Eating Disorders: Facts vs. Myths
Eating disorders are illnesses that affect several million Americans over the course of their lifetimes. There are also several myths surrounding eating disorders; the National Eating Disorders Association lists these myths and debunks them using facts.
Are Eating Disorders Severe?
Yes, they are. Out of all the known psychiatric illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate. Furthermore, actions such as purging, starvation, over-exercising, binge eating can lead to severe medical consequences and perhaps even suicidality. Possible health consequences include kidney failure, heart attack, electrolyte imbalance, as well as osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Those who struggle with an eating disorder also experience emotional distress that negatively impacts the quality of their lives.
Can Our Parents Cause Eating Disorders?
No, they don’t. Several organizations from around the world have published studies that dispute this allegation. While parents–and mothers, in particular–were traditionally blamed for any disorders their children suffered from, recent research has shown strong indication that eating disorders tend to have a strong basis in someone’s biology. Furthermore, eating disorders develop differently in each individual, and there is no set of rules parents should follow to guarantee prevention of their development. However, there are steps parents can take to help foster an environment that promotes recovery; psychologists have seen adolescents and children recover faster when their parents are included in their treatment journey.
If Eating Disorders are Biological, How Can People Recover?
Biology does not equal destiny. While biological factors indeed impact the development of eating disorders, there are also other factors that facilitate their development. Early intervention is a major aspect of preventing the development of eating disorders, and can help prevent the development of severe health and psychological consequences. While someone’s eating disorder recovery will likely be a long process involving not only a team of professionals but also support from loved ones, recovery is indeed possible.
Does Someone Develop an Eating Disorder By Choice?
No. Eating disorders are complicated psychiatric and medical illnesses; patients never “choose” to develop one. It is important to remember that someone’s social, environmental, genetic, and biological aspects all contribute to whether or not they develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders may even run in families.
In Today’s Climate, Doesn’t Everyone Have an Eating Disorder?
While it is true that today’s culture is obsessed with weight and food, clinical eating disorders are less common than disordered patterns of eating. However, eating disorders are quite prevalent: about 20 million women and 10 million men in America will struggle with an eating disorder at some time during their lives.
Eating Disorders are “Girl Things.”
Also untrue. Anyone, regardless of their sex or gender, can be affected by an eating disorder. While eating disorders are, in fact, more common in females, specialists are noticing an increasing number of males and non-binary individuals who are looking into eating disorder treatment as well. In fact, a 2007 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that up to one-third of all individuals suffering from eating disorders are males. And a 2015 study of undergraduates in the United States revealed transgender students to be among the most likely to have been diagnosed with an eating disorder within the last year.
Recovery From Eating Disorders Takes a Long Time.
This is not necessarily true: an individual’s recovery time varies. While some individuals may improve relatively fast, others may take a longer time to see improvement. Furthermore, not everyone with an eating disorder will recover in full, though many do see improvement once they seek treatment. And even those who have recovered in full generally have to ensure that they remain on a healthy path.
Are People Ever Too Old or Too Young to Develop an Eating Disorder?
No: eating disorders can develop or perhaps even re-emerge regardless of someone’s age. Many individuals who suffer from eating disorders report that eating disorder-related behaviors and thoughts began far earlier than previously thought, sometimes even when they were young children. Furthermore, people who are midlife and older receive treatment for eating disorders, some of which have recently developed the disease.