With all my free time this year I have read a lot of journal and popular press articles about eating disorders, and many of them contain myths/stereotypes that really bug me. The following are often they are writing about as if they are fact for everyone with and eating disorder, but while they may be true for a lot of people with eating disorders they are not true for everyone!
1) Eating disorders are about control/make people feel in control
This will continue to be the one that drives me crazy the most. I have met a lot of people in treatment that say the eating disorder is the one thing they can control, but for me the more I try to control my eating the more out of control I feel. Even when in the depths of my eating disorder I don’t feel in control…I will often try to plan to eat less and then I don’t, or I restrict but don’t lose weight – if I was “in control” those things wouldn’t happen! Furthermore, I have found that the the more I try to control my eating the more likely I am to let the all or nothing creep in which leads to binge/purging, something that makes me feel even more out of control. To sum it up, I feel like I have NO control over my eating/weight but the eating disorder definitely can control me.
2) People with an eating disorder feel like the ED is the one thing they are good at
Again, I have met a lot of people in treatment who feel this way, but for me, I feel like the eating disorder is just one more thing that I suck at. I always feel like I haven’t restricted enough or lost enough weight to be good at it.
3) People with an eating disorder (specifically anorexia) hate to eat
When I did a session at the med school with the head psychiatrist for inpatient, someone asked a question about this and his answer was that many people with anorexia will claim that they hate to eat, but it is very rarely true. Rather, they fear the weight gain or feel like they don’t deserve to eat, but they don’t hate the actual act of eating. This is definitely true for me – I love the taste of food, I just hate feeling full and have a hard time not viewing food as something with calories that will lead to weight gain. But yeah, food is yummy.
4) People with eating disorders are perfectionists and get straight As
Again, this might be true of a lot of people with eating disorders, but not everyone. Specifically, many people with chronic eating disorders might have been great students before the disorder, but eventually the eating disorder makes it really hard to function in both school and work.
5) People with eating disorders talk a lot about food, weight, and their body
I think this one might be true for people who are just starting to develop disordered eating, but most people I know with eating disorders do not go around saying “I’m so fat.” They may say that they are struggling with body image/feeling fat it to a few close friends if they are having a bad day, but definitely not to a group. In fact, my friends without eating disorders ask me if they look fat or talk about their bodies far more then my friends with eating disorders! I know I tell my closest supports when I am having a bad body image day, but I would never ask someone else if a shirt/dress makes me look fat – I don’t want people looking at my body and I don’t want the attention!
6) Eating Disorders are about getting attention
I have met a few people in treatment (mostly adolescents) who talk about how the eating disorder is a way for them to get attention, but most of my friends with eating disorders absolutely do not want any attention drawn to their struggle. I know that I often want my professionals to realize when I am struggling, but I do not want anyone else (especially family and friends) to see. I am embarrassed by it and I absolutely do not want to be known as “that girl with an eating disorder.”