There are lots of misconceptions surrounding Eating Didorders, here are 8 main myths that stand out to me and need to be challenged.
1. Anorexia is a phase
It can often be thought that anorexia or bulimia are ‘phases’ that someone can and will ‘grow out of’. This couldn’t be further from the truth and is a very damaging view to take. This misconception comes from a lack of understanding and knowledge that surrounds eating disorders. Often those suffering will be viewed as a ‘fussy eater’ or ‘being difficult’ some may go as far as to say ‘attention seeking’. If you know someone who appears to be fussy or difficult it’s important that you look a bit closer and be open to the fact that more may be going on inside. By telling someone it’s a phase that they can just ‘snap out of’ can have negative implications, causing the person with the disorder to be more closed and withdrawn for fear of being judged and their struggles shrugged off as a ‘phase’. Eating disorders are real and serious.
2. Eating disorders will just go away in time.
They absolutely, most definitely will not just go away. It may be possible to attempt recovery without help however most people with an eating disorder will need medical intervention and professional help in order to begin the road to recovery. By ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away will escalate the problem. The sooner help is sought the more chance of a successful recovery. If things are swept under the carpet, more damage will be done.
3. You have to be thin to be anorexic
This is everything that is wrong with attitudes and perceptions, made increasingly worse by the media. Anorexia is a preoccupation with weight and body image, a control over food when all other areas of life feel out of control. You do not need to look ill, to be ill. Many people do not seek the help they so desperately require because they feel that they are not ‘sick enough’ and that they are not deserving of treatment. When I was in hospital, although I was not at my lowest weight physically I was at my most unwell mentally. Yes I was considerably underweight, I looked ill and bones were visible BUT there were people who were a lower weight than me. I remember being told ‘you aren’t in that bad a situation, you will turn things around quickly’ by a fellow inpatient. Not only did this reinforce the feelings of not needing treatment but it also fed into the thoughts of not being ‘ill enough’. Looking back I can see I was very unwell mentally and I needed just as much help as the person who said it to me. Weight is irrelevant. Anorexia is a mental illness. The mind can be ill even when everything looks fine on the outside.
4. Eating Disorders are a female illness
Due to the media eating disorders have been portrayed as a female only illness. Men don’t get eating disorders, it’s not a’manly’ disorder. This however is incorrect. Men do have eating disorders however they find it more difficult to seek help because of the stigma attached. It’s important that more awareness is given to the fact men are just as likely to suffer and that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Eating disorders are a mental illness, not a gender specific illness.
5. Parents are to blame for eating disorders
Many people assume that the ‘blame’ lies with the parents or family. Each circumstance is different and an eating disorder can be triggered by so many different factors. Very often there is not one specific cause but a series of events and feelings that have built up over time. Noone is to blame and it’s important that this feeling of blame is explored and dealt with.
6. Someone with an eating disorder has a choice
People believe that someone suffering with anorexia conciously chooses not to eat or someone diagnosed with bulimia chooses to purge after eating and someone with Binge Eating Disorder chooses to binge and overeat. The truth is, when suffering from an eating disorder there is no choice, you feel completely out of control of your actions and compulsions take over. You do not choose not to eat, you are terrified of food and physically can’t let yourself. Just like in bulimia you are terrified of keeping food in your stomach and you have to purge yourself. Those with BED want to stop eating but cannot do so. It’s not as simple as choosing to do or not do a behaviour. In theory those suffering do have a ‘choice’ but they are not able to control this or see the choice. A treatment programme is needed to help see the choice and that we are all in control of our behaviour.
7. People can only have one type of eating disorder
Eating disorders are interchangeable and very often people can transition through several different eating disorders. For example someone may have anorexia and when they begin refeeding and recovery they begin overeating and purging. This can happen when the body panics and thinks it may not get any more food so the binges begin and as this is such a scary time purging can feel like the only option. Just as easily could someone who has BED and begins recovery and they are so unhappy with their body that they begin to restrict and then transition into anorexia. Eating disorders do not always occur in isolation. The right treatment needs to be given at the right stage.
8. Recovery from an eating disorder is a straight road
Recovering from any disorder is not an easy ride, nor is the road straight. There will be many ups and downs, blips in the road, days where you just cannot see a way forward, where you don’t want recovery any more. Then there will be days where eating feels easier, happy days creating memories and living life. Then there will be days where you feel down and deflated or as high as a kite. Every day is a challenge bringing with it its own challenges. But recovery teaches you to cope with the bad days. It’s so important for loved ones, family and friends to understand that it’s not ‘plain sailing’ even when you are doing well it’s easy for people to think it’s over, you are recovered however it’s ok to still struggle, it’s normal for recovery. It’s important to accept that recovery can take years and there will be blips and slips but this is expected.
This is my favourite image that shows what recovery is really like,
Have you heard any other myths or misconceptions that surround Eating Disorders that you think needs to be challenged?