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Common Myths About Eating Disorders: Debunked

Eating disorders are serious diseases that have the highest mortality rate out of all mental health disorders. At least 30 million individuals of all ages and genders in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder, which is approximately 8% of the population. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) are the four most common eating disorders recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM V). The superficial drive to be pretty and thin is constantly pressed into our society by the media and although social factors do play a role in the development of eating disorders; these mental health disorders are multifactorial meaning more than one cause is responsible. There are many myths regarding eating disorders that are passed around society through the media and also word of mouth, and it is not only essential to educate the public regarding eating disorders but also to debunk these popular myths as well.

Myth #1 Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice and are about self-image

Fact: Eating disorders are a mental health disorder and occur do to severe underlying causes.

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice but are a mental health disorder similar to depression, bipolar disease, and schizophrenia. It is not an individual choice to develop an eating disorder, but rather severe underlying pathological factors drive individuals to take part in self-destructive behaviors associated with eating disorders. Genetic factors, environmental factors, and social factors all play a role in the development of an eating disorder. Interpersonal issues, past trauma, low-self esteem, abuse, co-occurring mental health disorders, substance abuse disorders, and unhealthy family and personal relationships all contribute to the environmental and social factors associated with eating disorders.

Myth #2 Eating disorders are just dieting that has gone too far

Fact: Individuals have severe disturbances in their behavior around eating, body image and exercise.

Changing how you eat and adapting to healthy lifestyle behaviors can be good however extreme dieting is an unhealthy way to lose weight and although it is true that many individuals who go on strict diets develop an eating disorder, eating disorders have deep underlying causes associated with them that are more than just the obsession about food. Many individuals with an eating disorder have issues with self-control and body image and use their obsession with food to cope with their underlying issues. Strict diets, in general, are deemed unhealthy because they have unrealistic expectations and goals.

Myth #3 You can tell someone has an eating disorder just by his or her appearance

Fact: Individuals with eating disorders can be underweight, normal weight or overweight. Unfortunately, the media and society often portray severely underweight young females as the prototype for having an eating disorder; however anorexia nervosa is the only eating disorder that classifies underweight as diagnostic criteria. Approximately 65% of individuals with bulimia nervosa have “normal” body weight or are considered overweight. Additionally, binge-eating disorder, orthorexia, compulsive overeating and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) do not have body types or weight restrictions included in the diagnosis.

Myth #4 Eating disorders only occur in young adolescent females

Fact: Eating disorders do not discriminate by gender, body shape, age, race, and socioeconomic status

Although the majority of individuals diagnosed with anorexia are adolescent, Caucasian females of middle to upper class; individuals of all ages, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic class are affected by eating disorders. At least 30 million individuals of all ages and genders in the United States are diagnosed with an eating disorder, which is approximately 8% of the population, which equals out to 20 million women and 10 million men. 13% of women over the age of 50 engage is some eating disorder behavior. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) may be more common in boys than girls.

Myth #5 Purging is an effective way to lose weight

Fact: Purging is a dangerous behavior that can result in medical complications and does not result in effective weight loss

Purging is a destructive behavior seen in anorexia nervosa and binge eating and consists of self-induced, vomiting, laxative abuse, diuretic abuse and excessive exercise as a way of preventing weight gain. Approximately half of the calories and nutrients consumed remain in the body after self-induced vomiting. Self-induced vomiting can result in dental cavities and erosions, severe reflux, electrolyte imbalances, esophageal rupture and scars on the knuckles. Digestion begins in the mouth and ends in the small intestine and laxatives work on the large intestine to rid the body of water. As a result, laxative does not reduce the caloric intake but rather act to eliminate water and waste once digestion has occurred throughout the rest of the gastrointestinal tract. Diuretics and laxatives, if used excessively are known to result in electrolyte abnormalities and renal failure.

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