Helpful Hints / Mythbusters

4 Eating Disorder Myths Busted

Truth

Photo Credit: Creative Commons by Pixabay (PDPics)

 

With National Eating Disorders Awareness Week just behind us, our Center has been thinking more than ever about how we can help spread accurate information and recent research findings about eating disorders to the community at large. As we spring forward into a new season, we wanted to take a moment to contemplate some commonly held (mis)conceptions about these illnesses. Read on as we bust a handful of eating disorder myths:

Myth #1. Eating disorders are a choice.

A commonly held myth about eating disorders is that they are a choice—that the afflicted individual has decided to engage in unhealthy behaviors like severe food restriction or over-exercise. While many individuals may choose, at some point in their life, to go on a diet or to increase their exercise routine, no one chooses to have an eating disorder. Eating disorders are complicated illnesses that develop from and are maintained by a combination of many factors largely outside of one’s control. Our biology, genes, personality, and environment all play a role in determining whether we are at risk for an eating disorder. The good news? Recovery is still 100% possible (but more on that later!).

Myth #2. Eating disorders are not a big deal.

One of the most dangerous myths about eating disorders is that they are “no big deal.” In reality, eating disorders often take a major toll on the mind and body. Anorexia and bulimia nervosa, in particular, are associated with high mortality rates due to serious medical consequences (like heart problems) and an increased risk for suicide. In fact, research suggests that anorexia nervosa may have the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric disorders. The bottom line? Eating disorders are a big deal, and getting help for these serious conditions is key.

Myth #3. Eating disorders are cured as soon as eating is normalized or weight is restored.

Improving eating behavior and restoring weight (in those who are underweight) are two major milestones in eating disorder recovery. For many individuals, these goals also help to substantially reduce other symptoms, like anxiety and depression.  But that doesn’t mean that something magical happens the minute that someone resumes a more regular eating schedule or reaches a healthy weight. Recovery is a process that varies from one individual to another. Even after someone has made impressive strides in getting his or her body to a healthy place, feelings and thoughts often need extra time and support to catch up.  Body image, in particular, may take a bit longer than other symptoms to improve. To summarize: Recovery is hard work and someone who “looks” recovered may still be struggling and in need of additional help. So remember, be patient with yourself or your loved one—recovery takes time.

Myth #4. If treatment doesn’t “work” the first time, there’s no hope for recovery.

So you found the courage to enter treatment for an eating disorder—but for some reason, it didn’t work. Perhaps your symptoms persisted despite the intervention, or you made gains but then relapsed. As frustrating as it may be, you should know two things: 1) you are not alone, and 2) there is still hope.  Maybe the intervention wasn’t right for you, but something different could help. Perhaps you weren’t ready to commit to treatment yet, but in the future, you will be. Just as people change, their response to treatment may change. We still have a great deal to learn about how best to treat eating disorders, but we do know that recovery is always possible, regardless of whether or not the last treatment was a success.

For more information on current eating disorders research at our program, please read about our latest studies, call us at 646-774-8066, or email us at edru@nyspi.columbia.edu.

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