First off, let’s talk about what eating disorders are and who can be affected by them. There are a few different types of eating disorders, but the major ones are; anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. You may also hear them by the names; anorexia, bulimia, and BED. A common misconception is that a person can only have one type of eating disorder, however, a person can have one or more eating disorder at the same time.
Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia is the refusal or inability to maintain a healthy body weight. Let’s think about that second part again, inability to maintain a healthy body weight. A person can be considered anorexic even if they are trying to gain weight.
Bulimia Nervosa: Bulimia is a combination of excessive eating followed by purging or other compensatory strategies to prevent weight gain. While self-induced vomiting is the most thought of method to counteract excessive eating, it’s not the only method. People suffering from bulimia develop compensatory strategies like, excessive exercise and misuse of medications to name a few.
Binge Eating Disorder: BED is when a person consumes excessive amounts of food in a short amount of time. Not to downplay the severity of BED, but we are all guilty of this from time to time. A person with BED follows this binging or excessive eating pattern at least once per week for a three-month period. To clarify, BED seems similar to bulimia, the main difference is BED lacks purging or compensatory strategies found in bulimia nervosa.
Now that we have a better understanding of the differences between eating disorders, let’s talk about what they share in common. Many eating disorders have similar symptoms and emotional weight associated with them. But, an important thing to remember is that not every person with an eating disorder will have all the symptoms or warning signs. Everyone is different in how they present themselves and how they feel.
Symptoms of eating disorders may include:
- Changes in mood
- Rapid weight loss or weight gain
- Uncontrollable thoughts of food
- Frequent extreme diets
- Hiding food or eating in secret
- Avoiding family or friends
- Skipping meals
- Obsessive thoughts of body weight
- Excessive exercise
- Incorrect use of laxatives
- Self-induced vomiting
- Distorted self-image
- Constant checking of weight/measurements
These symptoms or warning signs often get jumped on too quickly, if you or a friend have one or more of these signs it doesn’t necessarily mean you have an eating disorder. While symptom checkers online can often help a person get a better understanding of an illness, it is always best to speak with your doctor.
POP QUIZ: Let’s see how much you’ve been paying attention. Watch the following video clip, a trailer for a Netflix Original film, called To the Bone. Think about what you have learned and see if you can spot the common misconceptions involving eating disorders.
How many misconceptions did you notice? How many ideas have been generalized for the purpose of the film? Let’s take the time to filter through this clip to determine what’s fact and what’s fiction.
● Some people with eating disorders have excessive thoughts regarding calories in food.
● Some people exercise excessively, this is more common with anorexia and bulimia.
Key words being some people with eating disorders, not all.
● People with eating disorders often use their weight and eating habits to be in control.
● A person could end up in the hospital from the negative side effects associated with eating disorders.
● Family based therapy has been proven to help treat eating disorders.
● Loved ones of those with eating disorders can be greatly affected.
● People with eating disorders can learn ways to have healthy habits and meaningful lives.
● A doctor would refuse to help their patient, this is not true, they take an oath to do just the opposite.
● All people with anorexia look like the main character in the film. People with eating disorders, even anorexia, come in all different shapes, sizes, genders, and skin colors.
● A hamburger cake can get rid of an eating disorder.
● Everyone can afford a specialized inpatient treatment program for eating disorders. While this is not true, there are many free resources, support groups, and in some cases therapy that insurance may cover.
Eating disorders can affect anyone. Eating disorders are considered a mental illness that do not discriminate based on age, gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. Look at what the speakers in the next video clip have to say about eating disorders.
This clip does a good job sharing testimonials of people living with eating disorders. It also talks about the fact that eating disorders are mental illnesses. The DSM-5, a handbook that health care professionals use to diagnose mental illnesses, has officially included binge eating disorder as a mental illness. Both anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa had previously been included. The clip also shares information such as; women more likely to be affected by an eating disorder. It fails to mention how women are also more likely to seek treatment and have an official diagnosis. Studies have linked eating disorders with an increase in alcohol abuse, medication misuse, suicidality, compromised cognitive functioning, hospitalization, and rehospitalization. While the clip missed a few important factors of eating disorders, the purpose was to raise awareness during National Eating Disorders Awareness week.
Eating disorders affect people of all age, gender, ethnicity, shape, size, and socioeconomic status. As readers it is crucial that we stop and decipher what we view in the media as fact or fiction. We can ask ourselves if what we are viewing is a misconception or stereotype of a certain illness and change the way we perceive that illness.
Fairburn, C. G., & Brownell, K. D. (2005). Eating disorders and obesity: a comprehensive handbook (2nd ed.). Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=mM7SAgAAQBAJ&lr=&source=gbs_navlinks_s
Keel, P. K., Klump, K. L., Miller, K. B., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2005). Shared transmission of eating disorders and anxiety disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 38(2), 99–105. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.20168
Netflix. (2017, June 20). To the Bone Official Trailer [HD] Netflix. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=705yRfs6Dbs.
POPSUGAR. (2016, February 28). Heartbreaking Video Shows What Eating Disorders Really Look Like. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVifJ6I-i7g.
Singh, S., Accurso, E. C., Hail, L., Goldschmidt, A. B., & Le Grange, D. (2018). Outcome parameters associated with perceived helpfulness of family‐based treatment for adolescent eating disorders. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 51(6), 574–578. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.22863