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 can be one of many responses 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.