5 Common Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are widespread and common.   They are estimated to affect 30 Million Americans within their lifetime, and roughly 900,000 Texas residents according to https://www.sagerecoveryaustin.com/february-eating-disorders-awareness-month/

As common as eating disorders are, they can seem difficult understand.  

Even those suffering from eating disorders can feel confused in how to view the difficulties they are facing.  To further complicate matters, things that happen in our brains when our nutritional needs are not being met make it extremely difficult to see reality and the dangers eating disorders present.  Genetics and personal differences play a role, as well.  The human body has evolved ingenious ways to survive, even under dire starvation conditions.  These survival abilities kick in to keep us alive, but can make seeing the damage of an eating disorder difficult.  When subjected to to starvation, some bodies will show symptoms immediately, others will not.  But that doesn’t mean that damage to internal organs, vital systems and bone integrity are not happening.  In all eating disorders, returning to normal eating patterns is essential for recovery, usually with the support of a doctor, dietitian and therapist who are experienced in eating disorders. Is it an Eating Disorder? Screening Tool from National Eating Disorder Association

5 misconceptions about eating disorders

  1. You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by how they look – We may believe that serious eating disorders look one way – thin, skeletal, sick.  In reality, many people struggle for a long time because most people around them, including well-meaning medical practitioners who do not specialize in eating disorders, don’t recognize the dangers.  Any period of restrictive calorie intake will send the body into conservation mode where the body will ‘steal’ nutrients from bones, cells and muscles.  The brain will not be supplied with the glucose it needs to think clearly.  But for some this conservation mode will look like rapid weight loss.  For others, they may hover at decreased weight but seem ‘normal’. Or bodies can hold onto weight and not seem to lose much.  Professionals who have experience with eating disorders are best equipped to notice signs and symptoms that are often missed.
  2. Only extremely underweight people need treatment – While lower body weight individuals may face greater risks, anyone restricting calories, purging or eating erratically is a valid candidate for treatment.  While some will require more intensive treatment settings, all of these eating disordered behaviors are taking a dangerous toll on the body.  Mental health and relationships will also suffer.  The sooner an eating disorder is addressed, the better.
  3. Complementing appearance will help someone to get over the eating disorder – Despite good intentions behind most compliments, people struggling with eating disorders don’t need them and usually don’t enjoy them.  In fact, telling someone they ‘look better’ or ‘healthier’ can trigger worries over the amount of focus others are placing on physical appearance.  This worry can drive the individual to be more concerned with appearance and manage by controlling their body and food intake.  Additionally, many people dealing with eating disorders describe incidents early in their disorder when someone complimented weight loss (‘You’ve lost weight’) which spurred them further into a pattern of disordered eating.  
  4. If you have a regular period/menstrual cycle your eating disorder is not severe – As mentioned above, bodies will deal with effects of starvation in different ways.  Some people will lose their period soon after starting a restrictive diet.  Others can keep having a cycle even at dangerously low body weights.  Birth control pills are also a consideration as these can make the body bleed monthly, but that does not mean the body is healthy.  Some people are even prescribed birth control pills by doctors trying to re-start a lost period.  Although there may be a monthly bleed, this is not a result of hormonal balance and should not be seen as a solution.  The body has stopped menstruating to conserve valuable energy.  The body is wise enough to sense that this time of starvation is not the best to raise a child.  Restoring nutrition is the only way to bring the hormonal and reproductive system back online.
  5. If my doctor says my blood work is fine, my eating disorder is not that bad – A standard blood work-up at your usual general practitioner can provide a false sense of security unless your doctor has eating disorder expertise.  Some things will not be looked for, other symptoms will be misinterpreted and even others can be a sign of health unless the doctor has an awareness of how starvation and purging can show up in tests.  One damaging effect of eating disorders that are often not checked and can be irreversible are the damage to bones.  The body ‘steals’ nutrients from the bones and halts any repair to bone cells in an effort to conserve energy.  Yet, many people, particularly boys and men with eating disorders are routinely not screened and sent away from their doctor with the belief that they are fine.   

Reach Out For Help

Eating disorders can be dangerous and potentially deadly. So, if you identify with any of these issues, reach out for help. It can feel overwhelming to begin to focus on the problem and finding solutions can feel impossible; however, you are not alone.  If you need help talk to a supportive friend, speak to your doctor or find a therapist.  Therapy offers a place to deal with the emotional issues that drive these problems.  Working with a therapist can help you to find confidence in your ability to cope and have a healthy relationship with food.  I see clients at the Counseling Center at Cinco Ranch, and am here to help. You deserve to feel empowered, not helpless.   Please get in contact to learn more or arrange a session.

Published by jjohnsgreen

True health is about body and mind. I've helped people in all walks of life get healthier, happier and more successful through a focus on the interdependent relationship between our bodies, our mood and thinking and our behavior. I am inspired by the everyday human potential to do the amazing that exists in each of us. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Texas, 200 hr Yoga Teacher, Masters Weightlifter and Healer who is also Healing. I work with body image, eating disorders, complex trauma and performance issues. I'm a member of Houston Eating Disorder Specialists and I hold a certification as an obesity practitioner, National Centre for Eating Disorders, UK. I draw on evidence based approaches to help clients, including CBT and mindfulness-based practices.

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