As someone who has worked in the field of eating disorder (ED) treatment and prevention for 10 years, I am used to the way the disease operates and familiar with the seemingly backward truths that don’t fit the stereotypes. One of my office staff recently told me that the biggest thing she learned working with my clientele is one simple truth – you cannot look at a person and know if they have an eating disorder. I realized that many people still don’t know this unless they work in this specialty. So for NEDA’s Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I compiled my list of 7 Mythbusters that may surprise you!
Myth 1: Anorexics starve themselves and bulimics make themselves throw up
There are multiple subtypes of each ED, and the distinctions are not so clear cut. The main behaviors that we see are restricting food intake, binge eating, and compensatory behaviors like purging, excessive exercise, or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, enemas, etc. These behaviors may occur in various combinations or frequencies.
Myth 2: Bingers eat everything
Most binge eating happens at a specific time of day, such as the afternoon or before bed. Sometimes a binge will occur with whatever food is available, but often there is a specific type (sugary, salty), and it is often whatever they don’t let themselves have because it’s “bad,” which leads to a lot of guilt and secretive eating.
Myth 3: EDs are a college girl issue
You cannot look at a person and know if they have an eating disorder. EDs affect all ages, genders, ethnicities, and social classes. There is a lot of shame associated with disordered eating behaviors, which may limit the willingness to seek support. One of my own best friends struggled with an ED for years, and I had no idea.
Myth 4: Just stop eating/just start eating
Eating disorders are a chronic disease that cannot simply be wished away through will power. They are best approached the same way we would approach substance abuse: as an addiction process. Saying this to someone you care about invalidates their struggles and suggests they want to be sick.
Myth 5: I’m not that bad cuz I’m not a skeleton
In recent years, the focus has moved away from weight or BMI criteria, to focus on behaviors, functionality in your life, and the distress you experience. It is not helpful to compare yourself to others in order to talk yourself out of getting help. If you find you are spending so much time thinking about what you will eat next, what you will wear, what you weigh, or what your body looks like that you have no energy left for work, school, relationships, or free time, please find someone to talk to.
Myth 6: It’s my fault I keep failing at my diet, I just need more willpower
Diet culture is a billion-dollar industry. Diets are designed to make money, not to make you well. Research shows over and over that dieters, regardless of method, return to their starting weight after the initial weight loss, their self-esteem decreases, depression increases, and ultimately they do not gain health benefits because they get caught in a vicious cycle of hopelessness and helplessness.
Myth 7: Weight = Health
At their core, EDs are a broken relationship with food and body. Dysfunctional beliefs like “I’m not good enough” or “I am a failure” are tied to a belief that somehow success will be achieved when a certain weight is reached. I have yet to work with a client who experienced relief from their problems based on what the scale said. Health, self-esteem, stable mood, enjoyment of life – all are found in acceptance and friendship with yourself and your body.
Want to know more? Join the movement with #NEDAwareness and #ComeAsYouAre to get connected with more information and resources.
About the author: Heather Blackford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in South Bend, Indiana. She has been working in the Eating Disorder field since 2010 in intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization, outpatient, and group settings. She is a professional member of EDTFI, NEDA, and ACA. You read about her and contact her at https://family-psychology.com.