This week is national eating disorders awareness week. This is a time to bring more awareness to eating disorders and break down stigmas surrounding them. ED's are mental illnesses with the highest rates of mortality. They're a big deal and should be taken really seriously. Because there is still some hesitation to talk about these issues, there are some big misunderstandings out there. Today I'm debunking 3 big myths I've heard about eating disorders.
1. You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.
This is a big no. I've talked about this before
, but you can not assess someone's health just by looking at them. Weight doesn't tell us about health. We are all created with different bodies of varying shapes and sizes. Observing a person's body does not tell you whether or not they have an eating disorder. People with eating disorders come in all sizes, both
large and small. Eating disorders don't discriminate based on gender, socioeconomic status, race or ability. Men, women, athletes, young or old are all susceptible. It can be harmful to assume that someone in a large body could never have a problem, just as we can't assume a person in a very small body does
have a problem. It's okay to be concerned about someone you love but try to approach the situation from a place of compassion and care, without judgement or assumptions.
2. The media is to blame for eating disorders
While the media does play a big role in perpetuating diet culture
, they aren't to blame for causing eating disorders. ED's are complicated mental illnesses. Their etiologies are multifaceted and many factors can come into play. If someone in your family has struggled with an eating disorder, you may be at a higher risk for developing an ED yourself. There is a genetic predisposition that increases the risk. Preexisting mental health illnesses are also predictors of future ED's. The media can create pressure to look a certain way and negatively impact a person's body image but can not inherently cause eating disorders. This doesn't mean we should stop working to change what we see in the media. The messages are still harmful and diet culture is a big, big force driving people to dieting.
3. Diets are a normal part of life
There is no denying that dieting is widespread and extremely common. Many diets these days are masquerading as lifestyle change. They're more difficult to identify but still very present. But just because they're common, we can't justify and normalize their presence in our lives. Dieting is a major risk factor for developing a future eating disorder. Dieting practices place us at a higher risk for other health concerns as well, like weight cycling, anxiety, depression and metabolic issues. If we get sucked into this idea that diets are normal and we just have to accept them in our lives, we are doing a disservice to our culture. True lifestyle change and improving health behaviors are a good thing. But restriction and dieting are not.
Eating disorders are scary and tough to battle through but recovery is very possible. There is a lot of support out there if you or someone you know needs help. The National Eating Disorder Association
is an excellent resource for finding support and reliable information. If you would like to talk to one of their volunteers, call the helpline at 800-931-2237.