Common Myths About Eating Disorders Debunked
The amount of misinformation about eating disorders floating around is staggering. I can't help being surprised every time someone asserts an eating disorder myth as truth. But then, food and body as subjects are taboo in most people's lives, and eating disorders possess the largest stigma of all.
So I'm doing my part. I've listed the most common myths I've come up against, and laid out the facts in response. Considering that eating disorders are more common than Alzheimer's in the United States, I think you'd do well to take note. Chances are, you know, have known, or will know your share of eating disordered individuals over the course of your lifetime.
Myth: Eating Disorders Only Affect Teenagers
In fact, eating disorders can, and do, affect members of every population. While 86% of diagnosed individuals experienced the onset of the illness prior to age 20 (according to a 10-year study by ANAD), there is a growing population of middle-aged and post-menopausal women with eating disorders. Like the buying of a sports-car for a middle-aged man, an eating disorder can be the manifestation of a sort of mid-life crisis for women.
Myth: Eating Disorders Only Affect Women
Current statistics show that 1 out of every 10 people suffering from an eating disorder is male, but researchers are discovering that gender bias in diagnosis could be resulting in artificially low numbers. Eating disorders manifest differently in males and females, and until more studies are conducted on eating disorders in men, we can't know just how many there are out there.
Recent research also shows that the population with the highest percentage of eating disordered members is that of the homosexual male. This does not, by any means, indicate that straight men do not practice disordered eating. Simply that the accepted methods for diagnosis translate more readily from females (both hetero- and homo-sexual) to gay men.
Myth: Eating Disorders Are A Phase
As many as one out of every four anorexics dies of her disease. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, ranking far above the the numbers of suicides, which are regularly quoted in middle- and high school health classes. However, with treatment, the casualties fall to only about 4%, proving that the therapeutic model does, in fact, work, though health insurance often refuses to cover it, insisting that once medically stable, an eating disordered person is "cured." Increasingly, doctors and lawmakers alike are calling for insurance to offer full coverage of these serious illnesses.
Myth: Anorexics Don't Eat, Bulimics Puke
Myth: Eating Disorders Are About Food
An eating disorder is a complex mental illness with biological, psychological, and sociological components. Merely "eating right" does nothing to solve the issues at the core of an eating disordered person's problem. It is for this reason that effective eating disorder treatment takes a multi-disciplinary approach to the individual, working to identify the root causes of that particular person's struggles.
Myth: People With Eating Disorders Are Emaciated
70% of women with eating disorders are at or above a "healthy" weight. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether or not he or she has an eating disorder; many thin girls have a healthy attitude to food, and many average-bodied women practice disordered eating.
The same is true for binge eating disorder. Being overweight does not necessarily indicate overeating, and not all who struggle with compulsive overeating are obese. It is important to break down these associations so that someone who is ill does not avoid seeking treatment simply because he or she does not meet the stereotypical visual image of an emaciated anorexic. For this reason the behavioral and emotional symptoms are a much more reliable indicator of disordered eating.