As of 2016, over 30 million people in the United States have a diagnosable eating disorder. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate among all mental disorders, killing one person just about every hour. Even though this is the case, many people have misconceptions about the disorder or don’t know about it at all. So here are eight things you didn’t know about eating disorders.
1. Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorders are genetic.
It’s been found that individuals with Anorexia and Bulimia have a genetic rate of between 50 and 80%, and Binge Eating at about 50%, meaning that it runs in families. If you have a mother who is eating disordered, for example, her child is very likely to develop the same disorder that their mother has.
2. Boys can develop eating disorders as well.
While EDs are predominantly female, males can also develop EDs. However, it may be harder to spot in men simply because we don’t think of males as being susceptible to this particular illness. Trans individuals are also at risk, with a whopping 16% of transgender college students admitting to having some type of ED.
3. People can’t “decide” to have an eating disorder.
Yes, you can “choose” to restrict what you eat, but the psychological element of the eating disorder is not something that is chosen. Eating disorders are generally brought on by some disturbance in the mental being, whether it be trauma or something that may have happened in childhood/young adulthood. For many of these individuals, it’s an element of their life they feel they have control over (how much they eat, how much they weigh, how much they exercise, etc.) and it gives them a sense of relief.
4. People with eating disorders have a high likelihood of also having something else.
Generally, if someone has something like anorexia, it comes along with other mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder. Bulimia has high co-morbidity rates of mood disorders. There’s almost always more than just a “food battle” going on.
5. Commenting of their body is incredibly unhelpful.
You might be coming from a good place but the truth is, the transition to healthy is difficult and painful, as a lot of individuals, particularly those with anorexia, bulimia, or OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) have their personality so tightly intertwined with their eating disorder that it is part of their identity. Saying “You look so much better!” or “You look so healthy now!” translates to “I look fat” or “I’ve gained too much.” Whereas telling them they were too skinny or too thin before fueled the ED. It’s better to not comment on their figure at all.
6. Not everyone with an eating disorder is extremely thin.
In fact, a lot of bulimic individuals appear to be at an average weight. This doesn’t mean that they are healthy or well though, and they need to be cared for as well.
7. Many individuals with EDs go to great lengths to hide it (and they are successful).
They won’t scream it on the rooftops telling everyone about how they hate their body and are dying to lose weight, and in fact, you’ll find that they avoid talking about it all together in most cases. They do this because when you have an eating disorder, you have absolutely no intention of stopping it. Getting better means “getting fat and giving up” and even though that may not be true, that’s how a lot of individuals perceive it.
8. Recovery takes time (and relapse is very likely).
Recovery for an ED individual is difficult and relapse happens often. A lot of these patients never quite fully recover ever. With the statistics being that 1/3 recover fully, 1/3 recover partially, and the other third die, it’s easy to see why Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate among other mental disorders.