Mental health disorders which are increasingly becoming more common are Eating disorders. Although such disorders have been treated by professionals for many years, they can be challenging to understand. In fact, eating disorders are surrounded by myths and misconceptions, and unfortunately are not taken seriously by some. In the below section we will see what entails having an eating disorder and three myths about them.
Eating disorders are characterized by a constant disturbance in eating or eating-related behaviors that results in an altered consumption of food that significantly impairs the physical or psychosocial functioning of the individual. The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (APA, 2013) notes a number of eating disorders and the most frequently mentioned include, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
Myth 1 – Eating disorders are a choice
They are, in fact multifaceted medical and psychiatric illnesses, which individuals do not choose. Genetic research has shown that there are biological factors, which play a role in who develops this, due to biological predisposition. In addition, eating disorders often occur with other mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Research on the causes of an eating disorder is currently focused on both genetic and environmental factors. Environmental factors such as the social drive and media, which portray a slim and perfect body image can be an example that triggers an eating disorder. To this, we can add physical illnesses, bullying and other life stressors that show that this disorder is not a choice.
Myth 2 – Only Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder
Studies that examined the death rates of individuals with eating disorders have found that those treated for bulimia nervosa, had mortality rates that reached those seen in anorexia. Indeed, due to individuals having abused the use of laxatives/diuretics or forced themselves to throw up, their risk increased significantly higher in terms of sudden death from heart attacks.
Similarly, excessive exercise can also increase risk of death in individuals with eating disorders, as this increases the levels of stress on the body. Individuals with eating disorders have a severely impacted quality of life which causes a higher mortality rate.
Myth 3 – Eating disorder behaviors only relate to food intake
Eating disorders generally relate to an unhealthy way of looking at food and body weight, however, symptoms of these disorders extend beyond the food intake. Studies have linked eating disorders with fixation, perfectionism, and obsessions. Individuals with eating disorder behaviors initially have a decrease in depression and anxiety, however as the disorder develops further, the malnutrition itself increases the levels of depression and anxiety once again.
On the other hand, reaching an ideal weight is only the first step for individuals with an eating disorder. This is often followed by an increased participation in individual or group psychotherapy, in which they can participate more fully and meaningfully.
Above we explored three myths surrounding eating disorders. Despite the name ‘Eating disorder’ may seem self explanatory, many do not understand its complexity. Eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. We have seen that ideal-weight recovery is essential, but not only. Other types of support such as improved mental health and a healthier environment are also important.
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Charlot Cauchi is a Gestalt Psychotherapist at Willingness. He has experience with adult clients with mental health difficulties, anxiety, depression, loss, trauma, stress and relational issues.
References American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association.