Six Myths About Eating Disorders MAG

April 1, 2010
By Anonymous

As a sufferer from an eating disorder, I often encounter ignorance and stereotypes about this group of illnesses – particularly in the media. Misunderstandings range from the benign (for example, the technically correct term for someone with anorexia nervosa is anorectic, not anorexic) to the life-threatening (these are serious illnesses with up to a 25 percent fatality rate).

When it comes to this issue, knowledge isn't just power, it's the power to save lives. So I've compiled some of the most pervasive and damaging myths about eating disorders (in order from least to most harmful, in my opinion) and dispelled them, using information from the National Eating Disorders Association and my own experience.

Myth #6: People with anorexia nervosa (AN) do not eat anything.

Anorectics generally do eat, sometimes even three meals a day. They just don't consume enough calories to maintain a healthy body weight. They may also have rituals around eating or purposely avoid eating with others, so it may seem like they don't eat at all.

Myth #5: Bulimia nervosa (BN) is when you throw up after meals.

Throwing up can be a symptom, but those suffering with BN often have more than one way to “purge” (that is, rid themselves of binges – a lot of food consumed in one sitting – or normal meals). They may abuse laxatives, fast, or exercise obsessively. All of these behaviors are dangerous and require medical attention.

Myth #4: There are only two eating disorders: anorexia and bulimia.

They get a lot of media attention, but BN and AN are only two of the illnesses that fall under the category of eating disorders. Several other types exist. For example, binge eating disorder is when you repeatedly eat large amounts of food and feel intense shame about it. Pica is the urge to eat non-food items such as dirt and chalk.

There are also eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS), in which someone starves, purges, or overexercises but doesn't meet the traditional criteria for AN or BN. As many as 50 percent of those with an eating disorder have EDNOS, and need treatment just like as those with BN or AN. I was diagnosed with EDNOS and have been hospitalized several times, which caused pain for me and my family, and damaged me physically and emotionally.

Myth #3: Bulimic behaviors (such as self-induced vomiting) are not harmful or lethal.

Sadly, this myth contributes to the death of many with BN. Normal vomiting is very stressful to the mouth and esophagus, exposing them to extremely corrosive stomach acid. Vomiting frequently can result in reflux (when food and/or stomach acid comes up unintentionally) and loss of tooth enamel (and once it's gone, it's gone). And laxative abuse can cause incontinence, constipation, and diarrhea. In addition, frequent vomiting causes dehydration as the body loses electrolytes that help it perform vital functions like maintaining heart beat. Thus, all bulimics are at risk for sudden death, no matter how often they purge.

Myth #2: People with binge eating disorder aren't that ill, and the consequences aren't that severe.

Overeating can cause as many health problems as not eating enough. Highlights include high blood pressure (which contributes to heart attack and stroke), high cholesterol, type II diabetes, and gastric rupture (the stomach literally rips as a result of having too much food in it – fatal in 80 percent of cases). People who overeat regularly struggle with emotional problems just like those with BN and AN, they just show it in a different way.

Myth #1: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder (and how bad it is) by how thin they are.

People with serious eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Bulimics and those with EDNOS in particular tend to suffer from this myth because many maintain a normal weight throughout their illness but are still invisibly devastating their bodies. Serious medical consequences, especially from repeated fasting and restricting calories, are swift and severe, even without the warning sign of dramatic weight loss.

In the four years I've had an eating disorder, I have only been underweight once for a short time, but have suffered the following symptoms: reflux, diarrhea and constipation, low pulse/blood pressure, orthostatic hypotension (blood pressure so low that I became dizzy and blacked out), fatigue, insomnia, dry skin, brittle hair, severe headaches, heart arrhythmia, electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

That's a daunting list, and one I hope no one else has to experience, because the mental anguish of these disorders is bad enough without fearing that your body will shut down as well.

But there is hope. Eighty percent of those who get help within five years of getting an eating disorder will recover fully. Many people regain their healthy mind and body and go on to live normal, fulfilling lives. But first we must get past the myths and tackle that initial step: Admitting you have a problem and getting help.

