A Few Incredibly False Things About Eating Disorders

1. You can tell that someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.

This is so false. Just no. Eating disorders come in ALL shapes and sizes. It is SO helpful to get rid of this idea that someone needs to be either completely emaciated or morbidly obese to have an eating disorder. When we take away this stigma we can help people before they get to either of these points. And the earlier an eating disorder is treated, the more likely the person is to fully recover from it. It also really makes people feel like they are not “good enough” at their eating disorder because their body doesn’t show it. I know that I have seriously struggled with this because no one knew that I had an eating disorder by looking at me. I always blamed myself  and only ended up making myself sicker by thinking that I wasn’t pushing myself hard enough.

Also, our view of what is “healthy” in this society is completely fucked up. We judge “healthy” as one body type that is still probably not a very realistic body type. Nonetheless, there are people that fall outside of this body type that are healthy, and there are people that fall within this body type that are unhealthy. We’ve been pretty desensitized to thinness/muscularity and only   assume that there is a problem when an absolute extreme is reached. And that needs to stop.

2. Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice.

So wrong. If I had chosen to have an eating disorder, by now I would have chosen to not have an eating disorder. People don’t choose to have OCD or strep throat, and this is the exact same    thing. I hate that eating disorders get this stigma as being chosen. Often, the beginnings of an eating disorder can be “choices” such as going on a diet or trying to lose a little bit of weight. But    if you explicitly asked someone if they wanted to have an eating disorder, no sane person would    say yes. Anyone that has experienced an eating disorder knows the struggles that come with it. They unfortunately get this stigma that they are just kind of like diets, and that is just not true.

3. Eating disorders only affect white, middle/upper class, teenage females.

No. Eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect men, and children, and older people, and people of color, and all socioeconomic statuses. ANYONE can have an eating disorder.

4.  People with eating disorders need to just “get over it.”

If it was something that we could just “get over,” many of us would. Unfortunately, recovery is something that takes a lot of work. You literally have to retrain your brain to think in a different way. You have to undo everything that your eating disorder, and a lot of society, has taught you. The average time of recovery is about 7 years. Give it some time.

5. Eating disorders are the result of a controlling mother.

This is like a seriously archaic concept of eating disorders and it really isn’t that relevant anymore. Sure, there are some people whose eating disorders are a result of a controlling mother, but everyone’s journey is completely different and started because of completely different reasons. You can’t extrapolate this reason to everyone.

6. People with eating disorders should “know better.”

Developing an eating disorder isn’t something that people do when they just don’t know how to  lose weight in a healthy way. That’s not how it works. Saying that someone should have “known better” than to develop an eating disorder is like saying someone should have “known better”  than to develop depression or a cold.  Also, there’s a genetic component to eating disorders. Many people were predisposed to be that way from birth, regardless of how smart they turned out to be.

7. ED-NOS just means that you aren’t “sick enough” to have a “real eating disorder.”

This one kills me. All eating disorders suck ass. An eating disorder is an eating disorder and they are all miserable. It’s not only about your habits/weight, but it’s really about the THOUGHTS that you have. This “hierarchy” of eating disorders that exists needs to go away. Unfortunately there is a serious level of competition within eating disordered people. Often there’s this need to “prove” that you are truly sick by being sicker than those around you. And this competition is getting us nowhere good.

8. Eating disorders are only about having bad body image.

This is kind of a weird subject because obviously eating disorders are about weight and food and how you look, right?

This is my personal view of it. Eating disorders have been around for a long, long time. Way before this “thin ideal” was ever a problem. I think that for those people, body image wasn’t really part of the issue. They happened to stumble upon the method of using food as a coping mechanism for whatever internal struggles they were having. Nowadays, I think that all of the body image problems that we have going on create like a little petri dish for eating disorders to develop. They’re still actually about something deeper, but the way that society is set up  introduces way more people to the concept of using food as a coping mechanism. The more people that we’re teaching to diet and abuse food, the more people we’re exposing to patterns of disordered eating and potentially eating disorders. Also, the more we are teaching people to dislike themselves and have those cognitive beliefs that go along with eating disorders. On the surface, eating disorders are about body image. That’s what people always assume eating disorders are about. But they’re really about something deeper than that, even if it’s really really really deep and you have to dig for a very long time. For me it was about this constant fear of not being good enough, in a nutshell. The way that society is now just provides an excellent cover of “bad body image” to mask what’s really going on.

If we get rid of all this body-shaming, bad body image creating crap will we still have problems with eating disorders? Absolutely. There are DEFINITELY still people for whom body image played no role in the development of their eating disorder. But I personally feel like promoting healthier coping mechanisms, rather than using food, will cause the levels of eating disorders, disordered eating, and bad body image in general, to decrease.

9. Anorexics never eat and bulimics throw up everything that they eat.

You don’t have to never eat to be anorexic; you just have to not eat enough. And you don’t even have to throw up at all to be bulimic. I wish people would realize this. You can purge calories by using laxatives/diuretics/diet pills, exercising, restricting, etc. Not JUST throwing up. And the main thing about bulimia is the binge/purge cycle. Just because you purge your binges doesn’t         mean you have to be purging everything else as well. You don’t have to be at this extreme spectrum of never eating/always exercising/puking up everything to still be really struggling.

10. Anorexics don’t eat anything except vegetables.

Everyone is different. They all have different “safe foods.” I have been in treatment with people that had no problem eating eggs or nuts, huge fear foods for me. I, on the other hand, relied on oatmeal as a particularly safe food, a food that scared a lot of people that I know. I’ve known people that hardly ever ate vegetables and I’ve known people that only ate candy. Just because someone has an eating disorder doesn’t mean you automatically know what they will/won’t eat.

11. When someone’s weight is back to “normal” weight they are “cured.”

I have had way too many people tell me that I must be doing better because I don’t look like I   have an eating disorder. I mean, I AM doing better, but I’m not completely done and it is SO frustrating to hear people say that. I want to shake them and yell at them that I’m still having trouble, I’m still sad, and I still need support. Just because I LOOK fine doesn’t mean that I AM fine. Just because my eating habits are becoming more normal doesn’t mean that my thoughts have caught up yet. This is a process.

12. You wish you had the “willpower” to have anorexia.

Seriously. I will kill the next person that I hear say this. No, you DON’T wish you had my willpower, and quite frankly, it pisses me off when you tell me that you do.  Please, take my eating disorder off of my hands. What started off as “willpower” just ended up controlling me and the rest of my life.