National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAWARENESS)
This week (February 21-27, 2016) is National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (#NEDAWARENESS).
The annual campaign aims to raise awareness on the seriousness of eating disorders and to improve public understanding of their causes, triggers and treatments.
Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses that impact millions of people every year – they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Social media has been inundated with support for the campaign, with many users sharing their own ED experiences in order to shed light on the mental illness and to break the stereotypes commonly associated with eating disorders. So, to raise awareness, here are four common myths associated with eating disorders that have been debunked.
Because awareness equals understanding, and through understanding, hopefully we can improve the support and resources available to millions of sufferers worldwide.
1. SIZE IS NOT AN INDICATOR OF AN EATING DISORDER
This is probably the most common misconception surrounding eating disorders, and therefore potentially the most dangerous. Think ‘anorexic’, and the same specific body type will be visualised by the majority of the population. But weight, size, BMI, appearance and any other external factors do not have much to do with an eating disorder. Take two people – Person A and Person B. Both of them are severely restricting their food intake and exercising obsessively on a daily basis. Person A is severely underweight according to her BMI and Person B is considered overweight by theirs. Automatically, Person A is diagnosed with an eating disorder and people advise them to seek help, yet Person B is congratulated on their efforts on losing weight and encouraged to keep going. Both of these people have a mental illness – both of them have an eating disorder. Body sizes come in all shapes and sizes and so do eating disorders. A person can have an eating disorder at ANY size, shape or weight. Please remember that.
Mental vs physical recovery:
Everyone knows not to ‘judge a book by it’s cover,’ so why don’t people practice what they preach? Someone can look physically healthy and well on the outside, but that doesn’t automatically mean they are feeling the same on the inside. Physical and mental recovery from eating disorders are two very different aspects, and often the process does not go hand-in-hand together. Just because someone is weight-restored, no longer underweight or doesn’t look ‘anorexic’ anymore doesn’t mean they are miraculously recovered. They may still be avoiding certain food groups, obsessively exercising daily, or struggling to adjust to their changing weight and body. Mental healing will often come after physical recovery and it will be a long, difficult and daily battle – especially when they trying to recover in in a society obsessed with unattainable beauty standards. So be nice. Avoid focusing on someone’s weight and appearance. Instead of saying how ‘well they look now they have gained or lost weight’, ask them ‘how they are feeling?’
2. EATING DISORDERS COME IN MANY DIFFERENT FORMS
Did you know that obsessively eating only ‘healthy’ food could be classed as an eating disorder? Probably not. Eating disorders are often confined to three types – anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Yet, there are a whole range of different types and behaviours associated with having an eating disorder, including EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) and orthorexia (an obsession with only eating foods that one considers healthy). Plus, not experiencing all – or not even any – of the so-called ‘classified’ symptoms does not indicate if a person does or does not have an eating disorder. Some sufferers may show overlapping behaviours between different eating disorders, which is known as sub-types. It’s also not uncommon for sufferers to even cross-over from having one type of eating disorder to another. So, just because someone doesn’t fit into a classified category doesn’t mean they don’t have an eating disorder.
3. IT’S NOT ONLY ABOUT FOOD
This point cannot be stressed enough. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone too far, or simply about fussy eating. They are mental illnesses. And yes, while food is often the focaliser, there are a multitude of contributing factors involved. But merely ‘disliking food’ is not one of them. Comments of ‘go and eat a cheeseburger’ and/or ‘they need a decent meal’ are ignorant and damaging. Furthermore, mentioning ‘how little’ or ‘how much’ someone is eating is unnecessary in all situations – be it if someone has an eating disorder or not.
4. EACH AND EVERY PERSON WITH AN EATING DISORDER IS UNIQUE
Anyone of any gender, sexuality, race, class, and body type can have an eating disorder. And although people may be diagnosed with the same eating disorder, it doesn’t mean their experience of it is, was or will be the same. Everyone is different and their journey to recovery will be different too. Some people may recover without ever relapsing, and some may struggle for years with bumps and slip-ups along the way. Both are OK. There are no right or wrong ways to have an ‘eating disorder’ and there are no right or wrong ways of recovering. But what is wrong is to define a person by their eating disorder. They are not the ‘anorexic’ or ‘bulimic’ person. They are someone’s child, sibling, friend, partner, colleague, who loves and is loved and is so much more than the illness they are suffering with.
Do you have any experiences with eating disorders? If you feel comfortable, share them with us in the comments below.