It’s that time of year again – Eating Disorder Awareness Week. I thought I’d take this opportunity to try and write a post a day again to try and raise as much awareness as possible. I’ll also be posting a video/s later in the week on my YouTube channel as well as daily posts on my Instagram (@hopingforhappy).
But anyway, for my first post I’ve written what I think is probably the most important post I’ve ever done: ‘Myths and Facts about eating disorders.’ The myths I’m about to debunk are all ones that I’ve personally heard and I know many others will have heard them as well. In fact I think I’d probably be safe in saying that every eating disorder sufferer will have heard at least one of these in all their time of struggling. I think perhaps the most alarming thing however, is that it’s not just our peers that have said these things, it’s adults – parents, teachers, even people in the health care profession such as doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, health care assistants… And that’s something that desperately needs to change. Because the more these things are said, the more people believe them, the more the stigma surrounding eating disorders deepens and the less the chances are of people feeling able to reach out and access help before it’s too late. So let’s get started!
Myth: Eating Disorders only affect white, adolescent, middle class girls.
Fact: Eating Disorders do not discriminate, they can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or socio-economic background. While a large proportion of people with eating disorders do fit the majority of the descriptors above, it’s not exclusive. I’ve met boys and men with eating disorders (males make up around 10 to 15% of the anorexia and bulimia and sufferers), as well as people of many different races and backgrounds. I’ll say it again, eating disorders do NOT discriminate, anyone can be affected no matter who they are.
Myth: Eating disorders are a choice/a diet/done for attention.
Fact: Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice or a diet. Dieting is an active choice and, while a person who diets is at risk to later developing an eating disorder it’s not a guarantee and there are likely to be many other contributing factors such as poor body image/self-esteem, perfectionism, genetic or familial factors as well as external factors such as traumatic life events. The fact that people even suggest that ED’s are a choice is frankly insulting to those who suffer with them – we would never in a million, (billion) years choose to suffer like this, it’s not something you would ever wish on anybody and if we could just make a choice not to have an eating disorder then we would in a heartbeat. They’re called eating disorder’s for a reason, it’s a disorder, a medical condition and definitely NOT a choice or a lifestyle.
Myth: You can tell whether or not someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.
Fact: While people with anorexia may be severely underweight and someone with binge-eating disorder may be overweight, that’s merely correlation not causation. Eating disorders are mental health conditions, they do not depend upon a certain appearance. You can have anorexia and be a ‘healthy’ weight or even overweight and you can have binge eating disorder and be a healthy weight or even underweight. You can also be incredibly under/over weight and not have an eating disorder at all. It’s impossible to tell whether someone is suffering with an ED just based on appearance.
Myth: Eating Disorder’s are caused by the media/society.
Fact: While the images posted in the media, the elaborate photo-shopping and portrayal of a specific body type as the ‘ideal’ don’t help and can contribute to low self esteem and poor body image, they aren’t direct causes of eating disorders and to suggest so vastly simplifies hugely complex conditions that never have just one direct cause.
Myth: Young children can’t suffer with eating disorders.
Fact: It’s sad but it’s true (sorry if you’ve now got Lily Allen/Sam Smith stuck in your head…) that treatment centres and therapists are finding themselves with younger and younger patients every year. Even now, children as young as six even are being diagnosed with eating disorders. And the fact is, because no one expects such conditions to develop outside of what’s deemed the ‘stereotypical age bracket’ (and the same applies for older people too) those people are less likely to receive a correct diagnosis or correct treatment as there’s a severe lack of understanding and awareness in those age groups.
Myth: You can only have one kind of eating disorder.
Fact: You can actually be diagnosed with multiple eating disorders at the same time and as many as 50% of anorexia sufferers go on to develop bulimia as well.
Myth: You have to be a certain weight to have anorexia/if a person doesn’t look severely underweight then they can’t be struggling.
Fact: One more time for the people in the back – YOU CAN HAVE AN EATING DISORDER AT ANY WEIGHT. And just because someone isn’t under/overweight doesn’t mean they aren’t still struggling with an ED, and doesn’t mean they’re not in danger. Eating disorders at any weight are incredibly dangerous, can have severe health complications and massively impact a person’s life. 20% of anorexia sufferers will die prematurely and not all of those sufferers will have been severely underweight. You can suffer critical health effects from an ED at any weight.
Myth: Eating disorders are all about food/weight.
Fact: ED’s are in fact extremely complex conditions and while the majority of sufferers will experience preoccupation with food and weight there are many, many other symptoms; food and weight may only be a tiny part of their struggles.
Myth: Purging is just making yourself sick.
Fact: Purging can take a range of forms, not just self induced vomiting. It could be over-exercising, using laxatives, restriction/fasting or many other things. Purging is also incredibly dangerous as it can put strain on a person’s heart meaning they’re more at risk of heart attacks and other complications. For a more comprehensive list of the health complications associated with purging see here.
Myth: There’s no such thing as too much exercise.
Fact: Exercise, in general, is a healthy thing to do however as with everything, there is such a thing as too much of it. Over-exercising can be a symptom of anorexia and it can also be a form of purging in anorexia AND bulimia. It can often be obsessive and incredibly dangerous to do, especially if the ED sufferer is suffering from physical health complications. In addition to that, when exercise is abused and done compulsively then the person will often ignore it’s body when it’s telling it that needs to rest or that it’s injured or sick, something that obviously is incredibly dangerous as their body will never have time to recover and could lead to the worsening of physical conditions.
Myth: Everyone over eats sometimes, it’s not a serious problem.
Fact: While the vast majority of people do over eat from time to time for people with binge eating disorder or bulimia, this over eating isn’t occasional, it’s at least once a week for at least three months and it can cause severe complications both psychologically and physically.
And that concludes today’s post, thank you so much for reading – please feel free to share this wherever you like, the more people see things like this, the less stigma there is and the more people will feel able to reach out for help. Let’s change the statistics and make sure that people receive the help and treatment they need before it’s too late.
“Be part of the solution and not the problem.”
Lots of love,