Eating Disorder Misconceptions (Eating Disorder Awareness Week)

Hello everyone!

For the second day of Eating Disorder Awareness week, I wanted to help people understand these issues more by debunking common misconceptions that surround eating disorders, as they can be harmful to sufferers.

People with eating disorders are all underweight.

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), there are eight different feeding and eating disorders that someone could be diagnosed with, and the most publicly recognised and widely researched are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Of these disorders alone, the only one associated with being significantly underweight is anorexia. Individuals with bulimia are generally average weight or even overweight, and around half of people with binge eating disorder are obese.

Eating disorders only affect women.

According to the NHS, around 1 in 2,000 men will experience anorexia nervosa at some point (along with 1 in 250 women). Around 10% of bulimia sufferers are also male, and binge eating disorder affects males and females almost equally. This stereotype actually affects males who are suffering with eating disorders in a very negative way, as I found out through briefly talking to Harry, who said that these attitudes can and did feed into his own illness and made him worse.

How do you respond to the idea that eating disorders only affect females?

“I feel like it’s really an ignorant idea to be honest, I don’t find it offensive because unless you’ve been through it or had someone close to you go through it, you might not know how anyone of any gender/age/sexuality/race/background can be affected by a mental illness including eating disorders.”

Have you ever felt like you can’t seek help because the issue is so heavily associated with women?

“Before I sought out any kind of treatment I was battling my eating disorder for about a year and I was in complete denial when confronted by teachers, peers and the school nurses, a big part of that had to do with the fact that any time we was taught about eating disorders in school, they used female examples and never even mentioned males, it was confusing and scary, I have been told since leaving school that my case has actually had a positive influence on the way the school looks for warning signs for eating disorders and other mental health issues, they were very supportive but it was a huge learning experience for them as they had never dealt with a male student with my illnesses.”

Has anyone ever disregarded your illness, or have you ever felt like you’re not being taken seriously, because of the idea that men don’t develop eating disorders?

“When I was in the inpatient unit of a child mental health hospital I had all sorts of things said to me by medical professionals including ‘you should be out of here soon, you don’t have things like your period stopping for them to monitor’ and ‘you’re not as skinny as the girls’ things that actually, looking back, fed into my illness and made me worse.”

He also addressed how other diagnoses are stereotyped with regards to gender, and how this can lead to problems for their sufferers:

“My friend who is also male was kept in the mental health hospital for early 2 years without a proper diagnosis, it ended up being he had the ‘female symptoms’ of Asperger’s syndrome which they didn’t even consider.”

Reports estimate that up to 25% of Britons struggling with eating disorders may be male.

Eating disorders are caused by glamorous images of celebrities in the media. 

Although researchers have identified beauty standards in the media as a factor that can make individuals susceptible to eating disorders, someone may develop one for a number of reasons. Firstly, genetics can contribute significantly and my predispose individuals to eating disorders. Studies conducted by Dr. Wade Berrettini have found that an individual is 7-12 times more likely to develop an eating disorder if a relative also has one, and eating disorder symptoms appear to be “moderately heritable”, and can also be learned from a parent or other relative.

According to ULifeline, eating disorders may also be caused by abnormal levels of chemicals that regular processes such as appetite, mood, sleep, and stress. For example, some research suggests that individuals with anorexia have too much serotonin, which leaves them in a constant state of stress. Also, psychological factors such as low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, trouble coping with emotions, or impulsivity can contribute to eating disorders.

The NHS claim that a person’s environment can also play a major role in developing an eating disorder. If someone has problems within their family or with other relationships, including if they had a difficult childhood, or have a history of abuse, then this may trigger the development of an eating disorder. Stressful life events or peer pressure could also impact a person significantly.

It is always about body image and wanting to be skinny.

For many sufferers of eating disorders, weight is not a major reason for their disorder. Psychology Today suggests that “control is probably at the centre of it all”- being in control of food and eating can make someone feel powerful. For example, if someone has low self-esteem and feels useless, they may use control over their eating as validation for themselves, to prove that they are capable of something. Alternatively, if someone has/had relationship issues or a history of abuse, as I have mentioned as a possible trigger for an eating disorder, then they may feel that they are taking control back over themselves and their body.

Hannah Crowley, a writer for Healthyplace.com, made a video on growing up with an eating disorder, and detailed how living with strict rules during her childhood led to her anorexia making her feel more in control of her life. In this video, she says that “I think that perhaps because I’d been so used to living underneath rules and hierarchies, I created these rules of anorexia.” Interestingly, she doesn’t mention weight at all in this video, which makes it a good example of an instance where an eating disorder wasn’t “just about wanting to be skinny”.

The only types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

As I talked about in yesterday’s post, there are many diagnosable eating disorders, but anorexia and bulimia are simply the most well-known. If you want more detail on different types of eating disorders, then my post titled ‘What is an Eating Disorder? (Eating Disorder Awareness Week)‘ talks about them more thoroughly, but to explain them briefly, the 3 most recognised eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa (characterised by a low weight, fear of gaining weight, a strong desire to be thin, and food restriction), Bulimia Nervosa (characterised by binge eating followed by purging), and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) (characterised by frequent and recurrent binge eating episodes with associated negative psychological and social problems, but without subsequent purging episodes). Around 60% of people treated for eating disorders are diagnosed with EDNOS, which is an eating disorder that does not meet the medical criteria for the three disorders previously mentioned. Examples of eating disorders that fall under the EDNOS umbrella include Night Eating Syndrome, Bigorexia, and Orthorexia.

Eating disorders only affect young people.

Although the NHS recognises that anorexia usually develops around the age of 16 or 17, while bulimia usually develops at the age of 18 or 19, and binge eating disorder usually appears between the ages of 30 and 40, and eating disorders tend to be more common in certain age groups, it also emphasises that they can affect people of any age. NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association)  state that in 2003, 1/3 of inpatient admissions to a specialised treatment center for eating disorders were over 30 years old. An adult may have an eating disorder because they have struggled with one since youth and have never recovered, or they may have relapsed since initially recovering previously, or an eating disorder may be triggered in adulthood by things like changes to the body caused by pregnancy, or by issues such as divorce or the death of a loved one, among other possible factors, including the potential causes mentioned earlier in this post.

People choose to have an eating disorder to get attention and can ‘snap out of it’. Eating Disorders are a lifestyle choice; someone can choose to stop having an eating disorder.

This is an idea sadly reinforced a lot by pro-anas (tomorrow’s post), and it honestly angers me so much. Eating disorders are mental disorders that affect a person’s mental and physical health extremely negatively. Disorders, not decisions. Eating disorders have horrific effects that no one would willingly endure. Using food restriction or behaviours associated with eating disorders for fast weight gain may be something that people can do and ‘snap out of’, but that is not to be confused with people who are genuinely struggling with these illnesses in the long run. This is why the glamorisation of eating disorders (which I will go into more detail on this in tomorrow’s post) bothers me so much, because it’s very clear to see how it trivialises the conditions and makes them look quick and easy to rid yourself of.

This was just a few ideas about eating disorders that have no truth in them, many more exist out there and can affect sufferers just as much. If you liked this post, and would like to see me debunk more misconceptions, about eating disorders or other mental health issues, then please leave a comment and let me know! Thank you for reading! I hope you have found this post helpful and I wish you the best of luck in your recovery. Keep growinggg!

-Eden

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