18 Common Misconceptions About Anorexia Nervosa

Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

Over the past week, Project HEAL took to our social pages to ask about the misconceptions that surround anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that impacts so many males and females every year all across the United States and the world.

Here’s what people had to say.

1. “Weight restored” does not mean “recovered.” You do not have to be underweight to have a problem. I am at a “healthy” weight now after being in treatment, yet I struggle with an eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) and my behaviors are stronger than they’ve ever been. I seem to be on a pendulum — one side being heavy restricting, the other being binging and purging (by means of self-induced vomiting and overexercising). I have heart palpitations, my hairs is brittle and falls out, my skin breaks out, my electrolyte levels are off, I have chest pain, my weight fluctuates, I have extreme mood swings… and lately I have been drinking more. I absolutely hate my body and the way I look. Yet, looking at me, you wouldn’t guess I struggle with anything. I struggle every single day with this. Anorexia, or any other type of eating disorder, is not about the food, and definitely not for attention. — Danielle Leigh Fuller

2. It’s more than anorexia, it’s eating disorders in general. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They don’t care if you’re male or female, or care for your ethnicity. They do not care if you’re overweight, underweight or obese. I heard, in a poem, something that rings true for me: “If you develop an eating disorder when you’re already thin to begin with, you go to the hospital. If you develop and eating disorder when you are not thin to begin with, you are a success story.” — Julie Price

3. When people say things like, “Would you ever treat your best friend the way you treat yourself?” or “You wouldn’t let a friend do that, would you” is beyond unhelpful, and will only trigger the disordered voices worse. No, I wouldn’t ever wish any eating disorder on another human being. But, alternatively, you can’t control the thoughts you have or control your actions. It’s not your choice. — Hazel-Grey Kenny

4. Recovery doesn’t stop when you’re gaining or have gained weight, and eating more is a hell of a lot harder than not eating at all or sticking to your normal restriction routine. As with every eating disorder, every second of every day feels like you’re trapped in a prison and although the prison is your mind, it feels like your body as well. It’s becoming overwhelmingly depressed at your body even slightly changing. It’s fear of letting go, it’s trying your hardest for nine years to recover but not seeing a way out. It’s constantly being bombarded with triggers. It’s being a walking calculator, constantly comparing yourself to everyone else, beating yourself up for not being thinner. It’s not being taken seriously because your weight isn’t as low as others or as low as it once was, it’s constantly questioning everything. It’s like you’re standing in a crowded room, screaming, but no one is listening. It’s losing your soul to an illness no one can see. It’s both destruction and safety. It’s hell. — Lucy Grist

5. Talking about how “bad” you were for eating dessert or “how those calories are gonna straight to your waist” is one of the most triggering things to say in the presence of someone in recovery, even if it isn’t directed at them. It makes eating that ice cream a hundred times harder than it already is. — Emma Greene

6. I want people to understand anorexia isn’t a size. It’s so important to be able to separate someone’s eating disorder from their identity. I am not my eating disorder. I have an eating disorder. My thoughts aren’t “silly,” what I think about myself isn’t “irrational.” This is truly how I see myself and what goes through my head. I cannot just “get over it” or “just eat.“ There’s so much more to this illness than food. — Bri Whitbread

7. Listen. Just listen to what I need. What I don’t say. What I wish for. What I mourn for. Who I need you to be. — Sloane Green

8. I work in healthcare at a nursing home and many times my residents will offer me little snacks like a candy bar or a cookie they would like to share with me. I know I always disappoint them when I don’t accept the offer, but if I were to eat it for them, it would bring along many emotions and behaviors. I’m currently weight-restored and I stick to my prescribed meal plan very strictly, so any little bump or hiccup in it will throw it off and coping with it would be too much for me to handle, especially at work. — Kallie Anderson

9. I’m recovered, but I had someone tell me several weeks ago that “I don’t look sick.” You don’t have to look sick. I also knew a lady say once several years ago she “tried becoming bulimic.” People don’t try or choose to have an eating disorder. — Leah Johns

10. This is not a physical disorder. It is a mental illness with physical symptoms. My weight or shape has absolutely nothing to do with how sick I am at a certain point in time. Most of my sickest days have been spent at a “normal” weight, including when I entered residential and inpatient care. You cannot scan my body and decide whether I’m “healed” either. — Emily Huber

11. It’s not a cool diet you can try on for a week. — Kay Drayton

12. Being weight-restored doesn’t equate to being recovered. A lot of people in my life assumed that once I restored my weight everything was back to normal, when in reality that was when all the hard mental work started. I honestly think I was more sick in the early months of weight maintenance than I was at my lowest weight! — Jimena Portal Torres

13. I wouldn’t do this in a million years if it was to just be thin. I wouldn’t have destroyed years of my life, friendships and family relationships just to be thin. — Erika Kisting

14. I wish people could know how it feels to try to survive day to day. Imagine your worst fear in the entire universe and it comes to get you three to six times a day (mealtimes). But you never get less afraid, it just starts torturing you more. This is why suicide rates are so high, because it is insanely hard to force yourself to get up and live with this every day. — Sofia Hoskins

15. It’s an illness. Don’t tell me to stop starving myself. Don’t tell me I need to eat. I know I need to eat. I know I need to stop exercising five hours a day, seven days a week. I know I need to stop weighing myself every hour. By trying to gain control over my body, I became a prisoner of my mind. — Megayn Lewandowski

16. As a mother who nearly lost her daughter to the genetic and biological brain illness of anorexia nervosa, it is a hellish, pernicious disease, not a stigmatized diet. Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Anorexia is a health crisis that affects an entire family. No one chooses to have an eating disorder — not one of the brave children, women and men of all ages we’ve met along this horrific roller coaster of a journey. — Kristin Gibson

17. Anorexia is about so much more than the food. It’s about low self-esteem, control, perfectionism, depression, self-hatred. It’s an attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity amidst a flood of emotions. It’s aiming at a moving target. It’s never being enough. No matter how hard we try, it’s that nagging voice in our ear. — Tricia Morel

18. I wish people knew eating disorder behaviors are side effects of eating disorders. We restrict because we feel worthless, depressed, etc. and getting someone to simply eat is not solving the problem. — Esther Baas

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Unsplash photo via Chad Madden.

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