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How I'm Challenging 5 Incorrect Eating Disorder Myths in the Media


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.

The first time I remember noticing any type of media coverage about eating disorders, I was standing in line at the grocery store staring at the magazine rack with Angelina Jolie’s face plastered to a tabloid with a headline stating, “Angelina’s anorexic again, she can’t even do it for the kids.”

I remember almost laughing to myself as I thought, I’m sure she wakes up every morning and says “I’m sorry kids, I won’t feed myself today because I simply don’t love you enough.”

Oh, if it was only that easy.

My dark humor got me through the discomfort of standing in line to buy my afternoon snack as I slid my meal plan into my pocket and hid my food behind the candy section. Looking at my feet in shame, I snuck out of the store, hoping to avoid a self-imagined blazing spotlight showcasing my own weak will and selfishness.

Since that time, I think social media has erupted and eating disorders have become a popular topic to display in movies, TV series and documentaries. I have mixed feelings about this because I am a cheerleader for eating disorder awareness, and at the same time, I cringe to see my illness so poorly portrayed while stigmas and stereotypes are reinforced.

What I’ve taken from recent films and the growing conversation about eating disorders is that people are desperately seeking truth. I love the idea that people are brave and sharing their stories and I also understand that everyone experiences an eating disorder differently.

Off the top of my head, I’ve listed several myths I’ve taken from recent films and press about eating disorders that have hit me as incorrect from my own personal narrative.

This is my own personal take and challenge to these myths:

1. Eating disorders are about food, thinness, and beauty.

My eating disorder was about so much more than any of the above. My eating disorder was a complex, serious illness that stemmed from a need for control in my chaotic surroundings. My eating disorder behaviors were aimed at making the world a better place and striving to be a good citizen through obedience to outward messages of the thin ideal. To be honest, I can’t put my finger on exactly what my eating disorder was about and why it happened. I personally believe it would be a great injustice to my struggle and growth to say my eating disorder was about one thing and that’s that. I want to leave it open so I can continually grow and learn from the recovery process.

2. Eating disorders are a choice.

Why would I choose to give up my childhood and adolescence to live in a tiny hospital room where I was poked with needles twice a day and forced to go to the bathroom with the door open? My simple challenge to this myth should be self-explanatory.

3. To have a legitimate eating disorder you have to be admitted to an inpatient facility.

Yes, I spent several years in inpatient facilities. However, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent outside of a treatment center. In my experience, there are people struggling with severe eating disorders that do not have insurance coverage, childcare or means to an inpatient facility. This is not an indication of severity or presence of an eating disorder.

4. You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.

Similar to my answer to question number three, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent at a healthy weight. Again, eating disorders are much more complex than food and weight.

5. “Just eating” is the way to recover from an eating disorder.

First of all, not all eating disorders involve food restriction. Food restriction is one symptom of many that someone may experience. At this point, I’m hoping the rest of this myth has been explained enough in the answers above. I can’t stress enough that there is so much more than food and “just eating,” and the process of recovery is a challenging transformation of self-exploration and behavior change.

As much as I have disagreed with aspects of recent films about eating disorders, I appreciate that there can be multiple truths and multiple lived experiences. What may be offensive or outraging to me may hit home for someone else, as I have read comment sections out of interest on other’s views, I have certainly noticed this to be true as something I disagreed with really hit home for someone else. The beauty in advocacy is that there are many stories to be told and I believe the world is ready to hear them.

Follow this journey here

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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Thinkstock photo via lekcej