With so much information out there on eating disorders it can be easy to think you know all there is to know about what causes them and their symptoms. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous attitude to take as it can result in misdiagnosis or ignoring symptoms and prolonging treatment. To help you distinguish between fact and fiction, here are the most common myths about eating disorders.
Myth #1: Eating disorders are a choice, not an illness. The American Psychiatric Association classifies eating disorders as a mental illness that is often based on biological factors and can piggyback on other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Eating disorders can develop over time as a result of underlying issues that, if left untreated, can lead to complex medical and psychiatric symptoms.
Myth #2: People with eating disorders are vain. Eating disorders may start out as dieting in an attempt to control weight, but obsessive weight concerns are really a way to gain control over emotional problems and help the person cope with stress, self-hate, hurt and shame.
Myth #3: Only women have eating disorders. Many people are surprised to learn that a fairly high percentage of men have eating disorders. A recent Harvard study revealed that 25 percent of people suffering from anorexia and bulimia are men, and 40 percent of men with eating disorders are binge eaters. Because eating disorders among men often go unreported or un-diagnosed, current statistics probably fall short of actual figures.
Myth #4: Men who have eating disorders are usually gay. Sexual preference has nothing to do with developing an eating disorder. Many men develop eating disorders as a result of trying to “bulk up” and build muscle mass. Restricting diet, using steroids and other methods of controlling weight can lead to an eating disorder when they become obsessive behavior in an attempt to achieve physical perfection.
Myth #5: People with bulimia always purge by vomiting. Purging comes in many forms, including taking laxatives and diuretics, excessive exercising, and fasting. Anyone who uses these methods to rid their body of calories they’ve recently consumed could be considered bulimic.
Myth #6: People who are anorexic are extremely thin. You can’t always tell by looking at someone if they are anorexic because not all anorexics have the emaciated “anorexic look” that we see in extreme cases on TV. A very thin person may have a perfectly healthy relationship with food, while a seemingly “normal” person may be battling an eating disorder. In fact, 70 percent of women with eating disorders are at or above what’s considered a “healthy” weight.
Myth #7: Eating disorders are only serious when someone is skin and bones. Serious health complications can arise even if a person doesn’t appear to be extremely thin. Another thing to consider is the behavioral and psychological factors that accompany an eating disorder. Those who suffer from eating disorders often engage in high-risk activities such as substance abuse or self-harm, and are much more likely to attempt suicide.
Myth #8: Only people who restrict their calorie intake or purge have eating disorders. People who binge or eat compulsively have an eating disorder that’s just as serious as anorexia or bulimia. Compulsive eaters use food cope with or block emotional pain, just like anorexics and bulimics, and need to be properly treated before they can overcome it.
Myth #9: Once you have an eating disorder, you’ll always be battling it. Recovering from an eating disorder takes a long time and a lot of work, but proper treatment can help you fully recover from any eating disorder.