Eating disorders are worryingly common – the odds are that someone you know is fighting their own private battle right now, even if you don’t realise it. Despite their prevalence, there are still many damaging myths that surround this dangerous problem.
Myth: Eating disorders are a white, teenage-girl problem.
Reality: Eating disorders affect men, women, children, teenagers, middle-aged people, poor people, rich people and everyone in between. Eating disorders do not discriminate based on socio-economic status, gender, age or race. Women are certainly not the only group affected – as many as 10 to 15% of eating-disorder sufferers are men.
Myth: Eating disorders are diets gone wrong.
Reality: There is a huge difference between a diet and an eating disorder. Although both involve some focus on food, they are worlds apart. While someone on a diet chooses to resist certain foods, a person with an eating disorder feels an intense compulsion to restrict, overeat or overexercise. An eating disorder is a complex mental illness – a diet is a lifestyle choice.
Myth: People with eating disorders are extremely thin.
Reality: Sufferers come in all shapes and sizes. While those struggling with anorexia may be underweight and noticeably thin, the vast majority of people with eating disorders are at a normal weight or overweight. You can’t tell who has an eating disorder just by looking at them.
Myth: Thin models and fashion magazines are directly linked to people developing eating disorders.
Reality: Messages from the media about thinness and beauty can certainly have a negative impact on young people who feel pressure to look a certain way, but most young people do not go on to develop eating disorders. Eating disorders are extremely complicated and their underlying causes and triggers will vary between each sufferer, but they are rarely rooted in problems around body image and a desire to look like models on a runway.
Myth: Eating disorders are all about food and weight.
Reality: While the sufferer may put a disproportionate amount of focus on food and weight, they do this to distract from other pressing psychological issues. Eating disorders are about many things, and food and weight are just at the tip of the iceberg.
Myth: Anorexia is the most common eating disorder.
Reality: Despite being the most widely discussed, anorexia is actually the least common eating disorder. ‘Eating disorder not otherwise specified’ (EDNOS), bulimia and binge-eating disorder are all extremely dangerous and damaging illnesses that can be just as fatal as anorexia. Sufferers can often go unnoticed for many years because their eating disorder is less visible.
Myth: People with eating disorders are attention-seeking.
Reality: Most people with eating disorders go to great lengths to hide their problem, deceiving those around them in an attempt to avoid drawing attention to the illness.
Myth: People who binge eat are lazy and have no willpower.
Reality: Binge eating is a disordered behaviour, just as restricting is. The bingeing is usually triggered by difficult emotions and negative thoughts, not by a lack of willpower.
Myth: Sufferers can recover from an eating disorder by deciding to get better.
Reality: Recovery is a long and difficult process. The decision to get better is crucial but it’s impossible for someone with an eating disorder to ‘just snap out of it’ and revert back to normal eating and thinking. Intensive psychological and nutritional support is usually necessary after the decision to recover has been made.
Myth: Full recovery from an eating disorder is impossible.
Reality: Full recovery is difficult but not impossible. If you are struggling and find it hard to believe that you’ll ever truly get better, rest assured that there are many people out there leading normal, happy lives after battling an eating disorder.
If you need help, reach out today:
Eating Disorders South Africa
012 993 1060; Edsa.co.za
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