Today marks the last day of National Eating Disorders Awareness week. This is close to my heart — I’ve walked through recovery with a team of professionals, and am acutely aware of how much chaos and disruption an eating disorder can bring. A general lack of education among both sufferers and their communities makes the recovery journey even harder. Here are some myths about eating disorders that I encourage you to challenge:
MYTH 1. Eating disorders only affect a certain type of person – typically white, female, young, thin, upper-middle class. Media representations have perpetuated this stereotype and even glamorized the illness. Eating disorders affect people from all sorts of backgrounds and with all kinds of body shapes. Never feel like you cannot seek help because you aren’t thin enough, or don’t fit into a certain profile. Check out this article.
MYTH 2. Eating disorders are a choice, or a type of attention-seeking behavior. Research shows that eating disorders arise when someone genetically predisposed to certain physiological behaviors experiences a situational trigger. This has to do with a different set-up of the brain’s reward system in conjunction with certain personality traits such as perfectionism. Don’t take my word for it — look at the research.
MYTH 3. Eating disorders are just diets and are not that serious. Extreme dieting is an ED behavior, but they are NOT the same thing. An eating disorder is a psychological illness. Often, the sufferer has lost the capacity to stop restrictive or compensatory behaviors well beyond the point of reason or health. They can’t “break the circuit”, even though they very often want to. This is because their brain is rewarding them for behaviors that are harmful and compulsive. As a side note, diets are terrible too…but they’re not necessarily EDs. More information here.
MYTH 4. Eating disorder sufferers can never fully recover. Untrue! The brain is amazing and has the capacity to re-wire itself. However, this almost always requires professional help from dietitians, therapists, and medical professionals. A big component of an eating disorder is deception, both of others and of self — it’s hard to be objective when you have gotten so good at denying what is happening in your body/mind. Read more in this article.
Finally, I want to link to some resources that I find very helpful: here, here, here, here. Nothing beats having a treatment team and getting the proper care that you need, but hopefully these resources can be a good stepping stone to full recovery.