MythBusters: The Anorexia Chronicles
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Health and Wellness

MythBusters: The Anorexia Chronicles

21 myths about one of the most mysterious and misunderstood things out there, debunked.

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MythBusters: The Anorexia Chronicles
Pixabay

It's time for a special episode of MythBusters... Anorexia Edition!

(what a party and a half, huh?)
Please note: the following contains very candid and sometimes graphic/explicit descriptions of eating disorders and related topics. Read at your own discretion.Please also note: I think it's extremely important that you read this, and not just because I wrote it. That's part of it. But I wrote it because it needed to be said, and needs to be learned.

Ready? The show's starting!

1. Anorexia is a disorder about aesthetics.

It's not really rocket science: if you eat less, you'll lose weight. And yes, losing weight is absolutely a big part of the anorexic thought process. I've long been obsessed with becoming smaller and smaller. But it's not about a number on a scale or the tag of a pair of jeans, or looking like the airbrushed and edited models in magazines and ads everywhere. It's about shrinking myself until I disappear, so that no one has to deal with me or endure my presence, including my own self. It stems from something far deeper and not even remotely superficial.

2. Eating disorders are "women's diseases."

Don't be ridiculous. Everyone eats food. Everyone is exposed to unrealistic body standards and cruel comments. And unfortunately, this also means that anyone can have an eating disorder. Statistics do note that there's a greater prevalence of women suffering from eating disorders, especially restrictive types, but that's only a piece of the puzzle. The number is constantly fluctuating, there are far more gender identities than just "male" or "female," and, as is similar to atrocities like sexual assault or bullying, men are historically less likely to report having experienced it. Eating disorders don't see gender, or age, or ethnicity, or weight, or anything. They just see victims.

3. Only thin people can have anorexia.

Again, this is just a silly, stereotypical, and ignorant misconception. Eating disorders are perhaps the only example of something that can actually be "one size fits all." Just like they're not exclusively something women deal with, they aren't something that have some sort of bonkers weight requirement. I've known people bigger and thinner than me with anorexia. I know I'm closer to the latter half of the spectrum when compared to the average population, but that doesn't somehow make me more of a candidate for the disorder than anyone else. In fact, due to the incredibly harmful and unrealistic expectations society has for appearances, people who are put into the taboo categories of "heavy" or "overweight" or what have you, are extremely liable to suffer from an eating disorder. By the same token, so are skinnier people. You might look at them and wish you had their body, but they might be looking back at you wishing they looked more like you. You never know. Eating disorders don't bother to find out.

4. People who have eating disorders really just want attention.

Eating disorders are extremely lonely, isolating monsters. When my eating disorder was at its worst, I barely ever left my room. I was ashamed of myself; I simultaneously thought people would think I looked skeletal, yet all I could see was someone enormous and repulsive who no one would want to know, either. I avoided anywhere where I'd have to spend too long talking to someone, because I couldn't have conversations without my eating disorder interrupting and screaming at me. And I knew that my relationship with food looked extremely abnormal, so I didn't even spend time with my closest friends, who of course would've been the most understanding and caring of anyone. Did I crave attention, friendships, and love? Of course. I'm human. And my disorder is partly a cry for help; it's a nonverbal way of asking someone to notice how much you're suffering and show you the light at the end of the dark tunnel you're lost in. I loathed the idea of attention, yet deep down, I needed it, just like every other person does. We're social beings, and as much as it might try to convince people otherwise, anorexia isn't anything remotely close to a friend.

5. All someone has to do to recover from anorexia is "just eat."

Every time I hear someone say those words, I have this odd combination of desires to cry, slap them, ask them where their brain went, run away, and bust up laughing. So usually I just sit there with an expression of utter disbelief on my face. How, quite honestly, ridiculously stupid is it to suggest that? As if the thought that starving myself was hurting me more and more each day never crossed my mind. As if anyone fighting anorexia stops longing to just eat a damn piece of pizza or go out for a drink with friends without calculating how long they have to spend at the gym to compensate. As if watching as my body and mind shut down, like I'm a terrified audience member at my own personal horror show, is something I'd keep doing were the solution so plain and simple. Do you have to eat to live? Much as I sometimes loathe the answer, yes, you do. It's a natural and necessary thing that everyone does. Eating disorders rip that part right out of you. There are days where I've wished with all my heart that I could "just eat," but the point is, there's something way more powerful at work that's stopping me from being able to obey a basic human instinct.

