In the United States, 30 million people will experience an eating disorder at some point in their life. The rate of development of eating disorders has been steadily rising since 1950. Despite the high prevalence, we still getting the facts wrong. We’ve been spreading lies that are hurting us all.
1. All eating disorders look the same.
We tend to think that each eating disorder looks the same. Anorexia is marked by severely restricting food intake. Bulimia sufferers vomit after their meals. This limited view of eating disorders hurts people. They will have a harder time identifying their disorders to get help. Bulimia sufferers do binge and purge, but they don’t purge after every meal. They purge after binging sessions, which typically happen twice a week for three months. Anorexia sufferers can actually have two types of anorexia: restricting type or binge/purge type. This lie also ignores all of the other types of eating disorders, like binge eating disorder or night eating syndrome.
2. Everyone with an eating disorder looks the same.
People can be overweight or at a normal weight and still have an eating disorder. Because we believe that only emaciated people can have an eating disorder, it’s harder to see the symptoms in someone of a normal weight. Bulimics tend to be of normal weight, but a study done in 2012 actually found that bulimia can cause weight gain. Anorexics do tend to have a lower weight, but a study done in 2014 found that normal weighted people can also be anorexic. It found that the disorder’s symptom is really about weight loss and not necessarily a very low weight.
3. It is a choice to have an eating disorder.
This lie is so dangerous because it blames the sufferer for their disorder. When people believe this lie, they think someone can just stop their disorder at any time. The truth is that the exact causes for eating disorders are not fully known yet, but research suggests that there are many biological reasons someone develops a disorder. Eating disorders often run in families which suggests that genes play a role. In some people with eating disorders, chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion were found to be unbalanced.
4. Eating disorders are just for girls.
This lie is the reason that it’s harder for men to be diagnosed with an eating disorder. The truth is that 25 percent of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male. Of the individuals with binge eating disorders, 36 percent are male. 10 million American men will be diagnosed with an eating disorder at some point in their life, according to the National Association for Males with Eating Disorders.
5. Young women can grow out of their eating disorders.
We generally associate eating disorders with adolescents and young women, but, according to a survey done by the Gender and Body Image Study, 13 percent of women over 50 demonstrated eating disorder symptoms in the past five years. 70 percent of these women reported that they were trying to lose weight. Women over 50 who are suffering from an eating disorder need diagnosing and treatment quickly because their bodies are less resilient than younger women. There are more gastrointestinal, cardiac, bone, and dental effects of eating disorders as women age.
6. Eating disorders are taboo and shouldn’t be talked about it.
If you have experience with an eating disorder, speaking about it is not something you should completely avoid. Your story might just inspire someone else to seek help, particularly if that person sees that their own story is similar to yours. You might help someone else finally get diagnosed and get treatment for their disorder. The National Eating Disorder Association does have guidelines to follow when sharing your story. For instance, when telling your story, you should not share something that could be considered a tip to another sufferer, like saying the number of calories you consumed in a day.
7. Eating disorders are not deadly.
There are more deaths from eating disorders than any other mental illness. It is estimated that 10 percent of all sufferers die from their disorder. Eating disorders are more than just a fad young girls go through. They are life-threatening illnesses and should be treated as such.