Dispelling myths about eating disorders

Author: NCS

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is approaching, so we thought we’d take on some of the common myths surrounding eating disorders. While we as a society are becoming more aware of the truth about eating disorders, there are still a lot of ugly myths doing the rounds. These myths often trivialise eating disorders, which is a bad thing as it may discourage sufferers from seeking treatment, or prevent friends and family from understanding how serious their loved one’s condition really is.

So, without further ado, let us dispel some myths about eating disorders:

• MYTH – EATING DISORDERS ARE ALL ABOUT VANITY

While there is some evidence to suggest a link between poor body image, the media, and eating disorders, this is likely to be one part of the problem, not the whole picture. Eating disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses whose development is very complex. Nobody willingly endangers their life through starving, bingeing, or purging for the sake of vanity.

• MYTH – PEOPLE CHOOSE TO HAVE EATING DISORDERS.

The idea that having an eating disorder is somehow a ‘choice’ is one of the more ludicrous, but also one of the most pervasive myths doing the rounds. Even with the amount of campaigning that’s been done and knowledge we have on the subject, many people can still be found claiming that people with eating disorders gave themselves their illnesses ‘deliberately’, out of vanity or a need for attention. This is absolutely not the case. Eating disorders are complicated, deadly, and pervasive illnesses over which untreated patients have little control. They don’t choose to have their condition, and they can’t ‘just snap out of it’. There is increasing evidence to show that biological and genetic factors play a big role in the development of eating disorders, which could imply that eating disorder patients have as little ‘choice’ in their condition than they do over their natural eye colour or their height.

• MYTH – EATING DISORDERS ARE NOT SERIOUS.

Thankfully, this myth is on the way out, but there is still a tendency in our culture to downplay the seriousness of eating disorders, or to present them as laughable. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses. It is not uncommon for sufferers to either die of their illness, or to suffer severe and lasting complications. Food restriction can lead to long-term organ damage, while bingeing and purging can seriously damage the stomach, throat, and other internal organs. And that’s before we’ve even started on the very damaging effects that eating disorders have on mental wellbeing, relationships, careers, and quality of life.

• MYTH – ONLY SKINNY PEOPLE HAVE EATING DISORDERS

You do not have to be thin to have an eating disorder. Anorexia is the poster child of the eating disorders, and the one about which the public have the most knowledge, so it’s really common for people to assume that all eating disorders involve white girls starving themselves. The reality is much more complicated. You don’t necessarily have to be thin to have an eating disorder. In fact, some eating disorders (Binge Eating Disorder, for example), involve consuming far more than is healthy, rather than far less. Eating disorders can affect absolutely anyone, regardless of their BMI. If you have a disordered relationship with food which is damaging your life, you may want to find a counsellor specialising in eating disorders.

• MYTH – EATING DISORDERS ARE A ‘GIRL THING’

Eating disorders have no gender-bias. They can affect people of any age, gender, socio-economic status, ethnic or religious group. The more we learn about eating disorders, the more we are realising that men and boys are in just as much danger from them as girls. As with many mental health issues, however, girls tend to be more inclined to admit that they need help and seek treatment. This skews treatment statistics to show a higher population of women recorded with eating disorders. As men are encouraged to open up about their mental health, more men are getting the eating disorder treatment that they deserve.

• MYTH – ONCE SOMEONE WITH ANOREXIA PUTS ON WEIGHT, THEY ARE CURED

It’s really common to focus on the physical symptoms of eating disorders like anorexia, and overlook the fact that these are primarily mental illnesses. While it’s important to fix any damage the disease has done to the body, the most effective healing happens in the mind. Counselling and psychological help are the most effective way of giving people with eating disorders a chance at beating their disease.

COUNSELLING FOR EATING DISORDERS

Eating disorders are dangerous, and can result in serious long-term damage to your body if left untreated. However, they do not have to be a death sentence. It is possible to treat eating disorders, with a combination of medical and psychological help.

A counsellor specialising in eating disorders will help you to get to the bottom of the psychological processes driving your eating disorder. They will enable you to identify triggers which cause you to have disordered thoughts about food, and to understand where and why your issues arose. They will also provide a safe, non-judgemental space in which you can talk about anything which concerns you – something which is often very helpful for eating disorder sufferers.

If your body has suffered as a result of your eating disorder, it is a good idea to see a doctor. Your GP may also be able to provide you with anti-anxiety medications, which can help to control the stressful and obsessive thought patterns which are common in some eating disorders. Recovery from eating disorders is a long road, but healing is possible. If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to an accredited counsellor today.


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