It’s easy to make assumptions or generalizations about a disorder as confusing and complex as anorexia. It’s just as easy to develop a misunderstanding of the development and maintenance of this disorder. I’m excited to write this blog post in attempt to change our perception of eating disorders, most of which are unsubstantiated and complete myths.
Myth #1: Anorexia is a choice
Quite frankly, this myth pisses me off more than any other myth. While near the end of my recovery and on the verge of my first relapse, I actually began to question if I was in fact consciously choosing to have anorexia. I felt like anorexia gave me a lot of things that being heaalthy didn’t. However, please note that all eating disorders are actually very complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that individuals affected do NOT choose to have. Eating disorders have a biological basis, and often co-occur with other disorders including depression, anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Myth #2: Anorexia is basically a trend in society, which means it’s common and normal
Yes, our society does seem to be weight and body image focused (and even a bit obsessed). And yes, there does seem to be a prevalence of disordered eating behaviors. However, the actual clinical diagnosis of anorexia is not as common. Anorexia is actually estimated to affect just 1% of females in the US. While this percentage is very small, it’s important to keep in mind that many women go undiagnosed due to the stigma around mental health (and more specifically, anorexia), which also means that more females go without seeking help or treatment.
Myth #3: Weight restoration means the individual is recovered
Returning back to a healthy weight isn’t the only component of recovery. This does not mean anorexia is automatically cured. The individual affected does have an unhealthy relationship with food; however, weight restoration does not necessarily mean that this relationship also restored into a health one. Multiple studies have pointed to the strong association between anorexia and perfectionism and obsessionality. Additionally, depression and anxiety is very common; which can both increase as the individual becomes more and more malnourished.These traits need to also be taken into consideration when looking at the development and maintenance of anorexia.
Myth #4: People who appear to be at a “normal/healthy” weight cannot possibly have an eating disorder
This is SO far from the truth. The media will often display an individual diagnosed with anorexia as emaciated and extremely underweight. While it is common for the individual to experience weight loss (which can be very extreme), it is not the only determining factor to “decide” whether someone has anorexia. Often times, an individual with anorexia feels that they are not “sick enough” or “good enough.” Anorexia can occur at any weight; when we associate anorexia only with one’s external appearance, we’re essentially ignoring the emotional and mental component of the disorder.
Myth #5: Only females and adolescents have anorexia
Anorexia does not discriminate against any age or any gender. Those who struggle with anorexia in adolescence can most certainly still struggle with anorexia throughout their adult life, especially if they do not receive treatment and support. It is not just a fad that occurs in adolescent because dieting is the “cool” thing to do amongst females. Anorexia has actually been diagnosed in children as early as 5-6 years old! Also, keep in mind that many individuals diagnosed actually report after-the-fact that they had symptoms that developed even earlier than anyone realized. The most rapidly growing population of individuals diagnosed with anorexia actually happen to be females in their midlife. Additionally, although anorexia is more common in females, men can (and do) develop anorexia. In the USA alone, 1 million men report having an eating disorder. As soon as we start associating anorexia with a specific age or gender, then we perpetuate the issue of anorexia going unnoticed, not being taken as seriously as it needs to be, maintain the stigma around eating disorders, and individuals continue to go untreated.