As we move through National Eating Disorders Awareness Month, let’s look at eating disorders and the myths associated with them. Eating disorders are on the rise, affecting approximately 24 million people in the United States. Despite the prevalence, there are many misconceptions and false beliefs about eating disorders, starting with what they are.
Eating disorders is a broad term for several psychological conditions that can lead to unhealthy eating habits. Many people associate eating disorders with anorexia nervosa, a condition where people resort to restricting food and relying on unhealthy activities in an attempt to reach an unnaturally low weight. Other eating disorders include:
Bulimia nervosa involves eating large amounts of food over a short time, followed by purging via actions like vomiting, excessive exercise or taking laxatives.
Binge eating disorder is a condition where a person will eat large amounts uncontrollably over a short period of time without purging. Similarly, binge eating disorder can cause marked distress.
Many eating disorders are associated with shame and embarrassment, which is why it is important to openly discuss these conditions. Eating Disorders Awareness Week, scheduled for February 27-March 5, focuses attention on eating disorders as it works to educated and provide hope and support to people who are struggling. Like many mental health conditions, though, eating disorders are associated with a number of misconceptions. Therefore, by understanding the facts around eating disorders, we may be in a better place to recognize them among ourselves and the people we love. Read on for some common myths and learn the facts.
Eating disorders mostly affects rich teen girls
Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their age, sexual orientation, gender and socioeconomic status. Most people with eating disorders fall between the ages of 12 and 26, but eating disorders can and do affect people in their 40s, 50s, 60s and higher. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, one in three people with an eating disorder are men.
People with eating disorders are always underweight
Many people associate eating disorders with people who are extremely thin, and that can be the case with people who are struggling with anorexia, which is characterized by a significant reduction in food intake. However, other eating disorders like bulimia and binge eating disorder may not be associated with low body weights. Binge eating disorder, the most common type of eating disorder, often affects people who are overweight or obese.
They are a choice
Eating disorders are complex medical conditions. There may be biological or sociological factors involved. Many patients also struggle with other mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, or substance use disorders. Eating disorders tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic link. People with eating disorders are already struggling with feelings of worthlessness. Calling them a choice diminishes their complicated causes, which even the most accomplished researchers do not completely understand.
They aren’t really serious
This myth can have devastating consequences. Eating disorders can cause serious medical issues, including brittle bones, cardiac problems, and kidney failure. Left untreated, they can be deadly.
Eating disorders do not respond to treatment
If there is any good news in the discussion about eating disorders, it’s that they can and do respond to treatment. Recovery can take months or even years. Relapse is not unusual. Because of this, treatment must also address other underlying issues, including depression, anxiety, trauma, and nutritional concerns. An effective treatment plan seeks to restore physical, behavior and psychological health, and these changes require work and commitment. For instance, treatment can involve intensive inpatient care, or it may only require outpatient care with a trained mental health provider. Your healthcare professional can help you make this important decision.
If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, help is available. If you would like additional support or want to speak to a support navigator, reach out to the Healthy365 Connection Center at www.behealthy365.org or call 317-468-4231. You can also find additional information and links to treatment at the National Eating Disorders Association website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.