Since it’s ‘World Eating Disorders Action Day’ I wanted to write a a post debunking nine common myths about eating disorders, and just offer some personal reflections from my own journey.
If you are currently struggling with an eating disorder, or any mental health illness, please be reassured from this post, and the other blogs on my site that they can be conquered.
Get the Facts right: 9 Eating Disorder Truths
Truth #1: Weight is a poor indicator of mental health. Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill. Although weight and BMI is used in the diagnostic criteria for eating disorders they are poor indicators of health, both mentally and physically [you can read more about this here].
Truth #2: Food and weight isn’t the main problem. This is the most misunderstood and hard to understand truth to get your head around. People often think anorexics don’t eat at all (wrong), or that all eating disorders are driven by wanting to be thin in order to look good. The truth is they are hugely complex, food and weight is the fear, it is the surfacing problem used to control deeper issues such as low-self esteem, depression, dampen down emotional distress, such as previous traumas. In some respects they are a method of self-harm. They also have ties with psychosis, anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive disorder. Weight loss is the addiction and drive, food and weight is the fear and controlled to deal with these underlying issues.
Truth #3: Families are not to blame. Families and friends are the greatest allies in treatment and recovery for the patients’ and providers’.
Truth #4: An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis, it disrupts personal, and family, functioning. They have major physical consequences associated with them that can continue to impact health even after recovery, making early intervention vital.
Truth #5: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious illnesses with many biological, social, psychological and environmental factors contributing to their onset, development and recovery prospects.
Truth #6: Anyone can develop an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses. New statistics have found that one quarter of admissions for bulimia and anorexia are in fact males.
Truth #7: Eating disorders carry increased risks for suicide and medical complications even after recovery. In fact they have the highest mortality rate out of any psychological illness, with around 40% not surviving, and can impact on fertility, bone density and cardiovascular health.
Truth #8: Whilst genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders, there is no one determining factor found responsible for their development, making them a hugely unique experience for each person as well as being complex disorders to treat.
Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important and have been found to have the best outcomes for future health.
1. Everyday is a journey.
Although I would say I am ‘recovered’ I am still unsure what this means. There are times when I am certainly fine, and other times where my anxiety and stress causes me to become more conscious about food and weight. I have noticed this is usually when I feel I lack direction or purpose. Therefore having goals and ambitions has been a huge factor keeping me well and most importantly keeping my eyes upwards and outwards.
2. Reaching Out.
I am thankful someone came and expressed their concerns back in 2008 (you know who you are!). Many people don’t know what to do or say to someone they may have concerns about regarding their eating, exercise or any imbalanced behaviours.
My best advice for this: keep a calm approach, be empathetic not aggressive, express concern lovingly, and realise that at the end of the day it’s up to them to admit to a problem and ask for help to change behaviours [click here for the blog on advice for parents by parent support worker, Janet Richard]
3. Negative people who bring you down – get rid of them.
I am such a believer in positivity and surrounding yourself with things (activities, people, places) that make you feel your best! This can be hard if negativity is coming from close family or partner relationships.
I am lucky to be blessed with very close and supportive family, where although at times there have been things they have not fully understood about my past disordered thinking/eating, they always took the time to try and understand and best support me in correcting these behaviours.
If you are in an abusive relationship with friends or family, try and separate yourself and build a life away from them – accept they may never fully “get it” and spend with those who do love you wholeheartedly for you, and that you have fun with!
4. There is no point comparing!
With any body dysmorphia, low self esteem, eating disorder etc…comparing is automatic. But comparisons are toxic. Learn to love yourself (easily said). Our individual perceptions of what ‘perfect’ looks like will vary hugely, whether this is in your work, a partner, how you look etc.. We live in a world where we strive for perfection, but perfection doesn’t exist!
I am sick to death of seeing posts on social media like “do guys like curves or skinny girls”, “big boobs or big bum?” …you know what, learn to love how you’re made, and I don’t just mean your body I mean yourself. There is nothing more sexy and appealing than someone who is just happy in their own bubbly skin and rocking on with life. This was hard for me as during my recovery gaining weight made me feel like hiding from the world. But through being able to get involved in charity events, volunteering, having a job and studying again I found I really didn’t need my eating disorder and found the young lady I was becoming far more beautiful than what I was before.
I recommend noting down your achievements, your quirks, your passions and look at these and be proud!