5 Common Myths about Eating Disorders

Did you know that eating disorders of all kinds – anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder – are occurring with greater frequency worldwide? Did you also know that eating disorders have a 15% incidence rate in people between their teens and twenties? Or are you aware that eating disorders most often occur in conjunction with other forms of mental illness such as severe depression and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)?

Here are a few other things that you may not know about eating disorders which debunk some of the myths grounded in popular misunderstanding.

Myth #1: Eating Disorders Are Only About How the Person Looks

While it often begins with wanting to take control of personal appearance, it is far more than an over-hyped diet for the sufferer and it frequently morphs into an obsessive-compulsive condition rooted much deeper than disquiet over a dress or pant size. Research is beginning to reveal stronger genetic tethers to the disorder (40%-50% of the risk factor) than was previously understood to exist. And while the disorder may come across as self-absorbed to casual observers, it is often the sufferer’s sincere desire to care for others to which therapists appeal during recovery treatment.

Myth #2: It’s All About the Food

It might seem like the anorexic person who is able to be so strict with their diet could put that same willpower to work in making themselves eat – but it doesn’t work that way. Neither does it help the binge eater to insist they need to try harder to diet. Eating disorder sufferers are not able to will themselves out of the dangerous food behavior. Their issues with food are compulsions resultant from things entirely separate and recovery requires addressing the emotional issues and physical complications that the disorder presents.

Myth #3: Appearance is a Give-Away

One might think that the signs of eating disorder are so obvious that appearance alone could tell you who is suffering from anorexia or bulimia, but you would be wrong. A person suffering from anorexia could be as few as 5-15 pounds underweight and still be in serious danger. Sufferers also learn how to mask the signs and symptoms of their illness -wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss for example, while those under the control of bulimia are often of average or slightly above average weight. You cannot decide if someone is suffering from an eating disorder by their appearance and neither can you use appearance to judge if the person has been cured. The fact that a person is gaining weight and appears to eat normally is not the determining factor as to whether or not they have been cured. Patients who are showing these positive signs could still be victim to the negative thought patterns which drove them into the disorder.

Myth #4: Eating Disorders are Rich, Caucasian Female Problems

Far and away the most affected by the disorder are young females with 86% of sufferers being girls under the age of 20. Nonetheless, boys and men also suffer. The number of men seeking help has doubled over the past 10 years so that men represent 10% of all those affected. Sadly, though rare before puberty, some children are afflicted and among children diagnosed with anorexia 25% are boys.

Myth#5: Eating Disorders are Hopeless Cases

Eating disorders can be successfully treated if the patient receives the appropriate treatment. Sufferers require a substantial amount of structure so that outpatient treatment is usually not as effective as residential care. When proper care is received, 60% can make a complete recovery and 80% make a partial recovery. It takes long strenuous effort to re-train thinking patterns so that recovery comes slowly – often over several years – and with occasional relapses, but it is far from incurable.

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