7 Misconceptions About Eating Disorders: Uncovering the Truth

Posted February 13, 2023
Plate of heart-shaped fruitEating disorders can be incredibly misunderstood illnesses, and the challenges faced by those in the recovery process can also be hard to comprehend. As someone who has worked alongside those battling to recover from eating disorders, I can tell you that the recovery process is not easy. It frequently involves daily (and even hourly) mental and physical struggles by those fighting to free themselves from this serious and sometimes fatal illness.

In order to help increase awareness and understanding of eating disorders and empower those in a position to support those in recovery, here is my list of top things I wish people understood about eating disorders.

First, It’s Not Always About Food

Eating disorders frequently affect a person’s body image, self-esteem, and sense of identity and are normally unrelated to vanity or desire for attention. Instead, food is used as a tool to help a person control their emotions.

Anorexia Isn’t the Only Eating Disorder Diagnosis

According to the DSM-5 (a diagnostic and statistical manual to diagnosis mental disorders), there are five diagnoses under the eating disorder umbrella: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), and OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder). One eating disorder diagnosis is NOT superior to another. All can wreak havoc on the body and cause devastating effects.

Recovery from an Eating Disorder Isn’t Linear

Everyone has highs and lows throughout recovery, just as most people do in their day-to-day lives. There will be good and bad days. There will also be moments where more support is needed, such as a higher level of care or someone checking in more frequently, while other times a person can manage on their own. No matter where someone is on their journey, compassion and kindness go a long way.

Eating Disorders Are Not A Quick Fix

Eating disorders can’t be “cured” overnight, and they certainly don’t appear overnight. Think about any habit you have acquired in your lifetime. It didn’t just happen without practice and consistency. Similarly, eating disorder behaviors acquire over time, usually quietly, until the behaviors affect so many aspects of life that they can’t be ignored. Just as it took time to build up these habits, it takes time, patience, and consistency to change them.

Empowering Autonomy in Eating Disorder Recovery

You can’t make someone recover if they don’t want to. Like anything in life, you cannot make someone change which isn’t ready to change. You can provide recommendations or encouragement that aligns with recovery, but this is their journey that they have to discover when they are ready. Voicing concern and worry are acceptable emotions to relay, but trying to guilt someone doesn’t make a recovery sustainable and leaves the person feeling hopeless.

Eating Disorders: Beyond Gender and Stereotypes

Eating disorders can affect anyone, not just females. Although the majority of those struggling with eating disorders identify as female, eating disorders, DO NOT discriminate and can impact people no matter their gender, age, race, body size, ability, and socioeconomic status.

Unveiling the Hidden Reality of Eating Disorders

And lastly, eating disorders are very serious illnesses, regardless of how “sick” someone feels or presents. Not everyone who struggles with an eating disorder has a noticeable change in their physical appearance. This can cause people not to seek help when they need it because they don’t think they are “sick” enough for treatment. What does being “not sick enough” mean in the eyes of an eating disorder? Sometimes it can be not being skinny enough, restricting enough, or they are told they “look healthy.” One can never tell how much someone is struggling simply by physical appearance. According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), “less than 6% of people with eating disorders are deemed ‘underweight.’”

For more statistics and information regarding eating disorders, please visit https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/

Cara Mowery MS, RDN, LDN, IBCLCArticle by Lauren Oakes MBA, RDN, LDN
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