This week (Feb. 26 to March 4) is the National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, led by the National Eating Disorders Association.
Since there are so many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, disordered eating and body image, this column aims to debunk some common myths and hopefully spread accurate and important information.
Myth: You can’t have an eating disorder if you’re overweight.
Fact: Eating disorders can affect anyone of any weight.
Myth: Eating disorders are only serious if the patient is emaciated.
Fact: Eating disorders can be extremely deadly at any weight.
Myth: Only white, rich, privileged girls get eating disorders.
Fact: Eating disorders do not discriminate. People of all ages, races, genders and socioeconomic statuses can get eating disorders.
Myth: Eating disorders are a choice and are about vanity.
Fact: Developing an eating disorder is no more a choice than developing asthma. Like many illnesses, including physical ailments such as cancer or heart disease, eating disorders are caused by a multitude of factors, including biogenetic, environmental, sociocultural and personal factors. Medical professionals often use a gun metaphor to describe the onset of any sort of psychiatric illness: genetics loads the gun, while environment pulls the trigger.
Myth: A person with an eating disorder should just start eating.
Fact: Eating disorder behaviors are highly addictive, and it is unrealistic to expect someone with an eating disorder to be able to turn their disorder off or on. Eating disorder recovery takes a lot of time and often requires help from a treatment team composed of a therapist, a dietician and a doctor.
Myth: Since I don’t fit the diagnostic criteria completely for anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, I don’t have an eating disorder.
Fact: The majority of people who have an eating disorder are diagnosed with OSFED, or Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (formerly EDNOS), which accounts for eating disorders that may not fit the entire diagnostic criteria for another eating disorder.
Myth: Eating disorders are just diets.
Fact: Although dieting may trigger the onset of an eating disorder in some people, eating disorders are not diets. Eating disorders are very similar to addiction, and they usually end up controlling the sufferer’s life.
Myth: Full recovery from an eating disorder is impossible.
Fact: Although recovery is difficult, most experts agree it’s possible to fully recover from an eating disorder.
It is important to stay mindful about avoiding body-shaming language or negative comments about food, calories, etc (i.e. you’re really going to eat that??) You never know who could be struggling with an eating disorder, and that language isn’t helpful or uplifting for anyone.
If you are concerned that you or a friend may have an eating disorder or a pathological relationship with food and eating, you can take a screening at mybodyscreening.org. You can also make an appointment at the counseling center or student health to get information about useful resources. Remember that you’re not alone and that there is help and hope out there.