I remember first learning about eating disorders in middle school. They were presented as disorders that tend to impact a particular type of person: affluent, white, adolescent, female. Looking back on eighth-grade health class, it was all very black and white: you could have anorexia or bulimia, but that was it. Misconceptions about mental health issues can begin with our education system. As a psychotherapist who treats people of all ages with a wide range of food-related disorders, I have seen that they do not discriminate with who they can impact. You can have symptoms of anorexia and bulimia, and those are not the only two eating-related disorders that exist. Hearing a recent news story from NPR, “How Eating Disorders Can Affect Anyone,” inspired me to bust some of the myths associated with the topic.
Eight Eating Disorders Myth Busters
- You can have an eating disorder at any weight. Every person is biologically different, and there are many people with this issue who appear to be at a healthy weight or overweight. This can make them easy to miss in a doctor’s office. The long-term use of eating disorder symptoms can actually dysregulate a person’s metabolism. When this happens, it is more difficult to lose weight.
- Eating disorders can onset at age 10, or age 50. Some of my clients even recall beginning a pattern of disordered thinking about food and weight as young as 5 years old. It’s also important to know that this pattern can develop in adulthood as a result of a trauma, major stressors, life transitions, etc.
- Eating disorders can impact both males and females, as well as all races and ethnicities, and all socioeconomic statuses. Eating issues are also prevalent in the LGBTQ community. This is not surprising, as people in the LGBTQ community tend to be twice as likely to experience a mental health condition compared with their counterparts.
- It does not develop out of vanity. The cause of an eating disorder has both genetic and environmental influences. I’ve noticed that a lot of times it can start with a diet, which is such a normal, seemingly harmless thing to do in our society. In a person with a genetic history of substance abuse, anxiety, or depression, a diet can turn into a long-term problem. These disorders are also borne out of traumatic experiences, such as loss of a parent, sexual assault, abuse or neglect in the home, or bullying.
- More than food and weight. Yes, the obsessive thoughts of a person with an eating disorder will surround food and weight, but it’s about much more than that. Their thoughts often have to do with low self-esteem, comparing oneself to others, social anxiety, or perfectionism (that can be about any area of a person’s life, like school or work). A lot of people will also isolate socially from family and friends.
- They don’t often stand alone as a psychiatric illness; they are often co-occurring with depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, etc.
- There is more than just anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating disorder is actually the most common food-related disorder to have in the United States right now. It occurs as much as three times as often as anorexia and bulimia combined. Other types are avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, other specified feeding or eating disorder, unspecified feeding or eating disorder, and pica. Orthorexia is another type of disordered eating that seems to be growing; although, it’s not recognized as a mental health diagnosis in the DSM yet.
- It’s not black and white. Many clients don’t perfectly fit criteria for any one type of eating disorder. Often, different symptoms develop over time. I work with people who have had symptoms of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder at different points in their lives.
If you are struggling with any eating disorder symptoms, or feel anxiety and guilt related to food and weight, I encourage you to talk with a professional who is specialized in treating these issues. Explore What’s Next has clinicians at both of our office locations who can offer free initial consultations. We will help by providing you with the right information and giving you the next steps.
Christine Frank, LMSW
Christine understands what it’s like when you’re trying your hardest and an invisible hand is holding you back. It doesn’t mean you’re weak, or stupid, or unworthy of good things—it just means you could use some help. It helps to connect with someone who knows that your stories are worth listening to. Christine will hear your story. She’s a great listener.
Christine is easy-going, friendly, empathetic, non-judgmental. She’s funny and real in a down to earth way. She loves working with pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults to help them move through those difficult life transitions where a person can feel lost.
With Christine’s guidance and encouragement you can take the first step to a happier, healthier life.
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