Mental illness, including eating disorders, comes with tremendous stigma and shame. For decades, eating disorders have been misunderstood on multiple levels, creating confusion, embarrassment, and unnecessary guilt for those who are struggling as well as their loved ones. On the surface, eating disorders often present as difficulty eating or abnormal eating behaviors, but research has shown there are many complexities involved with these mental illnesses.
Recognizing the stigmas around eating disorders is important to dispel the myths that may be circulating about these mental health conditions. When the truth is understood about eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder than powerful change can be created for all individuals who are affected by mental illness. Challenging the myths around eating disorders may be helpful for:
- Improving access to treatment and care for those who are struggling
- Increase awareness and understanding about a mental illness that could be fatal
- Encouraging loved ones to reach out for help sooner
- Improving the prognosis and outcomes for eating disorder sufferers
It’s clear to see why we need to take a stand against dangerous stigmas about eating disorders. Now, let’s look at some of the most common myths about these mental illnesses and break down why these ideas are simply not true:
- I am not sick enough to get treatment – FALSE
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, it can be easy to minimize the severity of your symptoms and the seriousness of what you are facing. Many individuals may downplay their struggles, especially if they are able to maintain some sense of functioning. Every person who has an eating disorder deserves to connect with the help and treatment they need for recovery – no matter their situation. If you are having difficulty eating or caring for your body, this is enough of a reason to reach out for help. The type of treatment that might be most effective for you may depend on your unique situation, and there are different levels of care available for eating disorder recovery. It’s important not to compare yourself to others or postpone needed interventions due to fear or shame. You deserve the help you need no matter where you are on your journey.
- Eating disorders only happen in people with smaller bodies – FALSE
In many individuals, engaging in eating disorder behaviors may result in drastic weight fluctuations, including significant weight loss. However, this is not the case for all people who are dealing with an eating disorder. Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder, do not discriminate by body type and affect people in every kind of body size and shape. Eating disorders are often stereotyped to be a thinner, fragile body, but this is not a criterion for these mental illnesses. Understanding this fact is necessary for challenging the dangerous stereotypes that often depict eating disorders. Many women needing help may not do so because they believe they are not sick enough, thin enough, or has lost enough weight. Body size and weight are not factors for getting eating disorder treatment, and you simply cannot tell whether or not a person has an eating disorder by their appearance, size or weight.
- Eating disorders are not treatable – FALSE
Eating disorders can feel like a life sentence, but people who are dealing with an eating disorder are more than their diagnosis. There is hope for full and complete healing, and anyone who has an eating disorder also has the opportunity to write a different story for themselves. Evidenced-based treatment, including a combination of comprehensive therapeutic and medical interventions, can be effective for improving the prognosis for anyone who may be suffering from an eating disorder . There is an opportunity to achieve a full and lasting recovery from an eating disorder and to create a life that isn’t dictated by eating disorder behaviors.
- Eating disorders can be blamed on families – FALSE
Eating disorders cannot be blamed on any one, single factor, especially on families and loved ones. Research has found that eating disorders are biologically-influenced mental illnesses and are likely caused by multiple different factors, including environmental and psychosocial influences . Having a family history of mental illness, including eating disorders, can be a contributing risk factor, but families themselves cannot be blamed or become a scapegoat for illnesses that are incredibly complex. Loved ones of those struggling with an eating disorder may wonder where things went wrong, but it’s important to realize that some contributing factors to eating disorders are elements that cannot be controlled. Families can be one of the most effective and powerful allies for loved ones recovering from an eating disorder.
- Eating disorders are not serious illnesses – FALSE
Many mental illnesses, including eating disorders, can be easy to misjudge or underestimate. The reality is that eating disorders carry consequential risks that can be potentially damaging to a person suffering, including the following repercussions:
- Physical Risks: Eating disorders can cause damaging physical effects, including malnourishment, cardiovascular complications, gastrointestinal distress, and many more medical complications.
- Mental Risks: Individuals with eating disorders may be at an increased risk for other mental health issues, including mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm, and suicide.
- Social Risks: Eating disorders can cause individuals suffering to isolate from their families and loved ones. These illnesses can also put tremendous strain on a family unit and in relationships.
Many women who are struggling with an eating disorder tend to minimize their illness or may simply not be aware of how serious their problems are. Greater awareness about the severity of eating disorders can help people connect to the professional help they need.
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, please consider connecting with The Meadows Ranch today. You are deserving of the care and attention that is needed to successfully overcome an eating disorder and to live a life that goes beyond the diagnosis. Healing is possible and can start today. Learn more about how The Meadows Ranch can help facilitate your recovery journey so you can change the ending to your story.
: Costa, M. B., & Melnik, T. (2016). Effectiveness of psychosocial interventions in eating disorders: an overview of Cochrane systematic reviews. Einstein (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 14(2), 235-77.
: National Institute of Mental Health, “Eating Disorders: About More Than Food”, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/eating-disorders/index.shtml Accessed 25 January 2019