There are said to be 70 million eating disorder sufferers worldwide. With the current diet-culture and everybody obsessing over fitness, it is very important to be mindful of misconceptions you may have about eating disorders to prevent yourself and others from suffering undiagnosed and unassisted.
So this week, in accordance with Eating Disorder Awareness Week, I have chosen to write about the worrying and dangerous things people believe about eating disorders, using my own experience with atypical anorexia.
1. You Never Eat
Many have confessed that they have an eating disorder to be met with awe and surprise (“But I’ve seen you eating!”) or have been asked to prove they are ED-free by eating in front of people.
This is a dangerous and ridiculous notion and leaves sufferers feeling scrutinized and dejected.
Just as people with insomnia can be found sleeping, so too can people with eating disorders be found eating.
It is commonly believed that insecurities over eating in front of people are a hard sign of an eating disorder. And yes, in some cases, they are. But many people with binge eating disorder, bulimia and anorexia are likely to be seen eating at some point, but you can’t be sure what happens behind closed doors.
Yes, you might have seen me eating. But you didn’t see me doing 500 sit-ups to get rid of the guilt.
If you are worried that you or a friend suffers from an eating disorder, make sure you examine your attitude to food – do you feel bad after eating, or use eating as a way to make you feel better? If you have answered yes, it is best to seek help from friends, family or doctors.
2. You Have To Be Underweight
This is a very, very dangerous assumption. Eating disorders are not only dangerous physically, but also mentally.
Being underweight is incredibly hazardous to health, and so is having a bad relationship with food to the extent that your daily life is interfered with.
Weight shouldn’t be the only diagnostic tool of an eating disorder. If you have recovered to a healthy weight but still have a sinking feeling when you’re full, or still feel the need to calorie-count or “make up” for any calories gained by exercising – you are still in danger and it is very likely that these feelings will have a large impact on your daily life. The same goes with binge eating disorder – even if you are considered a recovery, if you still have to compulsively eat then your relationship with food still isn’t healthy.
Even if weight has been gained, or lost, or has not changed, an eating disorder can still be having a huge psychological impact on the sufferer.
Some people, even in the medical profession, struggle to take an atyoical eating disorder seriously. However, don’t be afraid to get help. If you are afraid of being disregarded, try to talk to a friend or relative who can help you gain confidence in explaining the severity of your problem.
3. It’s A Health Thing
Sometimes, especially in times with abundant fitness blogs and ever-more accessible gyms (or, arguably, a larger middle class, as gyms are still generally rather expensive and inaccessible to those with disabilities), it is difficult to tell the difference between a normal relationship with food and a tendency towards anorexia or bulimia.
Many people who consider themselves to be health conscious will speak of “cheat days” and “guilty pleasures” while they follow their regime. And perhaps for the mentally healthy this is fine, but for people at high-risk of eating disorders (such as those with OCD or anxiety) this could pair eating with feelings of guilt.
It is one thing to enjoy eating healthily and exercising and another to feel it necessary to eat healthy to avoid gaining weight.
Good habits are by definition good, but if you are desperately afraid of weight gain perhaps there is more to your diet than meets the eye.
People will sometimes be quick to assume that you are simply “getting fit” when you tell them about your dangerous habits related to your eating disorder (especially if, as mentioned above, you’re not visibly underweight). If this happens, try your best to explain to them how your behavior is harming your enjoyment of life and damaging you psychologically.
4. That It Should Be A Secret
Lots of people with eating disorders feel ashamed, or believe so much in what their anxiety tells them that they don’t see the need to speak to anyone. People also worry that they won’t be taken seriously, especially masculine people or those with atypical disorders.
But an eating disorder is such a common occurrence!
The availability of all the data about food nutrition, media focus on weight, the calorie counting apps, the statistics about what your body should or shouldn’t do… It is becoming more and more common for these things to be taken just a step too far.
Which is why, in my opinion, we should be more open about it.
Some days will always be better or worse than others. But every day we should feel like we are able to talk about our struggles just as openly.
For more information on eating disorders, visit eatingdisorderhope or a similar site or ask your doctor.