6. Anorexia isn't really that serious.

I'll keep this short and simple: every 62 minutes, someone dies of an eating disorder; of the documented and medically recognized eating disorders, anorexia is the single most deadly. In fact, it's the deadliest of any mental illness. It can make your life a living hell, and it can also end it. Life or death is a pretty serious concept, huh? That's what I thought.

7. Anorexia is just a diet that's out of control.

There are so many demented diet trends and claims out there. It'd be funny if it weren't so unbelievably frightening. Try a teatox, and deprive your body of everything but beverages that do nothing except provide the water you need to participate in such nonsense? Combine a bunch of weird ingredients into a disgusting smoothie, have that a few times, and watch the pounds fall off? Start following one of the bullshit regimes some celebrity reportedly adheres to? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be healthier. Oftentimes, there's nothing wrong with eating less, eating better, and exercising more. The problem is when that desire to be "healthy," or whatever your eating disorder tries to pass itself off as, crosses to the dark side and turns into a destructive force. Anorexia is not a diet. The only way "die" relates to anorexia is as a three letter, heart-wrenching reality for so many individuals and their loved ones.

8. Like a physical illness, you can contract anorexia out of the blue.

Anorexia is a mental illness. Inherently, that means something in your brain doesn't function properly or the way that it should; kind of like if you left a circuit open instead of closed. It's something that's with you from the moment you're brought into the world, whether or not it's as immediately apparent. Anorexic has been shown to have ties to our own individual genetics and biology, and also appears to often be heritable.

9. Eating disorders can be cured with medicine.

To the previous point, eating disorders aren't like other health problems. There are things that medicine can help alleviate or prevent: There's things like anti-depressants, pills that stimulate appetite, and care for poor physical health resulting from poor mental health. But no medicine will somehow wipe the eating disorder out of existence. As much as I wish there were some creation that I could take and be free of my anorexia (even if it ended up tasting like one of the gross varieties of Bertie Botts' Every Flavor Beans), there isn't. Even something as benign as a paper cut doesn't heal because you put a band-aid on it. The band-aid helps, but it's ultimately your body doing the repair work. The same is true for eating disorders.

10. If someone eats, that means they can't have anorexia.

At my worst, there were days where I didn't eat a thing. It even got to the point where I wouldn't drink water because I was afraid of bloating. But just because you begin nourishing yourself properly again doesn't mean your anorexia has passed into the afterlife it'll surely be spending in the darkest depths of hell. I'm still trying to remember how to eat because I enjoy food, not because I have a meal plan I'm supposed to follow.

11. If someone has a thigh gap, they must also have an eating disorder.

...Just no. If that's the way their body was built, then so be it. If your boobs are completely different sizes, you weigh more than the "average" BMI for someone of your body type and age, or you have less than defined biceps, does that mean you're unhealthy? Absolutely not. It means you're an individual with a body. Congratulations! If you have a natural thigh gap, good for you. If being your normal weight means your thighs will rub together (and perhaps even stick together on super humid days), good for you. Don't try and alter your body to fit someone else's. It's yours and yours alone.

12. Like a diet, you can decide to stop being anorexic when you want.

This boggles my mind. It boggles it to the point where I actually used the word "boggles" because nothing else really conveyed how imbecilic this idea is. Why on earth would people spend all their years in a hospital, or be reclusive and isolated from society, or even lose their life, if there were a switch you could flip to end the suffering just like that? I promise you, and though it's a flippant comment, I don't mean it to be the least bit flippant: anorexia isn't fun. It's hell beyond what anyone can conceive of.

13. Anorexia only affects you physically.

Again, this isn't rocket science, people: you eat less, and if you also have an exercise addiction, you will invariably lose weight. Know some of the other fun stuff that happens that no one really seems to talk about? Your organs start failing. Your hair falls out. You can't get warm. You lose your sex drive. And as clear as day as these symptoms might be, they belie just how incredibly much your mind is being affected. You start to become mean and aloof and confused. You can't shake the sadness. Destructive thoughts about yourself start to consume every minute of your life. If you don't take proper care of your body, it's gonna wreak havoc on your brain, too; don't doubt it for a second.

