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The Biggest Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

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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.

I received a lot of feedback on a post I made on my personal Facebook regarding eating disorders. In my status, I explored the fact that they are so easily well hidden as eating disorders take on many different forms. I delved into the harsh reality of living with an eating disorder and shed some light on the horrific nature of them. Today, in this blog post, I would like to edit, extend and further examine this topic.

Eating disorders are not glamorous.

They are not a choice or something to be desired. Living with an eating disorder is like living with a demon that plagues every aspect of your life. These demons are vicious and will stop at nothing to tear apart your family, your relationships, your work, your study and everything else you have ever cared about. These demons do not have feelings and they do not know what it’s like to love something and truly appreciate beauty. Because of this, they do not understand the terror of being torn apart from something so precious. Eating disorders are also widely misunderstood.

Firstly, the biggest misconception is that you have to be skeletal thin to have an eating disorder.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Over the years, I have met many people, of all different shapes and sizes who have been diagnosed with some form of an eating disorder. I do not believe we can categorize people into “sick” and “not sick” depending on their weight. Believe it or not, some of the “sickest people” I have met, actually haven’t been diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I believe what makes us “sick” are the thoughts that whirl around in our minds — not the number of times you have been admitted into hospital, not by how “bad” your blood test results are, not by how little you are eating, not by the amount of times you purge or binge, not by the hours of exercise you undertake and certainly not by your weight. What makes us “sick,” “abnormal,” “disordered” and “unhealthy” is the lack of control we have over our lives.

Another mistaken belief is only girls can struggle with an eating disorder.

Whilst the statistics do show more females experience eating disorders than men, but this does not mean men are any less worthy of receiving treatment. It also does not mean men need to be more ashamed in asking for help. Unfortunately, the mental health stigma in society is something that is stopping people from speaking up about their illnesses. It really is a shame that, over time, mental illnesses have gathered such an attached stigma. As a result, many people who would benefit from mental health services often do not seek treatment for fear that they will be viewed in a negative way. Though evidence-based research has shown us that mental illnesses are indeed a very real medical disorder, the stigma associated to them is on the rise instead of on the decline.

We all have a role in creating a mentally healthy community that supports recovery and social inclusion and reduces discrimination (i.e. gender discrimination). It may take years, decades and/or centuries for such a stigma to be disbanded, but every little thing each individual does to help overcome this, will only speed up this process.

Last but certainly not least, a prevalent misunderstanding is “all eating disorder’s share very similar traits.”

This again, couldn’t be more wrong (to put it simply). Eating disorders are often actually very well hidden and there are many different “warning signs” and “symptoms” that no one knows about. With increased awareness, prevention is more likely.

These are just some of the symptoms I have experienced personally.

It is shaking in the middle of the night because my body is frozen. It is losing hair in massive clumps every time I brush it. It is dizziness and fainting because my body is severely malnourished. It is growing a downy layer of hair in an attempt to stay warm. It is sitting on the toilet for hours because my bowels can’t cope. It is lying in bed on a Saturday night, when all of my friends are out. It is screaming and yelling with everyone I care about because “no one understands.” It is standing in front of a mirror and crying because I hate every little inch of my body and myself. It is walking and running for hours because I had “one too many.” It is feeling ashamed and embarrassed to leave the house because everyone is staring at me and judging me. It is wearing baggy clothes constantly because I would rather be invisible than alive. It is saying “no” to every opportunity that presents itself: study opportunities, job opportunities, social opportunities… It is lying to everyone because I have become a secretive and deceptive person. It is pretending I have the flu so I can avoid eating at the dinner table. It is bingeing on copious amounts of “fear foods” because I have starved myself for so long. It is regretting every piece of food that touches my lips. It is becoming depressed because I have lost myself to this disease. It is a growling stomach that makes me scared of quiet places.

It is a constant battle. It is not glamorous. It is not a choice or something to be desired. It is like living with a demon that plagues every aspect of your life.

Eating disorders are not always visible. They are not always as striking and apparent as society seems to think. In fact they are very secretive.

Therefore, I implore you to keep this in mind.

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 sSplajn.

Originally published: August 17, 2017
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