Where do myths come from? Well, they often derive from either a lack of knowledge or human denial. They are also commonly accompanied with many negative stigmas. Myths are actually quite common in our society and it is about time we acknowledge them. Specifically, those surrounding eating disorders. In our country, someone dies from an eating disorder every 62 minutes, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. This means that every day at least 23 people die from an eating disorder, yet we hardly ever talk about these diseases. Why is that? Maybe because they aren’t treated with the same seriousness as other disorders? Or because we justify model’s sickly thin bodies as “beautiful” and “natural”. Except, there is nothing beautiful about eating disorders or the myths that accompany them. Having struggled with any eating disorder myself, I rarely talk about it especially publically or over social media. However, myths form because we choose not to talk about difficult topics. From my experience both struggling and recovering from an eating disorder, I found the ten myths below to be the most common.
1) They are about the food-Wrong! Eating disorders are almost never about the physical food. Sufferers do not intentionally starve themselves or purge. Most commonly, an event in someone’s past triggers the onset of this disease. A trigger can be just about anything. Some of the eating disorder sufferers I have met had been abused, neglected, cheated on, suffered from severe depression and anxiety, or simply had been exposed to unhealthy behaviors. However, some sufferers experienced none of these and still struggle with anorexia or bulimia. Our society places a strong emphasis on perfectionism, which can lead anyone to feel like they aren’t enough.
2) They aren’t a real disease-This one really bothers me. Eating disorders are no different than any other disease. They have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and should be taken seriously. Throughout my recovery, some of the people I have met who suffered from eating disorders are no longer alive. Eating disorders can be deadly if not treated early. This is not to say sufferers cannot recover. I wouldn’t be writing this if they didn’t…
3) “The rich person disease”-Once again… no. Eating disorders can affect people at any socioeconomic level. They can affect all races and ethnic groups at any income level. This is a common stereotype of eating disorders that I have personally experienced. Even in a residential treatment facility I was called “princess” because faculty members assumed anyone who was there came from money. Money has nothing to do with it.
4) “You can see them”-This is not always true. The media portrays those with eating disorders as emaciated. This may be true with severe anorexia but not always. Also, those suffering from bulimia can be underweight, normal weight, or even overweight. Even people who you think have the “ideal body” may be struggling with an eating disorder, our eyes just aren’t trained to see them.
5) “They are trendy”-Fad diets are different than disordered eating. Flipping through the pages of any magazine you will see advertisements for juice diets, gluten free diets, or just about anything. Eating disorders are not trendy fads that people pick up from time to time. They are full blown diseases that can be fatal.
6) “They are a young person’s problem”-Eating disorders do not lurk in the hallways of high schools or college dorms. Although adolescence is a common time for an eating disorder to circulate, one can develop this disease at any time. The people I met in residential facilities ranged from ages 13-65. They are not a young person’s problem nor are they a girl’s problem.
7) “Boys are immune to them”-Sorry boys. Once again, eating disorders can affect anyone. Boys are certainly not immune. In fact, I met many boys who suffered from eating disorders. These diseases can be common amongst male athletes who have to meet certain weight requirements like wrestling, lightweight football, crew, etc. Testosterone is not protection against eating disorders.
8) “They come without shame”-I think I speak for sufferers alike when I say I wish this was true. They absolutely come with shame. No one ever wants to admit they suffer or have suffered from an eating disorder. Many judgements are associated with these diseases. It took me nearly five years to be comfortable talking about my own experience with anorexia. Eating disorders are dark and sometimes uncomfortable to talk about. But we need to talk about them. We need to be brave. If not for ourselves then for those who are still struggling
9) “Recovery is easy”-You do not simply eat your way out of an eating disorder. It takes dedication and the want to get better. Oftentimes, recovery doesn’t come without at least one setback. Three doctors, two hospitalizations, and two schools was what it took me to truly want to get better. You have to get better for yourself, not anyone else. You have to realize that your life matters. That is the hard part.
10) “They go away”-This is the saddest myth of them all. I wish I could say eating disorders fully go away. I have not found this to be true. I have been four years weight restored and I struggle every day. Whether its anxiety over food, the shame that comes after every meal or the obsessive need to exercise. I know when I get stressed or upset, the first thing I find myself doing is restricting or exercising. I am very conscious of this and don’t allow myself to go down that rabbit hole. Eating disorders are an addiction you can’t allow yourself to fuel. They get better, they absolutely do! I just haven’t found that they go away completely, or that they ever will. This is just a part of life that some brave people must accept. But please try to recover because I promise you it’s worth it.