the individual started to use food in an unhealthy manner – the eating disorder is not the primary problem. Perhaps there is anxiety in social situations, or there has been physical or sexual abuse that has not been sufficiently dealt with. Maybe there are issues at home. I’m not going to sit here and list every possible issue there could be, but the eating disorder is just a response to a much larger trauma.

Myth #8: You can always tell if someone is anorexic by their appearance.

It may be clear to you, or it may not be. The sufferer goes to extraordinary lengths to hide their weight loss. They may not be significantly underweight – and because slimmer bodies are generally valued by our society, nothing may seem abnormal to you. We do need to be aware that eating disorders may cause manipulative behaviour, or behaviour that seems out of line with someone’s personality. Eating disorders change an individuals thinking – they are negative speakers.

Myth #9: Individuals with eating disorders are lazy.

Far from it. These individuals take their dieting behaviour to the extreme. It is not a “quick-fix” or an easy way to lose weight – it is a cry for help, a destruction of the body – an extreme hate of ones own self. Individuals with eating disorders are not lazy, they are desperate.

Myth #10: You can never recover from an eating disorder.

The biggest lie of them all. With a proper treatment team (dietitian, psychologist, doctor), as well as friends and family who support the individual and hard work, recovery is possible. It may take many years and include multiple relapses – but this is to be expected on a recovery path. It’s a slow climb back to normality, but the eating disordered patient needs to want to recover, needs to want to change and needs to be willing to trust that their body will once again function in the way it previously did.

There are many more myths or misconceptions held around eating disorders – have a think for yourself what beliefs you have for yourself about them. Are they true? Do they hold up? Do some research and find out your belief is accurate – sometimes we don’t know as much as what we think.

5 thoughts on “Eating Disorder Myths

  1. Great list, and as usual, great outreach in general.

    I do have a specific comment on the description under Myth #1 though: Bulimia can absolutely cause weight loss. It is not uncommon for bulimics to be of average weight or overweight, but it is also not uncommon for them to be underweight. Some of the smallest sufferers I have met in my many years “in the biz” have been bulimics, and I myself have lost weight not just with anorexia alone (without bulimic behaviors), but also with bulimia alone (without anorexic behaviors). I have gained and maintained with bulimic behaviors as well, at different times throughout my history, but I have definitely lost significant amounts of weight as well. Of course some doctors will diagnose individuals like this with “Anorexia Nervosa: Purging Type” but the reality is that they were/I was 100% bulimic at the time.

    • You’re right – going to perhaps elaborate on that now so it’s a bit clearer. I mostly maintained, particularly towards the end of the bulimia as my metabolism became worse. I probably lost weight a lot slower though, so it wasn’t as noticeable too – was that applicable for you also? X

      • My history with EDs is so long that I can say yes to just about everything. There were times when I did lose weight rapidly with bulimic behaviors though – comparable to very strict restricting.

        PS I hope I hope I hope nobody sees this and thinks “oh hey, great tip!”

  2. As for myth 2, I think that eating disorders present themselves in such a different way for males. They are probably much less likely to become bulimic or anorexic and more likely to hit the weights at the gym – with the same obsessive nature as under many EDs – and manipulate their diet through protein shakes, and even through steroids in more extreme cases. The aims of the ED are the same (improved appearance, mostly as result to societies flawed expectations of ‘normality’), but the notion of what that is for males and females is very different. For females it might be ‘skinny’, but for men its to be ‘strong’ and ‘big’. Makes it very hard to quantify.

    Would you saw that the male who goes to the gym religiously every day and manipulates their diet – not in training for a sport, but purely for ‘aesthetics’ – has an ED? I would say…probably. It’s the same obsession really.

    • Sure, definitely agree that these things are of an eating disordered nature. I think you’d be surprised though re males and anorexia and bulimia – like you’re right, the statistics are a lot lower, but nevertheless it is evident that males struggle with similar food behaviours. and I guess when it really does boil down to it, it is about the obsession over food and weight loss / appearence.

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