Updated: Feb 26, 2020
It's Eating Disorder Awareness Week! Eating Disorders are a serious mental health condition that affects nearly 30 million Americans. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Eating disorders can be successfully treated; however, less than 1 in 5 receive treatment.
There are many misconceptions about eating disorders that can hinder awareness of their complexity and seriousness.
Myth #1: Eating disorders are a choice.
Eating disorders are complex conditions caused by a variety of biological, physiological, and social factors. What this means is they may be genetic or caused by something that changes the body's biology around food, such as dieting. They are also associated with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Social factors, like cultural pressure to look a particular way, the language around food and weight growing up, and bullying are also part of the mix. And because eating disorders are so complex, appropriate and personalized treatment is necessary.
Myth #2: Only thin people have eating disorders.
Despite what the media portrays, most people with eating disorders are not white females who are emaciated; they can look like you or me. There is no having to be "skinny enough" to be diagnosed or "too fat" to have one. Eating disorders affect people of all sexes, ethnicities, sizes, and ages. This myth is a rather dangerous one because some people may believe they are not "sick" or "thin" enough to deserve treatment when there is no such thing. Everyone is worthy of treatment.
Myth #3: Eating disorders are not that serious.
Eating disorders have serious complications. Undereating may cause muscles to breakdown for energy. Muscles don't just include biceps and glutes - but also the heart. They can cause electrolyte imbalances from vomiting or laxative use, which may cause irregular heartbeats, heart failure, and death. Eating disorders affect the digestive system and may cause unpleasant side effects such as bloating and constipation. Binge eating may cause a ruptured stomach, while vomiting may cause the esophagus to rupture. People with eating disorders are also 5-6 times more likely to attempt suicide than people without them.
Eating disorders are complex and can affect anyone. There are many myths and stereotypes about them, which can hinder their awareness and dangerous potential. Want to help with this epidemic? Consider being mindful of how you talk about food, bodies, and weight because our words make a difference. Treat everyone with respect and with kindness, because you don't know who may be suffering. Avoid compliments and comments about body size and shape (i.e., praising weight loss). If you or someone you know has an eating disorder, know that your experience is valid. Your suffering is valid and that recovery is possible. You are worth a recovered life.
For more information and resources on eating disorders head to the National Eating Disorder Association.
With love always,