February 26, 2018
Myths About Eating Disorders
Written by Rachel Eddins
The increasingly growing rate of eating disorders in our community are a sure sign that something is definitely wrong- something we as a community need to work on with greater force soon. There are a lot of misconceptions about eating disorders, and as an eating disorder therapist in Houston who has previously struggled with the disorder in my teens, I’d like to talk a little about why these eating disorder myths really hurt.
The following are common eating disorder myths:
Eating disorders are very rare.
10-15% of Americans suffer from a serious eating disorder and that doesn’t include the people suffering from some form of disordered eating that doesn’t meet the criteria. This misconception hurts because even doctors completely forget to assess for eating disorders and this can lead to misdiagnosis and even a worsening of problems.
Eating disorders are not even a big deal.
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and that doesn’t include some of the health problems people can develop later on due to an eating disorder. These health problems include diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart issues.
Eating disorders are just diets.
While diet culture, body shaming and early onset of dieting can contribute to eating disorders, eating disorders are definitely much more serious than “just a diet.” “Diet” literally just means how a person eats anyways.
Dieting and exercising do no harm
Our society is so condoning of dieting and exercising, that these activities have become glorified.
But for a lot of people (teens in particular), obsessive dieting can be a gateway to eating disorders. While some people can try a diet one day and be over it the next, your teen’s mind does not work this way. People who struggle with eating disorders are addicted to the diet mentality as well as to working out. Don’t ignore eating disorder warning signs because your teen is engaging in seemingly “normal” activities.
Weight restoration does not mean recovery
Maybe you watch every meal your teen eats, maybe you send them to a dietitian and ensure they’re completing their meal plan, maybe they have an okay from their doctor that they are at a healthy weight again.
This alone, however, does not mean they’re recovered. Your teen may still be engaging in disordered behaviors as well as have a disordered mindset even if they’ve gained their weight back. The road to recovery is a long one that takes time and patience.
It’s all about the food
Contrary to popular belief, the root of an eating disorder does not stem from food.
Food is just a casualty of the disorder. Those who struggle with eating disorders are usually seeking some form of control when they feel like they’ve lost it in other areas of their life. The food becomes this object of control in order to cope with other problems in their life.
People who struggle with eating disorders are all skinny.
There are several types of eating disorders.
- Anorexia is presented the most in the media.
- Bulimia involves bingeing on huge amounts of food and then purging the food through vomiting, laxatives, or excessive exercise.
- Binge eating disorder involves bingeing on huge amounts of food without purging.
Of course, people with eating disorders can struggle with a combination of all of these. Bottom line is eating disorders are a mental illness and anyone at any weight can struggle with one.
Eating disorders result in dramatic weight loss
The skeletal-looking anorexic is almost always the image of an eating disorder. While eating disorders do sometimes result in weight loss, this isn’t always the case. Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, and even Anorexia don’t necessarily mean losing weight.
Eating disorders in adolescents are about the disordered behaviors your teen is engaging in, not the number on the scale.
You are the reason for your teen’s eating disorder
When parents discover that their child has an eating disorder, their first instinct is often to ask, “where did I go wrong?” or “what could I have done to prevent this?”
It’s important to remember that you alone are not the cause of your teen’s eating disorder. Eating disorders are often described as the “perfect storm” where genetics load the gun, but something else pulls the trigger. Many people are often predisposed to eating disorders, and eventually, it becomes a matter of what is going to set it off.
Eating disorders in adolescents are a choice and they stem from vanity
This is one of the harshest eating disorder stereotypes, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Like any physical disorder, mental diseases are not a choice.
Your teen did not choose to be plagued by this disorder and does not deserve to be blamed for it. Many people wrongly assume that people can switch their eating disorder behaviors on and off, using them as a way to manipulate weight. As mentioned earlier, eating disorders in adolescents can manifest in weight loss, but this is just one of the many symptoms.
When I struggled with my eating disorder, I would go up and down, but I was never clinically “underweight” (I use quotations because the BMI is crap, but more on that later). Therefore, I also doubted whether I really had one and people around me would congratulate me every time I lost weight. I was literally being congratulated for eating less than 1,000 calories a day and vomiting every time that I binged. Even doctors were congratulating me.
Eating disorders are a white girl problem.
When you think of someone with an eating disorder, what comes to mind? For me, it used to be an extremely thin, upper middle class, white teenage girl. Eating disorders can affect anyone. Males make up 25% of people with anorexia and 40% of people with binge eating disorder.
These are just a few of the myths that particularly stood out to me at this time. I’ll include more later as they come up. I’ll also be writing a post on what helped ME in eating disorder recovery.
Eating Disorder Treatment
If you are struggling with food, please don’t be ashamed to ask for help. The National ED Helpline: 1800 33 4673 is a good place to start. If you are in Houston, you can schedule an appointment here. I know from experience that eating disorder recovery is possible!
Don’t buy into everything you read online or see in the media. If you think your teen may be suffering from an eating disorder, seek out the true facts. The National Eating Disorders Association offers resources and support to those who struggle with teen eating disorders as well as their loved ones.
Eddins Counseling Group has qualified therapists that specialize in eating disorders. Contact us at 832-559-2622 for more information or book an appointment online. There is hope for a successful recovery journey.