In keeping with the challenge I set for myself, today I attended a talk on Eating Disorders to better prepare me to write a post about common misconceptions surrounding them. Stacy Prussman’s hour long presentation on her own eating disorder and disorders in general was compelling and informative, she truly did inspire me to try and spread the message further. The following is a compilation if myths, statistics, and information about eating disorders as well as ways that you can take action as well. For instance, did you know this week is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week?
Myth: Eating disorders are all about body image and food. Truth: Eating disorders, just like all mental disorders, are complex and varying issues; no two people are going to have the same reasons for their disordered eating. While it is true that negative body image and a desire to be thinner can have an effect so can issues of control, defying parents or other authority figures, depression, and many other factors. No eating disorder is cured simply by convincing a person to eat; the underlying issues have to be addressed as well always. In addition, there are some related disorders that don’t even revolve around food. For instance, Hypergymnasia (the compulsion to exercise constantly, more than is healthy, in order to achieve control over one’s body) can exist without related eating issues, although it is usually accompanied by some form of anorexia or bulimia. Myth: Only thin girls have eating disorders. Truth: Eating disorders have one common symptom, and only one common symptom: disordered eating. The other mental and physical characteristics vary from case to case. Even if someone is of an average weight or even your perception of overweight, they could still have an eating disorder, and that eating disorder can do as much harm to them as it would to a “skinny” person. Additionally, men can get eating disorders as well.
Over 8 million people in the USA are anorexic, bulimic or have eating disorders. 7 millon are women, 1 million men. (Not to mention how underreported eating disorders are, the numbers are most likely higher than we even know.)
Myth: If my friend has an eating disorder I should let her deal with it on her own, telling an adult will only lead to my friend being angry at me. Truth: “Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness “. Not to mention eating disorders can cause a whole host of mental and physical symptoms including exhaustion, heart problems, stomach and intestinal issues, tooth decay, malnutrition, compromised immune system, and so on. There is no excuse, if you know your friend or family member has an eating disorder getting help is the only right thing to do. It may be hard, I understand, and your friendship may suffer for it but that is a sacrifice that has to be made to protect the safety of a friend. So, if you suspect someone has an eating disorder certainly approach them first in a manner that is loving and non-accusatory; give them a chance to get themselves help and confront their disorder. But, if they don’t take action please don’t hesitate to contact a responsible adult who is close to them, getting this person help is the most loving and supportive thing you could do for them… even if they don’t see it that way at first. Myth: My actions have nothing to do with the prevalence of eating disorders in my culture. Truth: The sad truth is that most of us contribute to disordered eating, by contributing to the thin-culture that eating disorders thrive within. Think about it: every time you call yourself (or even worse, someone else) fat, every time you refuse to love your body the way it is, or compliment someone solely because they look thinner… you’re buying into this culture that tells us thin = beautiful. This is the culture that leads to the 95% of women who do not fit the “ideal body” to feel inadequate, even ugly; the culture that thrives on making us feel inadequate so that we will buy their products that promise to make us beautiful, acceptable; the culture that leads to women and men starving themselves, throwing up, exercising like crazy and ultimately killing themselves just to meet an impossible ideal.
Some statistics to show I’m not sensationalizing or making anything up: The average weight of models in these ads weigh 23% less than the average woman; 20 years ago the difference was only 8%. 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak & Crago, 1995). 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, 1996).