We hear a lot in the media every day about eating disorders. What causes them, which celebrities have them, who's died from them. In a world where mental illnesses are sensationalised into tabloid headlines, there are a lot of misconceptions. We're here to put an end to that.
1 People with eating disorders are thin
We can't blame you for thinking this one, as it is actually part of the criteria doctors use to diagnose anorexia nervosa. However, despite the common view that eating disorder sufferers are walking skeletons, many victims may be of average weight, or even overweight.
Disorders like anorexia are primarily mental problems before they become physical, and someone can be suffering from very unhealthy attitudes towards food but still maintain an average size. Bulimia sufferers often struggle to lose weight because of their binging behaviours.
Additionally, many people forget that compulsive overeating is also an eating disorder.
If you've ever thought someone might have a problem but dismissed it because 'they're not skinny enough', please remember how damaging and wrong this attitude can be. It can make sufferers feel even more insecure, and it means people become seriously ill before they get the attention they deserve.
2 People with eating disorders are vain
Dangerous attitudes to food don't simply arise because someone wants to look like a model or a Barbie doll. Whilst society's cultural perceptions of beauty don't help, plenty of sufferers say the media is not to blame for their problems.
There is no one cause of eating disorders, and scientists and psychologists alike have discovered causes ranging from bullying (nurture) to genetics (nature).
3 Eating disorders are a choice
Nope. Try again. They are mental disorders as real and as serious as bipolar disorder, depression, or OCD. In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
4 Only women can have eating disorders
We have this perception that eating disorders are suffered by young white affluent women but they can affect anyone of any race, social status, background, or gender.
It's important to remember that 11% of eating disorder sufferers are male and that this estimation is probably low because of the stigma attached to such illnesses. For more info, visit Men Get Eating Disorders Too.
5 Anorexia and Bulimia are the only (dangerous) disorders
Anorexia and bulimia aren't the only eating disorders, though they are the one we hear about the most.
EDNOS are 'eating disorders not otherwise specified' and often consist of a range of symptoms. One such problem is 'chewing and spitting' a disordered eating behaviour in which sufferers chew but do not swallow their food.
We might not hear as much about these problems, but research shows they are still serious. A study in 2009 found bulimia had a 3.9% mortality rate, anorexia had a 4% mortality rate and EDNOS had a 5.2% mortality rate.
6 'I've seen them eating, they can't have an eating disorder'
People with eating disorders will go to incredible lengths to keep their problem a secret. Anorexics might eat in front of you to pretend they don't have a problem, whilst bulimics and people with binge eating disorder may be prone to overeating.
If you have noticed your friends or relatives acting differently around food, don't dismiss your concerns so easily. Keep your eye out for further signs, listed here.
7 People with eating disorders are stupid
Despite what P!nk told is in her 2006 song 'Stupid Girls', people with eating disorders aren't just airheads who want to be skinny. In fact, scientists have repeatedly discovered that anorexia sufferers have higher IQs than most.
Anorexia sufferers are also frequently perfectionists, which can be a source of stress and anxiety that leads to a desire to control food intakes.
8 People with eating disorders should 'just eat'
If this is true, people with cancer should just stop having cancer, people with missing limbs should just grow new ones, and people with bad eyesight should just 'start seeing'.
Many sufferers do actually want to eat, but the disorder that controls their mind makes it incredibly difficult for them to recover. Although it seems to us like eating or not eating is an easy choice to make, for sufferers it is a daily struggle that can cause feelings of guilt and even a desire to self harm.
9 Eating disorders are about being thin
Although it might seem confusing, often people with eating disorders don't actually want to be thin or underweight. We often confuse the outcome with the cause in such cases.
People develop disordered eating as a way to gain control over their lives, as an act of self harm, or it can even be a compulsion similar to OCD. The causes and motivations are complex, and more often than not sufferers are not motivated vb
10 'I can't have an eating disorder because...'
• 'I'm not thin enough'
• 'I love food so much'
• 'I'm just on a diet'
• 'I still have my periods'
• 'I'm too smart'
• 'I'm a feminist'
• 'I haven't lost any weight'
• 'People call me fat' • 'I can see what I really look like'
Having misconceptions about eating disorders is not just damaging to society, it can be damaging to yourself. Eating disorder sufferers are often in denial about their illness, and may have Body Dysmorphic Disorder (which means they see themselves as fat when they aren't).
Sufferers might try and convince themselves they aren't unwell because they don't fit all the strict criteria offered by doctors and health websites. This is dangerous. Disordered eating is a mental problem, and we need to accept when attitudes are problematic. If you've found yourself counting calories, skipping meals, binging food, deliberately being sick, or in general have a changed attitude to food - seek help before it gets worse.
Feature image: shetakesflight.tumblr.com