Let’s talk eating disorders. As someone who has suffered from an eating disorder on and off for the past 10 years, I am always a bit shocked at some of the assumptions people make when I tell them. I don’t think it’s a matter of ignorance, just a lack of education on the topic in our society as a whole. Honestly, I probably wouldn’t know much about it either if I hadn’t lived through it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “oh, so you throw up after every meal?” or “were you just trying to get attention?” No, no, those things aren’t necessarily true of every person who has an eating disorder – as with any disorders, the situation is different and unique for everyone who struggles with it. Let’s go through what I believe to be the three most prominent myths:
MYTH: You can tell by just looking at someone that they have an eating disorder.
TRUTH: Individuals with eating disorders come in absolutely all shapes and sizes. People tend to associate all eating disorders with the image of someone severely emaciated, but that is just not the case. There is such a wide array of eating disorders including anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating, and anorexia athletica. You can be thin, average, overweight, obese, or incredibly fit and be struggling with disordered eating. Never judge what someone may be going through based on their appearance or discredit them if they confide in you because of your preconceived notions of what they should look like with a particular disorder.
MYTH: Eating disorders are a choice or a lifestyle.
TRUTH: Some eating disorders MAY start as a lifestyle choice maybe to lose weight, and then spiral out of control or they may begin for an entirely different reason all together. One thing that is certain is that no one CHOOSES to struggle from an eating disorder just as no one CHOOSES to struggle with substance abuse. Many factors play into why someone becomes bogged down with an eating disorder, and it is not the same for everyone. Once an eating disorder blossoms, it is an illness – one that needs to be treated. It is not something that can be cured with an antibiotic or someone simply telling you that you need to eat more or eat less. It is something someone needs to first accept and make the choice to change their habits and then they can begin to slowly recover. It can become an addiction, and as with any addiction, relapse is very common.
MYTH: Eating disorders are a matter of vanity and a way to get attention.
TRUTH: In most cases, this is entirely untrue. Oftentimes, those with eating disorders are unhappy with their bodies regardless of what shape and size they are and are ashamed of the way they look. In many cases, it becomes a matter of control (or lack thereof) and is not something that they would want to advertise or get attention for. For a lot of people, eating disorders develop as a way to cope with difficult life events and emotional traumas – not as a way to get attention.