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Dispelling Myths About Eating Disorders

In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it is important to recognize the extent of eating disorders and understand their dangerous implications.

Fortunately, people with serious eating disorders recover 50-70% of the time, if they get professional help and cognitive-behavioral therapy. There are three main kinds of eating disorders, many of which you’ve probably heard of before: anorexia, bulimia-nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Anorexia is characterized by those who restrict their intake of food and have a fear of gaining weight. There are two subtypes of anorexia: a subtype that is very restrictive in food intake and another that consists of binging and purging. Those with bulimia-nervosa (BN) typically have binge-eating episodes in which they are unable to stop eating; this is followed by a period of compensatory behaviors to make up for the amount that they ate previously. Binge-eating disorder (BED) consists of eating an excessive amount of food uncontrollably, with
no compensatory behaviors as there is in bulimia-nervosa.

These are just brief overviews of what an eating disorder can look like in an individual, but there are a host of many other symptoms that contribute to the identification of these orders that cannot be described in a single article, because they are very complicated in nature.  Despite the prevalence of eating disorders and society’s brief acknowledgment of these disorders, there are still many misconceptions circulating in our community today.

Myth #1: Eating disorders are a choice.
Eating disorders are mental illnesses that are uncontrollable for those who have them. Eating disorders are complex and cannot simply be willed away or “stopped.” They are not only a mental illness, but can also quickly become implicated into other health-related issues. Among
psychiatric illnesses, eating disorders have the highest rate of mortality.

Myth #2: Eating disorders are caused by body image issues.
Eating disorders, like many other mental illnesses, have no one root cause and are much more complicated than pertaining to a single issue. Many factors could result in someone developing an eating disorder. Twin studies show that there is even a genetic component in determining your risk for an eating disorder. Although body image issues might be a symptom of an eating disorder, they are not necessary the cause or single cause that influenced the disorder.

Myth #3: Eating disorders only occur in white, adolescent females.
The general time for the onset of an eating disorder is between the ages of 12-25. While a part of this window might fall in the adolescent period of an individual’s life, many still develop an eating disorder in their adulthood. Although eating disorders are often portrayed as primarily occurring in females, studies have shown that about 25% of those with anorexia and BN are male, and that men make up almost 50% of those who are suffering from BED.

Eating disorders are multi-faceted and impact a variety of people from different backgrounds. They are not the problem of a single group, but something people of all backgrounds can suffer from. Just by educating ourselves and knowing more about eating disorders, we can help those who are suffering find treatment for a very curable disorder.

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