Many people are accustomed to the media portrayal of a young, affluent Caucasian woman suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia, that causes her to rapidly lose a concerning amount of weight. While it is true that young, white women of higher socioeconomic status can suffer from eating disorders, this representation has led to the development of myriad misconceptions about eating disorders and those who suffer from them. Eating disorders are widespread among all demographics and can be caused by any number of events in life.
Events that may lead to an eating disorder include but are not limited to:
- Changing relationship to food or body;
- Life transitions that may involve loss of control.
When everything in life is changing and you feel out of reach, oftentimes food seems like the one thing you can control. This belief is wildly untrue, however, and may result in toxic habits that are severely harmful to your wellbeing. Reference some of the most common eating disorder myths below.
Myth #1: You can tell when someone is experiencing an eating disorder.
Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t always stereotypical physical signs that someone is suffering from an eating disorder. In fact, an eating disorder may not be visible at all. For example, someone who appears to be of normal weight could be suffering from an eating disorder just as severely as someone who appears overweight. While some individuals facing an eating disorder may indeed appear severely underweight, it is important to look out for other signs and symptoms as well.
Some other behaviors that may indicate an eating disorder are:
- Eating in secret or avoiding public meals;
- Excessive exercise;
- Frequent trips to the bathroom;
- Increased focus on body image;
- Negative body talk.
These just a few of many signs that may point to an underlying eating disorder.
Myth #2: People challenged by eating disorders eat very little.
It is a common misconception that restricting food intake is a symptom of all eating disorders. While this is true of anorexia nervosa, it is not the only symptom of an eating disorder. For example, people suffering from bulimia nervosa may eat large quantities of food. In the case of binge-eating disorder, individuals often “undo” the eating by purging or dieting frequently, and they often experience an intense sense of shame related to food and body image. Laxatives are another method of binge eating and purging and do not necessarily entail a restrictive diet.
Myth #3: Men don’t struggle with eating disorders.
Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on gender. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 10 million males will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While women often feel pressure to be excessively thin, men tend to focus on achieving a lean and muscular physique commonly found in the media yet oftentimes unattainable in the real world. Eating disorders in men sometimes manifest themselves in exercise and fasting, and often go undiagnosed because the symptoms are often less perceptible.
Myth #4: Eating disorders are a choice.
Some believe that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice, presumably made with the ultimate goal of losing weight or achieving a desired body type. However, eating disorders are a medical illness, caused by a variety of biological, psychological and social factors. Some people may be predisposed to develop an eating disorder; however, there is no known gene responsible for them. They can be treated through a combination of medical and mental health care.
Myth #5: Eating disorders are not prevalent among people of color or people of lower socioeconomic status.
Just as eating disorders don’t discriminate based on gender, they also don’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. The National Institute for Mental Health says that individuals of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can be affected by eating disorders. Studies also indicate that eating disorders have an equal impact among individuals of all socioeconomic statuses.
If you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, try taking our completely confidential assessment. Seeds of Hope is here to help. If you would like to talk to someone about what you are experiencing, schedule an appointment by calling our information line at 610-644-6464 and take your first step toward health and healing.