MYTH: Eating disorders are not real medical conditions.
FACT: They ARE real conditions! They are complex psychiatric conditions that can have serious lifelong consequences. In a nutshell, there are three main types of eating disorders that I will cover in this blog: anorexia nervosa (strict restriction of food intake), bulimia (binge eating followed by purging to prevent weight gain), and binge eating disorder (eating large amounts of food, often feeling out of control during binge episodes).
MYTH: People who have an eating disorder always look sick.
FACT: Eating disorders affect people of all sizes. It is important to never expect these disorders will cause someone to become underweight or emaciated. And you may not necessarily see obesity in someone who has a binge eating disorder either.
MYTH: Eating disorders aren’t a big deal.
FACT: This is extremely false. Eating disorders can and will have a significant impact on mental and physical health and in some unfortunate cases, may even be fatal. Some short-term consequences include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, and fatigue. But as this all progresses, prolonging these symptoms can cause more serious damage to the body’s cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine, and neurological systems. Muscle break down, heart failure, pancreatitis, kidney failure, anemia, seizures, and irreversible bone loss are all potential outcomes. Binge eating disorders may even lead to chronic conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes. And don’t forget about mental health. Depression and anxiety both commonly exist among those with eating disorders with suicide as a major cause of death in these individuals.
MYTH: Only teenage girls can have an eating disorder.
FACT: While it is true that MOST cases of eating disorders include females, boys and men may still be affected. According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), women are twice as likely to develop an eating disorder over men. It is also true that most eating disorders will develop in adolescence/young adulthood but very well can develop later in life. According to NIMH, approximately 2.7% of adolescents and 1.2% of adults will develop an eating disorder at some point in their life.
MYTH: I’ve never witnessed my loved one intentionally starving themselves or purging, so they probably don’t have any eating disorder.
FACT: It is not always how it appears in the movies. Rarely will you hear your friend forcefully causing themselves to vomit in the bathroom stall after a dinner outing. Or watch your sibling excessively exercise and then significantly restrict their caloric intake. Starvation, binging, and purging are typically done in private. Most individuals make it a priority to hide their symptoms from others for various reasons. Those that suffer from eating disorders may feel shameful, embarrassed, or afraid of how their family would react. Just because you do not see any major red flags, does not mean that it is not happening.
MYTH: It’s easy to “get over” an eating disorder.
FACT: It is a long and bumpy road to recovery but it is most certainly achievable. There is no timeline or path that one takes to recover, but typically requires a multitude of resources to assist with the process: a supportive family unit, psychotherapy, nutritionist/dietician, a medication regimen, and other specialists for managing other comorbidities. It can take several years to recover. And just because someone no longer “looks sick”, it does not mean that they have fully recovered from their eating disorder.
What’s the take away? It’s extremely important to recognize eating disorders as a complex psychiatric condition and anyone can be affected. Knowing these facts can help you or a loved one safely navigate through a journey to recovery.