Eating Disorders

Popular Misconceptions about Eating Disorders

Eating disorders can manifest in a variety of ways, such as Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, and Pica, just to name a few. Additionally, not every case will be identical. Here is a list of five notorious misconceptions a loved one or sufferer may have about eating disorders.

An Eating Disorder Is Just An Extreme Diet

It is a prominent misunderstanding that a sufferer only wants to lose a little weight in a short amount of time. Eating disorders are actually a psychiatric disorder that stems from the mind. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder (Arcelus, Mitchell, Wales, Nielsen, 2011). With long-term success rates being 40-50% at most, an eating disorder is a serious problem that should be dealt with the upmost urgency and importance (McAleavey, 2008). A person, who may be suffering with this type disorder, should be assessed by a licensed clinician and may be placed into a level of care based on the level of severity; it may range from outpatient therapy once a week to a 30+ day intensive inpatient facility.

It is Always Noticeable When Somebody is Suffering from an Eating Disorder

Popular belief states that a person who suffers from an eating disorder must be severely underweight; this is not always the case. In fact, it is so common that the DSM-V (the official American Psychiatric Association manual which mental health professionals use to diagnosis various psychiatric disorders) has created its own sub category, “Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED),” for sufferers, who are not underweight but still exhibit a suitable amount of eating disorder symptoms. Many sufferers are able to hide the severity of their problem by purging alone after a large meal, taking minuscule bites to appear to eat more, or even chewing gum during a meal in attempt to conceal their true eating habits. Family and friends, often, are fooled by this deceptive behavior and do not see the severity of these problematic behaviors.

Only Women Suffer from Eating Disorders

Both men and women can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. According to recent research, 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lifetime (Wade, Keski-Rahkonen, Hudson, 2011). Also, men make up about 36% of the population who suffers from Binge Eating Disorder (BED) and 25% of the population who suffers with Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa (Hudson, 2007). With statistics like these, it is important to not overlook a potential sufferer solely based on their sex. Like a multitude of other psychiatric diagnoses, an eating disorder can affect a person regardless of gender.

An Eating Disorder Is Usually a “Stand-Alone” Diagnosis

Often times, there are co-occurring psychiatric disorders alongside of the eating disorder. Sufferers may limit or control food intake as a result of a co-occurring disorder, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In cases of OCD, the person may have repeated thoughts about food or calories (obsessions) and use rituals or habits to counteract the perceived negative effects from intake of the food or calories (compulsions). Furthermore, substance abuse disorders are four times more likely to occur in the eating disorder population than in the general population (Harrop, Marlatt, 2010). Due to the multifaceted issues surrounding eating disorders, it is important to assess and treat every one of the sufferer’s psychiatric disorders.

Sufferers Will Be “Fine” As Long As They Gain Weight and Create a Healthy Lifestyle

Countless long term sufferers are left with a laundry list of chronic health issues due to the malnutrition and abuse inflicted on their bodies. People with eating disorders may suffer from, and not limited to:

  • Osteoporosis (loss of bone density)
  • Hair loss
  • Tooth Decay due to frequent vomiting
  • Infertility
  • Kidney Failure due to dehydration
  • Muscle Loss
  • Menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea
  • Menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea (loss of menstruation)

It is important to meet with a registered dietitian alongside of a mental health clinician to help overcome an eating disorder. An eating disorder is an issue that the sufferer could potentially endure for the rest of their life. You may find yourself in this position and feel hopeless or even angry. You may want to give up on the sufferer and let them make their own decisions. Just remember that an eating disorder is not a choice, but rather a psychiatric condition that can be overcome with therapy but more importantly with unconditional love and encouragement from family and friends. For more information or support, go to www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2001). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 724-731

Harrop, E. & Marlatt, G. (2010). The comorbidity of substance use disorders and eating disorders in women: prevalence, etiology, and treatment. Addictive Behaviors, 35, 392-398.

Hudson, J., Hiripi, E., Pope, H., & Kessler, R. (2007) “The prevalence and correlates of eating disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication.” Biological Psychiatry, 61, 348–358

McAleavey, K. (2008). Ten years of treating eating disorders: What have we learned? A personal perspective on the application of 12-step and wellness programs. [Abstract]. Adv Mind Body Med., 23(2), 18-26

Wade, T. D., Keski-Rahkonen A., & Hudson J. (2011). Epidemiology of eating disorders. In M. Tsuang and M. Tohen (Eds.), Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd ed.) (pp. 343-360). New York: Wiley

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