Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, convincing the sufferer of many lies in order to keep them on a path of self-destruction. Whether it’s the restrictive practice of anorexia nervosa, the binge and purge cycle of bulimia nervosa or the compulsive overeating of binge-eating disorder, this condition tricks those living with it into self-harm.
Here are five common untruths eating disorders tell:
1. You Are in Control
Adhering to the rules an eating disorder sets up can make the person afflicted feel powerful. Sufferers truly believe they can manipulate their bodies to conform to misperceived ideals. But when they want to stop or need a break from obsessions around food, purging and/or overeating, they can’t.
Weight and appearance is a moving target for someone suffering from an eating disorder. No weight loss is ever enough, no amount of exercise is enough and no amount of inches lost will suffice. The disease will always urge the person affected to cut out more food, purge longer or run further.
The paradox of an eating disorder is that sufferers endlessly obsess about food and their bodies, but it’s about neither. It’s about control – trying to gain command over life, work, relationships, feelings and fears.
2. You Don’t Fit the Stereotypes
It is a common misconception that eating disorders are a women-only disease.
Research by Canada’s Public Health Agency reports for every five girls with an eating disorder there is one boy. The numbers also show in adolescents and adults: for every 10 females, there is one male with an eating disorder.
A sufferer won’t necessarily look frail or extremely thin. In fact, some may look lean and outwardly appear to be fit. An eating disorder is about behavior, not just physical appearance. The misconception that someone with an eating disorder appears a certain way not only creates guilt and shame in the sufferer, it can also keep them in denial about having a problem at all. Friends and family may not even suspect there’s anything wrong.
3. Having an Eating Disorder Means You’re Stupid
Having and recovering from anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating has nothing to do with intellect. As with other life-threatening conditions such as cancer or diabetes, eating disorders don’t discriminate based on intelligence. Nor is successful treatment for any of these chronic conditions a matter of simply deciding to get better without any other help.
Eating disorders usually arise as a malformed coping mechanism. This illness negatively impacts a person’s sense of identity, worth, and self-esteem. These disorders have profound physiological, biological, emotional effects (link opens a PDF), making them a complex challenge to address. Successful treatment usually involves a holistic approach involving medical, nutritional and psychiatric professionals.
4. It’s a Teen Thing–You’ll Grow Out of an Eating Disorder
Eating disorders can indeed begin during the teenager years. But regardless of when they first show up, eating disorders don’t just go away.
Anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders aren’t behaviours you simply outgrow – you grow into them. Over time, sufferers become better and better at hiding and following the commands of their disease.
In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
An estimated 10% to 15% of people living with anorexia will die because of it, while 5% of individuals with bulimia will die. The House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women estimates from these two illnesses combined, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Canadians will die per year due to eating disorders. And this statistic is likely higher, as death certificates often don’t record eating disorders as the actual cause of death.
5. You Can See Yourself Clearly
The unacceptable areas of the body an eating disorder sufferer obsesses over appear very real to them, although non-sufferers don’t perceive these flaws at all. A person with an eating disorder does not see their actual appearance. They are affected by a form of body dysmorphic disorder that presents a false image, but one that seems genuinely authentic to them.
The Way Forward
An eating disorder takes the beautiful and healthful act of eating and turns it into a painful endeavour. These insidious illnesses seek to isolate and destroy the sufferer.
If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, know you are not alone. There is help and support available.
First steps can include learning as much as you can about this illness, especially if you suspect someone you love is affected. Click on the links in this article to access solid information and find suggestions and resources. If you think you might be coming obsessed about your own eating habits, it is well worth talking to a counsellor or another professional you trust to discuss your concerns.
A life free from the lies eating disorders constantly whisper, is possible.