Eating disorders are more common than the average person might think. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people are seriously misinformed about these illnesses and have a tendency to do more harm than good when faced with someone who is struggling with an eating disorder. The best way to end the stigma against eating disorders is to educate more sufficiently on the topics. In light of this, here are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about eating disorders.
1. They are Self-Inflicted
This idea comes from the fact that in order to have an eating disorder, a person must take action to decrease or increase how much they eat. However, eating disorders are about as much of a choice as suicide is; the underlying and unseen mental health issues are the cause, not a conscious decision on the part of the individual.
Eating disorders are also often the result of escalation. What started out as calorie counting becomes an obsession with eating a few calories as possible. What began as regret after an evening of eating unhealthy food became a way to enjoy food yet continue to lose weight. It was not a conscious choice. One thing led to another and suddenly the person can’t stop binging and purging, another can’t eat more than a handful of food a day, and yet another always feels hungry no matter how much they eat.
2. A Person with an Eating Disorder Can Just Change Their Behavior
Eating disorders are not something a person just does. Eating disorders are classified as a mental illness and cannot just be halted on a whim any more than someone can just stop being depressed. Eating disorders require support and treatment, not shame and anger.
The stigma against mental illness is perpetuated when people suffering from eating disorders are told that their mental illness is their fault and that they are hurting themselves and everyone around them. This does not stop the illness but instead makes the person feel worse and more likely to hide their suffering instead of seeking help.
3. Eating Disorders Only Encompass Anorexia and Bulimia
When one thinks of eating disorders, they tend to imagine people who aren’t getting enough calories, whether by purging or not eating. However, compulsive overeating is also an eating disorder, and it experiences far more shame than the more commonly known disorders.
Western society has a very unfavorable view of fat people. They garner less sympathy than someone who has become skin and bone as a result of their disorder. However, being overweight has health ramifications as well and can be very difficult to overcome, particularly when you experience nothing but shaming and less than sympathetic advice.
Overcoming this stigma is just as critical. When someone cannot seem to stop overeating, it is less a matter of their physical health and more telling of their mental state. Treatment for any eating disorder is important, as is the support of friends and family.
Eating disorders are a very complex matter in a society obsessed with thinness and weight loss. Not only must people face shame from their loved ones but some may actually be praised for their weight loss. Both can easily encourage eating disorder.
It is also important to remember that an eating disorder can happen to overweight people just as easily as it can to thin people. If you think someone you know may be developing an eating disorder, get them help. Do not treat them as though it is their fault and do not act as though they could simply stop the behavior. They need help and as a loved one, it is your job to help them get it.
Michelle Peterson is a recovering addict who wishes to eliminate the stigma surrounding people who struggle with addiction. Ms. Peterson’s mission is aligned with that of RecoveryPride, which is to celebrate sobriety and those who achieve it.
The Student Physical Therapist
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