With the rise of the digital supermodel there is no shortage of fitness inspiration (#fitspo) around us. Who hasn’t seen Karlie Kloss in some yogic pose, or admired Gigi Hadid sparring at a gritty New York boxing gym? Add in countless magazines featuring the trendiest of diets to date (“Is soup the new juice?”) and it’s not surprising that women feel pressure to achieve what is portrayed as an “ideal” body weight. But nearly 1 million Canadians are living with an eating disorder (ED) and millions more, according to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), are struggling with unhealthy food and weight preoccupations. Even with increased awareness of mental illness, many still hold certain views about EDs that are incorrect and incredibly stigmatizing. We tackle five common myths about eating disorders. It’s only with information and support that we can make a difference.
Myth: If you’re not starving yourself or bingeing and vomiting then it’s not an eating disorder.
Anorexia Nervosa (AN) and Bulimia Nervosa (BN) are the most recognized of EDs, but what is important to know is that there are other eating disorders that can still be very severe, such as Binge Eating Disorder, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) and Rumination Disorder.
What are the key features of these less well-known EDs? A true binge occurs when someone eats an excessive amount of food (I’m not referring to raiding your fridge after a night out) in a short amount of time due to feeling a lack of self-control. Those with ARFID avoid food intake due to sensory concerns (textures of certain foods) or worry about the aversive consequences of eating. And when someone repeatedly regurgitates their food and then re-chews, re-swallows or spits it out they are likely suffering from rumination disorder.
Myth: You can’t have anorexia and bulimia at the same time.
Just to make things confusing, there are two different types of Anorexia Nervosa; restricting type and binge-eating/purging type (sounds like bulimia, right)? Those who restrict, achieve their weight loss through dieting, fasting and/or excessive exercise. However, someone with binge-eating/purging type might eat an excessive amount of food (large pizza, full box of cookies, large pot of pasta and much more) in a short period of time that is followed by purging. Although this sounds similar to BN, these individuals also restrict their intake (when not binging) and as a result they continue to be significantly under weight.
Myth: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder.
Not everyone with an eating disorder is “skinny” and as a result not everyone gets the help they need. To be diagnosed with anorexia, one must be of significantly low body weight (hence it is noticeable) but with Bulimia that is not the case. Bulimia is often called the invisible disease as those with BN are usually of normal weight (a range determined by age, sex, development and physical health) or above their normal weight range. Due to this lack of observable signs, clinicians may be late to the game and in the meantime the disorder is getting worse.
Myth: You would eat if you really wanted to.
No one chooses to have an eating disorder just like no one chooses to have cancer. Individuals with EDs are often experiencing intense emotional pain (past trauma, low mood, anxiety or poor coping skills) behind such preoccupations. Individuals who have an eating disorder engage in disordered eating behaviors as a way to manage their pain.
Myth: Eating disorders are a female problem.
There is a common belief that eating disorders affect only young females who are preoccupied with their appearance. Yes, nearly 90 per cent of individuals living with AN or BN are female, but male patients are out there. Eating disorders typically begin in adolescence or early adulthood and can affect individuals regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and culture.
For more information, visit nedic.ca.