February 26 through March 4, 2018 was National Eating Disorders Awareness week. As mentioned in a previous post, I’d like to take the opportunity to address some common misnomers about Eating Disorders. My hope is to provide a bit of clarity and insight into a very serious and complicated mental health issue. This is important because much like anything, we run the risk of doing more harm than good to ourselves and our loved ones who might suffer from such an illness if we try to operate with an incomplete or inaccurate set of information.
Misnomer #1: You can tell a person has an Eating Disorder just by looking at them.
Contrary to popular belief, Eating Disorders do not solely apply to those significantly under or over weight. In fact, you can be considered a “healthy” or “normal” weight and still suffer from an Eating Disorder. Even high performing athletes- those who appear to be the pillar of health and fitness- are known to be at a relatively high risk for engaging in Eating Disorder behaviors.
Misnomer #2: Eating Disorders only occur in women (particularly white, heterosexual, affluent, teenagers).
Eating Disorders have been identified in a variety of populations, socioeconomic statuses, countries, ages, sexual orientations, and genders. For example, approximately 1 in 10 Eating Disorder sufferers (and 40% of those diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder) are male. The prevalence of ED is rising the most rapidly in ethnic minorities and in children ages 8-12. Research also indicates that gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual teens may be at higher risk of certain Eating Disorders than their heterosexual peers.
Misnomer #3: Eating disorders are about vanity and attention.
Eating Disorders are a mental health illness- known to be the most deadly. They are behavioral disturbances rooted in significantly distorted thinking patterns and beliefs (particularly about oneself/the world) and ways of dealing with emotions. Further, a key trait of many disordered eating patterns is the great lengths a person goes to to hide the unhealthy behavior(s) they engage. If it were truly about attention, we’d assume the opposite.
Misnomer #4: It’s the parents’ fault.
There is no single “cause” of Eating Disorders. In fact, most mental illness is the result of a combination of biological, psychological, social, and environmental factors. While our families do play a role in how we learn to think about ourselves and manage our emotions, we must also take into account genetic predisposition, having a relative with an Eating Disorder or other mental health condition, exposure to a trauma or traumatic event, social pressures form peers and/or the media, other mental or physical health issues (e.g. anxiety, Diabetes), and other factors that put someone at greater risk of developing an Eating Disorder.
Perhaps more important than the myths are the truths that follow:
Eating Disorders are treatable (you CAN recover from them), and committed friends and families can play an instrumental role in the healing and recovery process. If you are concerned you or a loved one may be at risk for an Eating Disorder, I encourage you to check out the National Eating Disorder Association website for more resources, support, and free Eating Disorder screenings. Go to https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org for more information.