“I breathe in slowly. Food is life. I exhale, take another breath. Food is life. And that’s the problem. When you’re alive, people can hurt you. It’s easier to crawl into a bone cage or a snowdrift of confusion. It’s easier to lock everybody out.
“But it’s a lie.” 
― Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

“I am forever engaged in a silent battle in my head over whether or not to lift the fork to my mouth, and when I talk myself into doing so, I taste only shame. I have an eating disorder.”  ― Jena Morrow, Hollow: An Unpolished Tale

Today marks the first World Eating Disorders Action Day, a day created to attempt to spread information and promote understanding about this serious mental illness. Over 70 million people worldwide struggle with an eating disorder. Despite the impact of these illnesses, they often go unrecognized and untreated, partly due to the stigma and lack of understanding of these complex disorders.  

So, in honor of the day, we’re busting a few myths:

Myth: You have to be thin to have an eating disorder

Reality: Individuals with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. While those with anorexia nervosa are underweight, many who struggle with binge eating or bulimia are a normal weight or overweight. Even for those who remain at a healthy weight, eating disorders can severely disrupt their lives, affecting both their physical and emotional well-being.

Myth: Eating disorders aren’t dangerous

Reality:  Anorexia nervosa has one of the highest mortality rates of all mental health disorders. Bulimia and binge eating can also be deadly. Not only can these illnesses lead to loss of life, but they can also completely devastate someone’s quality of life as every ounce of energy becomes consumed by the disorder.

Myth: Eating disorders occur only in Caucasian upper-middle class adolescent girls

Reality:  Eating disorders occur in people from all ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic classes and affect both men and women. Also, as we’ve discussed earlier, this is not just a disease of the young.  Those in midlife and beyond can develop an eating disorder, whether this is for the first time or a recurrence of something they dealt with earlier in life.

Myth: Eating disorders are all about vanity and control

Reality:  Eating disorders develop as the result of a complex array of biological, psychological and social factors.  While social factors, like equating being thin with being beautiful, may play a role in their development, of the millions of people exposed to these images, only a very small portion develop an eating disorder. Research is slowly unearthing the genetic underpinnings that may predispose individuals to develop an eating disorder; some 50 percent to 80 percent of an individual’s risk for developing an eating disorder is the result of genetics.  

Myth: Eating is a choice and someone with an eating disorder just needs to choose to eat normally.  There is no treatment.

Reality: Although normalizing eating behavior is a key part of recovery, treatment for eating disorders is far more complex than just the food we put in our mouths. Treatment often involves working closely with a therapist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist to help address some of the underlying psychological contributors to this behavior. While treatment often takes time, filled with setbacks and small victories, recovery is possible.

Resources:

Academy for Eating Disorder
National Eating Disorder Association
World Eating Disorder Day.

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