In honor of concluding National Eating Disorder Awareness week, which took place in February, I'm going to address the many misconceptions the general public often has about eating disorders. With Eating disorders having the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, it is important to be educated on the topic to create a change.
Here's the true skinny about these life-threatening illnesses:
Misconception #1: Eating disorders are a choice.
There's a large misconception about this, and Demi Lovato said it best. In her three-part documentary, "Stay Strong," Lovato said, "There’s a wide misconception that anorexia and/or bulimia is a choice and you often hear people say things like ‘why doesn’t she just start eating?’ Or even ‘just stop throwing up." But eating disorders don't work like that.
She continued on to say that "It's the ignorance and lack of education on mental illnesses that continues to [put] mental health care on the back burner to congress even though this is an epidemic that is sweeping our nation, and causing more and more tragedy every day."
People don't choose to begin having an eating disorder. It develops and takes hold, and not eating or throwing up a meal is not a diet. Having an eating disorder is a mental illness. People with eating disorders often struggle with body image and it disrupts their normal activities with unusual eating habits to alter their appearance.
This means that you could be 85 lbs and still look in the mirror and see someone overweight.
Misconception #2: People with eating disorders are just trying to get attention.
Again, people do not choose to have an eating disorder. So when the mental illness takes hold, and the effects of fatigue, depression, and self-loathing set in.
Those with eating disorders do not want the attention. They know that they are not healthy, but they physically can't stop. They hide themselves and would rather be invisible than tormented by their disorder and the judgments of others.
People affected by eating disorders are trying to be perfect so they finally just feel normal, and not stand out. The disorders tell the ones who are struggling that no one will love them unless they are this way.
They don't do it for anyone but themselves, because at the end of the day, their disorder is in control.
Misconception #3: The only kind of eating disorders are Anorexia and Bulimia
There are actually four categories of eating disorders. Anorexia, Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder, and EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified).
Here's the difference:
Anorexia -- A cycle of self-starvation where the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally. Anorexia is the most common cause of death (up to 12 times higher than any other condition) among young women ages 15 to 24. Thus, the body is forced to slow down all of its processes to conserve energy, resulting in bone density loss, muscle loss, loss of hair, heart damage, and even death.
Bulimia -- Recurrent binge-and-purge cycles of bulimia that can affect the entire digestive system and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances in the body that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Health consequences include tooth decay, heart damage, dehydration, peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, and even death.
Binge Eating Disorder --Regular episodes of binge eating, but use compensatory behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting or over-exercising after binge eating. Health consequences include high blood pressure and cholesterol, type II diabetes, heart disease, gallbladder disease, and even death.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: A combination of two or more eating disorder symptoms and actions. Thus, many of the health consequences fall under those actions above.
Ultimately, there are extreme health risks associated with all four types of eating disorders. Therefore, it's important to be educated on all categories.
Misconception #4: Eating disorders don't happen to young people.
According to a 2009 study, half of little girls 3-to-6 think they're fat. This shows that eating disorders can begin to occur at any age.
In addition, another study surveyed girls 8-15 and even among clearly non-overweight girls, over 1/3 report dieting.
And of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69 percent say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. Forty-seven percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight.
Eating disorders affect so many young girls and their mindset about the ideal body type. Even Demi Lovato expressed how she developed her eating disorder by the age of 12. By bettering education of the seriousness of these disorders, these numbers can lower significantly. No small child should ever think they are fat.
Misconception #5: Eating disorders only affect women.
While women are more often affected by eating disorders than men, men still make up 10 to 15 percent of the population with anorexia and bulimia.
Overall, it's important to recognize that eating disorders affect 30 million people in the US alone. Without extensive research and educating the general public on the truth behind these disorders, the numbers will only continue to rise.
So what's the 'skinny' on fighting your whole life to be skinny? The change is in your hands.