Mental illness is an area of our society that is currently gaining exposure, mostly thanks to a lot of the political turmoil in many countries. Additionally, the media has paved way towards enlightening everyone about the issue with eating disorders, body image issues, and overwhelming pressure to meet certain physical standards. Some are controversial, some are relatively successful.
That being said, there are still countless misconceptions in regards to eating disorders and disordered eating that have to be busted. I know that I am personally not a professional of this subject, nor have I been diagnosed with an eating disorder (though I have had plenty of experience with body dysmorphia and an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise). However, I have spoken to countless professionals as well as former and current ED victims regarding eating disorders. Please let me know if anything resonates with the topic at hand, or I may have missed something.
As a quick disclaimer, there may or may not be some pointers that I cover that may induce a trigger or a sense of stress if you have and/or still experience an eating disorder. Proceed with caution or feel free to click out of this post right now.
- Telling someone to avoid “triggers” is not helpful. It is so easy to suggest the “walk-away” or the “don’t-like-it-don’t-watch-it” approaches. But here’s the thing: even the most mundane objects, ideas, and/or images can serve as triggers. Here’s a few to enlighten you:
- A diet advertisement. Social media. An old sweater. A mirror. A toilet. A candy bar wrapper. A SIDEWALK. FORKS. WATER BOTTLES.
- Tension in the family. Turmoil in the work environment. Resentment in a relationship. Losing a competition. Being laid off, death, divorce, a break-up, an argument, a low grade, etc.
- Competitiveness. Favoritism. Academic pressure. Criticism. Rebellion. Perfectionism. Depression. Obsessive Compulsiveness. Post-Traumatic-Stress.
- Puberty. Sickness. Surgery. Injuries. Food poisoning. A parasite. Cancer.
- THE LIST NEVER ENDS.
- Every calorie matters. Even if it’s in a tablespoon of milk, a teaspoon of oil, a bite of a sandwich, a stick of gum, or even a packet of Splenda. While calorie counts can range from less than 2000 calories to even barely 200 calories, anyone with an ED has played with his or her calorie intake at least several hundred times during their disorder.
- Perception, especially of one’s personal expectations, is always distorted. ED patients never reach their end goal. It’s not that they cannot achieve these endeavors, it’s that they never stop pursuing anything. If an ED patient reaches a new low weigh-in, he/she sets an even lower weight goal to accomplish. Receive a perfect score on a test, and rather than celebrate, the individual continues studying to ace the next one. In short, those with eating disorders generally have extremely unattainable standards and are never satisfied. In general, this is why many wear largely sized clothing to cover their bodies (though they also wear these types of clothes to warm their naturally low-set body temperatures and/or to hide that they are losing weight).
- It’s more about the number on the scale or the image in the mirror. Think that ED’s only revolve around thinspiration and dieting? Think again. The disorder revolves around all kinds of issues pertaining to perfectionism, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and most of all, personal control. If anything, ANYTHING goes awry, even if it is the most minute detail of the day, then the mind throttles itself out of control and desperately seeks any way to re-grasp that control factor again.
- Eating disorders can be very dark. You’ll be surprised as to how many ED patients are involved in self-harm and suicidal tendencies. It is a convoluted maze that is impossible to escape and it is devastating. This is why many with eating disorders have natural tendencies towards gothic fashion, drug abuse, and the color black (though this may also be purely a style preference).
- Most victims know their eating disorders are not healthy. But they are undeniably addictive. The controlling factor and even the physical sensation of being a certain size is gratifying to the individual. There’s a strong sense of insecurity and secretiveness pertaining towards these rigid habits are immense, but incredibly minute in comparison to how satisfying it is to remain in a comfort bubble.
- Despite the subject above, some people do. Orthorexia is a relatively recent and exclusive eating disorder that encompasses consuming only what the individual considers to be healthy or safe. Decisions can be based on sources they have read/watched that contain fear-mongering information or even personal trial-and-error with physical reactions. However, many orthorexics may deny physical cues that can articulate a nutritional deficiency, hormonal imbalance, fatigue, or any other disease for the sake of “purity”. Simply said, some use mental gymnastics to delude themselves into believing they are in excellent shape when in reality, their bodies need rest or flexibility.
- They satiate their cravings in all types of ways. There are numerous methods that ED patients mentally fulfill their inner foodies. Watching other people eat (especially on social media). Watching cooking shows on television. Looking at “sinful” recipes online. Baking every decadence known to man (but obviously never or rarely ever tasting the results). Chewing and spitting. Sniffing an empty food package. Vomiting after eating. Taking a day out of the week to binge and then fasting or restricting for the rest of the week. Then again, if they really want to blunt their appetites for good, water, cigarettes, diet pills, and straight-up denial also do the trick.
- Just because anyone is at a healthy weight does not mean they have a healthy relationship with food. As iterated in my review of To The Bone, much of the negative reviews stemmed from the disappointment with the protagonist’s ghostly image. Fortunately, most of the supporting ED characters appeared more mundane. That being said, it is radically stereotypical to believe that all ED patients are walking skeletons. People with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes–athletic, overweight, obese, underweight, average–it all depends on the mindset and the emotional complications that center around control.
What did I miss? Any other myths about eating disorders that need to be debunked?