Every new year, I hear a couple of comments from people joking about wishing they had eating disorders. Usually, what they mean is that they wish they could lose weight and/or exhibit more self-control around food. However, this way of thinking is so completely wrong. Eating disorders 1) do not inherently mean weight loss, 2) make you lose all control over food, and 3) have horrific consequences. There are many misconceptions about eating disorders which make people joke about wanting one—keep reading to see some of these myths debunked.
1. Eating disorders are not a choice.
An eating disorder is a progressive and often chronic mental illness. One develops an eating disorder over time, and because it's classified as a mental illness, one cannot wake up one day and choose to have one. In most cases, one often does not even realize they are developing an eating disorder, and even though many eating disorders may start with a diet, a diet doesn't mean you automatically have an eating disorder.
2. Eating disorders do not make you special or unique.
Although many who have eating disorders do report feeling a sense of power and specialness because of their eating disorder, in truth, the world does not care about you or your mental health issues. So if you want an eating disorder because you feel like it makes you unique or special, here's a reality check: There are about 30 million people in the US alone who suffer from an eating disorder. Think you're unique? You're not.
3. Preoccupation with food, weight, and appearance aren't the only symptoms of an eating disorder.
Again, because eating disorders are mental illnesses, weight and food are only one component of a very complex illness. People do not have eating disorders because their fear of being fat is so inherent; they have them because somewhere in their brain, the wiring just isn't right, and for some reason, it's manifesting itself in an eating disorder. Although low self-esteem and body dissatisfaction might be the start of an eating disorder, eating disorders are usually coping mechanisms for much bigger things.
4. Chronic dieting is different than having an eating disorder.
There is a big difference between dieting and having an eating disorder. Although someone dieting may engage in similar behavior as someone with an eating disorder, dieting implies a termination date whereas an eating disorder does not. So if you feel you can just "be anorexic" until you reach a certain goal weight, you are most likely either in denial or you are dieting. Following a diet doesn't make you anorexic. Restricting your caloric intake for one day does not make you anorexic. Fasting for a week before prom does not make you anorexic.
5. There are eating disorders other than anorexia nervosa.
More times than not, you'll hardly ever find someone who wants Bulimia, OSFED, or Binge Eating Disorder. Those who want eating disorders usually only want one to be thin, so of course, they try to "become anorexic" in order to attain that goal. Those who want an eating disorder to become thin need to realize they do not want an eating disorder to become thin, they just want to become thin quick.
6. You cannot "just stop" having an eating disorder.
As stated before, an eating disorder is a progressive, chronic illness. Not only does that mean recovery is very difficult, but relapse rates are extremely high for those who have had actual eating disorders. Many people who want eating disorders feel they'll be able to just stop once they reach a goal weight or fit into a certain size or once their prom/homecoming/summer vacation/wedding is over. That is not how eating disorders work.
7. People with eating disorders usually like food.
People who want eating disorders almost try to force themselves to not like food, or at least to train themselves to think that food is evil. But what they fail to understand is that most people with eating disorders actually like food and would love to be able to eat it normally. The difference is most people who want eating disorders try to force themselves to deny food, while those with eating disorders have to try and force themselves to eat food normally.
8. Life will not get better with an eating disorder.
If you interviewed 1,000 people with eating disorders, I guarantee you none would say their lives improved with an eating disorder. Sure, we've all felt the high of an eating disorder or felt we could function better with one. But in truth, life gets progressively worse the longer we suffer from an eating disorder. Because we eventually lose control of our eating disorders, our lives will inevitably be negatively affected, whether we like it or not.
9. Eating disorders will not make you beautiful.
Sure, you may get compliments in the beginning of your eating disorder, but malnutrition will take its toll whether you are underweight or not. You will look unhealthy, whether it's because your hair turns brittle or you have permanent dark circles under your eyes, you will look sick even if you do not realize it.
10. You will not get x, y or z once you're thin.
11. You can die from an eating disorder, any eating disorder, at any weight.
Those who want eating disorders seldom think of the health consequences, because they put eating disorders on the same level as common diets. They think they'll be able to stop before health consequences happen, or they think they'll somehow be able to prevent health consequences by taking a multivitamin (LOL). The truth is, if you have an eating disorder, health consequences are always a risk, as is death. Nobody is immune to health consequences, and if someone has an eating disorder long enough, they will eventually suffer some type of health issue.
Eating disorders are not something that anyone should aspire towards. They are serious and ugly illnesses that ruin lives. Wanting an eating disorder is indicative of greater self-esteem and body image issues, and should be treated differently.