The author's comments:
For further information (although I'm already afraid this article is too exhaustive--thanks to those who had the patience to read through my long-windedness), check out the NEDA website or the Something Fishy website on eating disorders, which includes moderated discussion boards for sufferers of and ED and those who support them.

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This article has 10 comments.

on May. 4 2015 at 7:55 pm
EmilytheBelleofA. DIAMOND, Athens, Georgia
81 articles 5 photos 1492 comments

Favorite Quote:
To love is to be vulnerable; Triumph is born out of struggle; We notice shadows most when they stand alone in the midst of overwhelming light.

This has helped a lot, and I thank you so much. I always wondered if I had a eating disorder and was confused if I did have a eating disorder, but I think I do have a eating disorder. All in all, this article has helped me a lot and given me a lot to think about. Thank you so much for sharing this. You have such a talent and light and goodness; and so much more in you. You're a wonderful and talented writer and person; and so much more. Thank you again. :)

on May. 4 2015 at 2:31 pm
AllSoPlayfulWhenYouDemonize BRONZE, Richmond, Virginia
3 articles 0 photos 228 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Our passion is our strength."
-Billie Joe Armstrong

This is beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing. Love it.

Anonymous said...
on Jan. 19 2012 at 9:34 am
Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have no idea how this helped me. Read it on a whim in the magazine... I am diagnosed with Binge Eating Disorder. I didn't know what was wrong with me, I was confused and thought I was alone. When it was described briefly in your article, it pushed me to learn more. Now I know how to help myself and listen to my body. I even wrote about it for English...and found out my best friend has it too! Now we help eachother, and I am no longer miserable.

on Dec. 20 2011 at 10:22 pm
THANK YOU for writing this. Myth #1 in particular has affected me throughout my struggle with my eating disorder (EDNOS), because nothing hurts more than hearing "you don't look sick" from friends/ family when you tell them about your illness. These are all things that people without EDs need to understand, and I'm glad someone put them out there.

on Sep. 5 2011 at 3:09 pm
LihuaEmily SILVER, North Kingstown, Rhode Island
7 articles 3 photos 199 comments

Favorite Quote:
"It is said that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But the universe is the ultimate free lunch." -Alan Guth

This is a wonderful article that I hope many, many people read. EDNOS is a very important part of the eating disorder spectrum and is remarkably destructive. 

on Jul. 8 2011 at 6:20 pm
ohheyyyelli SILVER, Woonsocket, Rhode Island
5 articles 3 photos 178 comments
I'm diagnosed with EDNOS, and I wish everyone would read this article. I hate people's perceptions on eating disorders. This article could really make people realize the reality of it, even without any mention of the pshychological hell it puts you through.

mememelo said...
on Jan. 20 2011 at 7:07 pm
mememelo, Lamar, South Carolina
0 articles 0 photos 46 comments

Favorite Quote:

ive been diagnosed with EDNOS but i dont tell people that cuz i dont like stereotypeing. my self-esteem got so bad i was also cutting myself. but anyway that was a really good article i hope people listen to it. good job!!

on Nov. 16 2010 at 11:32 pm
SpringRayyn PLATINUM, Lakeville, Minnesota
34 articles 2 photos 658 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Don't punish yourself," she heard her say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness too. That was writing."
--Markus Zusak, "The Book Thief"

Okay, well the first one that you listed I don't think is actually true (the one about AN). I say this because that almost exactly describes the situation that I am in right now, but I am diagnosed with EDNOS. Which makes that statement untrue. Maybe I'm wrong, just pointing out.

on May. 10 2010 at 12:43 pm
Ninten1992 PLATINUM, New York, New York
27 articles 0 photos 43 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Forgive and Forget".

Wow! I learned so much from this article. Thank you for sharing this information.

on May. 1 2010 at 7:40 pm
Sketched97 PLATINUM, Silver Spring, Maryland
31 articles 4 photos 168 comments
great informative article. I knew about EDONS, but I didn't know it was so common. Really good job, and im sorry you've had to go with having an eating disorder and all those complications :(

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