In recent years the help available to people suffering with eating disorders has improved drastically, but there is still a great deal of misunderstanding surrounding the topic.
Many people assume that eating disorders are a cry for attention, or that it is all about wanting to look good, but in reality, eating disorders are far more than that.
There are three main eating disorders:
- Anorexia Nervosa, the fear of gaining weight or becoming fat
- Bulimia Nervosa, the act of binge eating then purging or vomiting
- Binge Eating Disorder, eating until uncomfortably full in one sitting.
14 things that you probably didn't know about eating disorders are:
1. They aren't just about body image
Many people assume that people with eating disorders only have them because they want to be slimmer, and, although this is true to an extent, many people suffering with anorexia or bulimia are diagnosed with psychiatric conditions meaning that they have no control over the disorder.
Eating disorders can be caused by a variety of things ranging from trauma, family trouble or social issues, and are often associated with control. In a world where the sufferers couldn't be in charge of how certain things happened in their lives, they could have control over what they ate. This is linked to depression, anxiety and OCD. They can however also be genetic.
2. They aren't just something that teenagers get
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Although eating disorders are typically associated with teenagers, anyone can develop an eating disorder at any age. In a study published in 2012, the International Journal of Eating Disorders
found eating disorder symptoms in 13% of the women surveyed, all over the age of 50, with 66% of those women reporting that they were unhappy with their overall appearance.
That being said, more than 50% of teenage girls, and nearly 33% of teenage boys admit to using unhealthy methods to control their weight, including smoking cigarettes, skipping meals, fasting, vomiting, or taking laxatives.
3. You can't tell just by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder
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It's a common misconception that it is easy to spot someone with an eating disorder; you just look for the really skinny person right? Wrong! Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes.
Some of the most dangerous consequences of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are things that you can't see just by looking at someone; electrolyte imbalance, muscle loss, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and irregular heartbeats.
Admittedly the most common image that we have all been shown representing someone suffering with an eating disorder is a teenage girl who has a skeletal frame. This isn't always the case though.
4. The mind becomes deteriorated as well as the body
Starvation affects the mind, and when someone has been struggling with an eating disorder for a long time, the brain will become dehydrated and begin to show signs of wear and tear. It won't improve often until the person's body is back to a healthy and functioning weight thanks to treatment.
As mentioned earlier, eating disorders are mental conditions, and people suffering with an eating disorder will often say that they can hear voices in their heads telling them they are fat or have eaten too much. This is the psychological condition taking control.
5. Men get eating disorders too
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The stereotypical view of eating disorders is that only women get them; this is totally incorrect. Men make up 10-15% of the population with anorexia and bulimia, and, because they are less likely to seek help because of the conditions being highly regarded as female only problems, that figure could actually be much higher.
A 2011 study
actually showed that binge eating is as prevalent in men as it is in women.
6. Eating disorders aren't just "white girl" problems
Among the many stereotypical views of eating disorders is the belief that only white people develop them. Melissa Harris-Perry says: “More and more young black girls are going to school in environments that give them the sort of very strong messages about normative body types that African-American girls have a difficult time fitting into.”
7. They aren't a choice
Many people think that someone with an eating disorder has chosen this path for themselves. As mentioned earlier, they are actually psychiatric conditions. Admittedly, many eating disorders may begin with the desire to lose a few pounds, but the eating disorder takes over and controls the person.
8. Anorexia, bulimia and binge eating aren't the only eating disorders
Although these are the most commonly reported eating disorders, there are many others. It can be something as simple as fixating on specific foods or making the decision to regularly skip meals.
These may not seem like full blown eating disorders, but they are classed as having an unhealthy relationship with food.
9. People with eating disorders can't just snap out of it
This is one of the most common misconceptions regarding these conditions; people often think that as soon as someone accepts that they have an eating disorder that they will be able to "quit" and get back to "normal". It's not that simple though.
Someone suffering with an eating disorder can't just decide that they are done with it because anorexia, bulimia and binge eating are all psychological conditions. A treatment program has to be provided for any sufferers to help them, with appointments in psychotherapy and nutrition counselling.
10. People with eating disorders don't see themselves in the same way that you see them
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A lot of people who suffer with an eating disorder also have something called Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). This is basically where you see something different when you look in the mirror to what everybody else sees when they look at you.
Someone with BDD perceives, or even imagines, exaggerated flaws in themselves. This is the reason why, for many people with eating disorders, there is no such thing as thin enough.
11. Pictures in the media could be contributing to eating disorders
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We have all, at some point in our lives, felt envy when we look in magazines and see the perfect bodies (even though we know they're all airbrushed).
According to www.dosomething.org 69% of girls aged 10-18 confirmed that photographs of models and celebrities in magazines inspired their desired body shape. As one of the first symptoms of an eating disorder is often low body image and self-esteem, this means that the media could indeed be contributing to eating disorders.
12. Eating disorders are often connected to depression
Approximately 24 million people in the U.S. struggle with an eating disorder, and almost 50% of these people also meet the criteria for depression.
13. Eating disorders are not a joke
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We have all seen the jokes on social media sites, and even some television programs, making eating disorders seem like something that isn't worth more than a cheap one-liner. Eating disorders are a very serious condition, and with the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, they clearly aren't something to be "taken with a pinch of salt".
In particular, for women aged 15-24, the mortality rate of anorexia is 12 times higher than any other cause of death!
For people suffering with eating disorders, hearing their condition being used as a joke can even trigger the habits that a joke may be mocking.
14. It is possible to recover from an eating disorder
Although eating disorders are difficult to recover from, it is possible. Thanks to a greater understanding, many sufferers are getting the correct treatment to help them maintain a healthy weight and develop a better relationship with food.
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