14. If you try and eat healthily or exercise a lot, it means you probably have an eating disorder.

Like I said earlier, this is completely false. There's nothing wrong with being healthy. In fact, there's a lot of us who could use better eating habits or some more activity in our lives. But when you start avoiding food or exercising to punish yourself, that's when the red flag gets thrown.

15. An eating disorder is "just in your head."

I chalk this one up to the same insanity that causes people to say "just eat." I mean, factually, is an eating disorder in my head? Why yes, it's a mental illness! Bravo. Is it some scary monster I dreamed up or an overactive imagination? Not even close. And again, eating disorders tax both your mind and your body.

16. People with eating disorders are weaker than those without them.

Sadly, a lot of the world tends to look at people with mental illnesses as "dysfunctional" or "broken." It's as if they believe we're the awkward cracked egg in the carton that stops you from buying the whole thing (food pun only somewhat intended). We're permanently screwed up, and we're "special" said with the most sarcasm one can muster. Honestly, if you're sad and hateful enough to think this way, you're the weak, faulty one. My struggles have only made me stronger.

17. You can "fix" someone's eating disorder for them.

I inwardly roll my eyes whenever I meet someone who suddenly becomes a reputable doctor, dietitian, therapist, psychiatrist, or expert in anything that relates to my eating disorder, as soon as I mention I'm anorexic. By uttering that one word, I've unlocked all of this knowledge in their brain. Surely they can put me right back together, no matter how Humpty Dumpty I've gone, or how little they know about any of those things! Surely they have information I've never entertained myself nor heard from an actual professional! News flash: unless you are a health professional who specializes in eating disorders, you aren't an omnipotent, infinitely wise purveyor of knowledge. Nor do you know what someone's going through just because you kind of know what anorexia is. I have the damn disorder, and I wouldn't dare say I know everything about it and everyone else who's fighting a battle against it. The best way to help is to be calm, compassionate, understanding, and resilient yourself, and to help the disordered person to find those traits within their own self.

18. Anorexia is contagious.

Oops, sorry... I sneezed while I was sitting next to you, so now you have anorexia, too. Does this honestly need any further explanation? Eating disorders don't glom onto people like germs. Anorexia is an unfortunate part of my identity. I also happen to be left-handed, depressed, and shorter than your average peanut. Do you adopt those traits by being around me? Of course not. I'm not a magician (and what terrible tricks those would be). Nor are we a bunch of angsty hormonal women whose eating disorders are "syncing up." I'll say it once more: anorexia is there from the moment you're born, no matter how long it takes to reveal itself.

19. You lose a lot of body fat as a result of a restrictive eating disorder.

Sure, you'll lose fat. Because your body will literally start eating itself to survive (oh, the irony). Fat will be one of the last things to go, because your body saves it in order to keep you alive and functional for as long as it can. So no, eating disorders aren't like Photoshop; you can't fiddle with your hip-to-waist ratio or erase that annoying little belly roll. You don't get to choose how the eating disorder affects you.

20. Anorexics only eat "healthy" foods when they're restricting.

Orthorexia is a newcomer to the eating disorder world, and many doctors don't yet recognize it as an authentic and separate illness. Someone who is orthorexic consumes solely "healthy" foods, which stems from the same thought process found in anorexics, where certain foods are cut out entirely. I personally became obsessed with "healthy" eating and convinced myself that I was doing all the right things because I refrained from having things like ice cream or pasta or, goodness forbid, salad dressing. Should you eat nothing but pizza for the rest of your life? Obviously not. Should you subsist solely on celery? That doesn't work either. And, just for the record, your body doesn't have little signs with different food items on them that light up when you eat something. It realizes it's getting food, whatever it may be, and passes no judgment upon it. I've known some anorexics who ate foods that scared me shitless, while I ate things that made them squeamish in turn. Sadly, eating disorders are as unique and varied as the individuals they affect.

21. Anorexia defines you.

No.

YOU DO.
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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