This year’s NEDA theme is “It’s time to talk about it”. Mental health isn’t a widely-talked about topic, and eating disorders are even more shut away from public conversation. One of the issues that arises when eating disorders are shoved out of the spotlight is that a lot of myths and rumors become fact because there’s very few people to contest them.
So in today’s post, we’re going to do a bit of eating disorder myth-busting. These myths come from not only our own experiences, but from myths found on the internet.
Only severely under or overweight people have eating disorders.
Absolute myth! Eating disorders can be found in individuals of all sizes! This myth is especially dangerous because it becomes internalized in individuals who are not severely under or overweight, and they convince themselves they do not have an eating disorder and do not need help.
Only women have eating disorders.
Also a huge myth that does a lot more harm than good. Like we listed yesterday, 3.5% of women and 2% of men have an eating disorder. Those percentages may seem small, but those are very big numbers!
Eating disorders start in teen years.
Wrong again! While it is true that the majority of eating disorders are diagnosed in the teen and young adult years, most eating disorders develop in very young children. Girls as young as six years old express concerns over their weight, and 40-60% of girls between the ages of 6-12 are concerned about their weight or that they are becoming fat. What’s even more concerning is that weight-based teasing in both girls and boys is almost equal (40% girls and 37% boys) and isn’t just done by peers. This teasing is also done by family members. If weight-based teasing or even talks of dieting is done at the home, the risk for a child to develop an eating disorder heavily increases.
Fad dieting isn’t a problem.
We addressed this in depth in our previous post. To summarize: yes, it’s a problem. It is a huge problem. 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted “often” or “always.” Almost half of American children between 6 and 8-years-old want to be thinner; half of 9-10 year old girls are dieting. HALF. The idea itself is terrifying; these are cold, hard facts.
Diets will get rid of eating disorders.
This is a HUGE myth! Instead of quoting all these facts, we’re just going to throw this info-graphic up because we think it sums up this myth extremely well:
People with eating disorders only have issues with food.
Did you know that 50% of individuals with eating disorders abuse drug and/or alcohol at a rate that’s five times higher than individuals without eating disorders? Bulimia nervosa holds the highest rate of substance abuse, with 30-50% of individuals with this eating disorder abusing drugs or alcohol. Eating disorders and alcohol/drug abuse have shared risk factors, such as brain chemistry, family history, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and social pressure. The risk of suicide is also higher, which is particularly scary when you consider that anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of any mental condition.
Anorexia and bulimia are the only dangerous eating disorders.
As mentioned in our previous post, all eating disorders are highly dangerous, to the point of being fatal. While we could not find specific mortality rates for BED, crude mortality rates for individuals diagnosed with Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified, or EDNOS, are 5.2%. 1 in 10 BED patients have a comorbid substance abuse disorder. ARFID – or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder – is unlike all other eating disorders, in that it has nothing to do with body image; the consumption of certain foods is limited based on the food’s appearance, smell, taste, texture, or a past negative experience with the food. This can result in significant weight loss, stunted growth in children, significant nutritional deficiency, and an interruption of psychosocial functions.
You are fully recovered from an eating disorder when you’re at a “healthy” weight.
Bzzt! Wrong again! While becoming healthy is a part of treatment, weight is not the magical end to eating disorders. There are a lot of mental factors that come from eating disorders, and those have to be worked through before even tackling the eating disorder itself. Laura didn’t even get referred to a nutritionist until after a year of intensive, weekly therapy, and even then, the nutrition appointments weren’t based around weight. Eating disorders are life-long disorders, and just as mental as physical.
If my friend/child/student/colleague says they’re fine, I should believe them.
So very, very wrong, on so many different levels. Individuals with eating disorders often say they’re fine because they don’t wish to be a burden to others, and because they harbor so much guilt regarding their behaviors. Approaching someone with an eating disorder, or who you suspect of having an eating disorder, should be done with care and compassion. Accusing them of lying or as if they’ve done something wrong will be met with resistance and even more lying. If you’d like some more tips on how to speak with someone who has or you suspect has an eating disorder, NEDA has a great informative video here.
Having an eating disorder is a conscious choice.
This is one of the most damaging things you can tell a person with an eating disorder, right up there with “Just eat!” An ED is not a phase. It’s not a fad. It’s not something that a person can just “grow out” of. Eating disorders are mental disorders. They take years and the right treatment to even start to get better, a game of chance in and of itself when everyone’s ED experience is so different and what works for one person will not work for another. You wouldn’t tell someone with cancer to “Just get better!” would you? Eating disorders – or any mental illness, for that matter – aren’t any different.
If you, or someone you love thinks they may have an eating disorder, then take this free, anonymous eating disorder screening. It’s time to talk about it.
ANAD – Eating Disorder Statistics
Monte Nido – Statistics on Dieting and Eating Disorders
NEDA – Bullying and Weight Shaming
NEDA – Dieting and Clean Eating
NEDA – Eating Disorders and Substance Abuse
NEDA – Mortality Rates and Eating Disorders
NEDA – Obesity