Anorexia is just about wanting to be skinny…right? Myth Busting

– Ruth Beacon

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is a time to make people aware of the seriousness of Eating Disorders (ED’s) and to give a voice to those who are suffering. To give perspective, this time last year I made the decision to admit myself into an inpatient ward for anorexia. A year on, my life has completely changed (for the better). I am back at university (I nearly gave it up so to go back is a mighty achievement), have a job and am a proud owner of my very own car!

Now that I have had personal experience of anorexia, I decided to combat some of the myths that people may believe or think about ED’s.

To clarify, the conditions under the umbrella of eating disorders are:

  1. Anorexia Nervosa
  2. Bulimia Nervosa
  3. Binge Eating Disorder
  4. Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (ENDOS)

The majority of this post will be from an anorexia view point, but it is applicable to bulimia, binge eating disorder and ENDOS.

EATING DISORDER MYTH: Isn’t anorexia just about wanting to be skinny?

MYTH BUSTER: No… is binge eating disorder just about “eating a bit too much?” or is depression just about “being sad?”… the answers to all these questions is no.

Here’s why: An Eating Disorder is a complex mental illness. Anorexia along with bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS, is a result of many social, psychological and emotional factors in an individual’s life. It does not boil down to “just wanting to be skinny”.

Eating disorders can be:

  • a coping mechanism
  • a way of taking control
  • a way of making yourself feel more positive about your appearance
  • a distraction from everyday life or a negative life event

Anorexia can start off as a “simple diet” but quickly snowballs into a radical obsession with weight and shape. Bulimia and binge eating disorder centre around eating large amounts of food (thousands of calories worth) and with bulimia either: purging, taking laxatives or starving after, because the guilt is too strong. Someone who struggles with bulimia or binge eating disorder can be of a normal weight, and not all individuals with ED’s have lost large amounts of weight.

The feeling of taking control is something that is at the crux of eating disorders. By controlling, often limiting food, it gives the person a sense of control, especially if they feel like nothing is going right or everything is spiralling out of their control. Taking control in this way is coupled with intense thoughts and feelings around food.

Eating disorders are about anything but food, instead they are linked to social, emotional and psychological issues that are deeply ingrained within an individual.

EATING DISORDER MYTH: When you become weight restored (after being diagnosed asanorexic), you are better and fully recovered.

MYTH BUSTER: No, this is not the case. When you have treatment for anorexia, it is two fold:

  1. Physical recovery – this means getting the person’s weight and BMI back in the normal range (which is considered to be 18.5- 25). When a person reaches the correct weight for them, normal bodily functions begin (periods etc). Cognitively, the brain starts to work again and a person thinks more clearly, making it easier to have psychological treatment.
  2. Mental recovery – this is a much longer process and does not happen as quickly as people believe; mental recovery takes time, this could be years. If you think how long someone could have been stuck in their eating disorder ways for, think how long reversing those thoughts can take. It is complex and involves psychological treatment, support, hard work and determination.

If someone is diagnosed with an ED that means body weight is not necessarily affected e.g. binge eating disorder, the “mental recovery” phase is targeted. It various from person to person but psychological treatment for an eating disorder is the route that is taken.

The team involved in treatment of ED’s is multi disciplinary and includes: GP’s, nurses, psychologists, dieticians, healthcare assistants, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, medical consultants, physiotherapists and the invaluable help from family and friends.

The above myths take many forms but the answers remain the same. If you are struggling with an eating disorder and cannot explain answers to questions, maybe you could link this post to a friend or family member. If you are supporting a friend with an ED, I hope this sheds light on the complicating and confusing world of eating disorders.

People may look physically recovered but fighting the eating disorder thoughts is a difficult daily task. I see recovery as being able to live a normal life- working, studying, going out with friends, being independent and not letting an eating disorder dominate your every moment. Of course, the definition for recovery is different for everyone but being able to live a ‘normal’ life is something

In my personal experience and from watching others, as I now get on with my life, the person who is living with an ED has to want to get better and work with the team treating them. It is a tough journey, as are recovery from all illnesses, but the outcome is so worth it.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week takes place 23rd February – 1st March. To find out more about eating disorders, check out our resources. If you’re looking to run awareness-raising events or campaigns during the week, you might be interested in holding a “Love Your Body” campaign, which aims to inspire body confidence in everyone. Campaign materials for Love Your Body can be found here.

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