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Dr. Eva Helpard
Counselling & Psychotherapy

February 2 – 9, 2014 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week. An event was held at UBCO on Wednesday, February 5 where I was invited to sit on a panel of experts to entertain questions and increase awareness and understanding of this important and serious mental health issue. The questions were very good and show that many myths about eating disorders are currently being challenged. The following is a response to five of the more common myths about eating disorders:

Eating Disorder Facts and Myths

There are many major misconceptions about eating disorders that often lead to myths and stigma. These make it difficult for individuals, family members and loved ones to recognize eating disorders and often create barriers to seeking treatment.Below are five of the more common myths about eating disorders. Increased understanding and transparency that aim to dispel these myths is an important step to addressing this serious mental health problem.

 

Myth: You can tell if a person has an eating disorder by how they look

Fact:† People struggling with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. Anorexia is only one type of eating disorder that often results in severe and noticeable weight loss. However, there are many forms of eating disorders including bulimia, binge eating, and EDNOS (Eating Disorders not otherwise specified) where weight loss is not a factor. People with these other forms of eating disorders can be underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. Their weight can fluctuate considerably over the course of time. Eating disorders may also be present in athletes who may appear extremely fit. Weight is only one of many factors that are considered when diagnosing an eating disorder.

 

Myth: Eating Disorders are a lifestyle choice that is about vanity

Fact: †Eating disorders result from multiple factors. They are a serious and potentially life threatening mental illness that can take over a personís life, causing immense suffering. While body image concerns may play a role in the development of an eating disorder, for most, an eating disorder is not related to a desire to meet social ideals.

 

Myth: Eating Disorders affect only white, middle class, adolescent females

Fact:† Although it is true that the majority of people who struggle with eating disorders are young women, eating disorders do, in fact, affect everyone: men and women, across all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, and at any age.

 

Myth: Over protective or controlling parents cause eating disorders

Fact: Eating disorders are not ìcausedî by any one factor including family dynamics or parenting styles. It would be over-simplistic to assume that one type of parenting style is a determining factor when itís clear that many children and adolescents from these families do not develop eating disorders. What we do know is that the involvement of family and friends in the treatment and recovery of an eating disorder is crucial. People who have the support, love and encouragement of friends and family in their recovery have a much greater chance of succeeding in overcoming this challenging disorder.

 

Myth: Recovery from an eating disorder only requires a healthy diet and exercise.

Fact: Although healthy eating and an active lifestyle are a part of every personís overall physical and mental health, recovery from an eating disorder requires much more. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness that requires professional treatment, family and peer support, and a strong commitment for change. The sooner a person who struggles with an eating disorder receives a proper assessment and treatment, the better the outcome.

 

Sources: Adapted from:

Sheppard Pratt Health System. (n.d.). Eating Disorder Facts and Myths. In The Center for Eating Disorders Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved Feb 2, 2014, http://eatingdisorder.org/eating-disorder-information/facts-and-myths/

NEDC. (January 13, 2014). Five Common Misconceptions about Eating Disorders. In NEDC. Retrieved February 2, 2014, http://www.nedc.com.au/myths-about-eating-disorders