Eating disorders are complex, misunderstood and subject to a lot of “did he/she really just say that?!” types of statements. Trying to dodge these annoying comments can sometimes feel like trying to dodge rain drops without an umbrella. If you or a loved one have been impacted by an eating disorder, you’ve inevitably heard at least a few of the following comments:
1. “He/She is so skinny. I wish I had that problem.”
Obsessions over every ounce of food consumed, anxiety over how many kcals of energy have been expended or plotting how to avoid meals is nothing to envy. Hiding under baggy clothes, evading birthday parties or missing graduations because of the potential for food involvement is not a state anyone “wishes” to be in. Likewise, the inability to maintain a job or relationships due to frequent hospitalizations and/or battling osteoporosis and having a full set of dentures in one’s 20’s is unenviable.
Eating disorders are deadly, not desirable.
2. “Eating disorders are a choice.”
Like physical illness, mental illness is not a choice. Nobody wakes up and decides that they’re going to develop a debilitating fear of food. Nobody wants to spend time in the hospital and have a nasogastric tube inserted due to an inability to eat.
Eating disorders are a largely genetic and widely misunderstood group of disorders that lead to significant suffering and in some cases, death. Abstaining from eating disorder behavior can be nearly impossible and/or medically risky in the absence of therapeutic intervention.
3. “He/She doesn’t look they have an eating disorder.”
Most eating disorders aren’t externally visible. The vast majority of people with eating disorders are actually of normal body weight or overweight. In fact, weight is not a diagnostic criteria for bulimia or binge eating disorder, both of which are more prevalent than anorexia. Eating patterns and thought processes in regards to food, body and exercise are better indicators of a potential disorder.
4. “The media causes eating disorders.”
There is no single factor that causes someone to develop an eating disorder. In reality, eating disorders are the result of a complex interplay between a number of biological, social, genetic and environmental factors. Eating disorders are frequently maladaptive means of coping with life stressors, not simply about feeling the need to be thin for Facebook photos or looking like a celebrity they see on magazine covers.
5. “Eating disorders only affect rich white girls.”
Eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect men, women and children of all races, ages, ethnicities, religions and social classes. Eating disorders exist all around the globe. No one is exempt.
6. “People with eating disorders are sneaky and manipulative.”
Most people with eating disorders are not sneaky and manipulative by nature. Sometimes the overwhelming desire to hide eating disordered behaviors from close friends and family – either out of shame, fear of getting caught or both – causes people to act in deceitful and manipulative ways. These actions should not be considered a reflection of a person’s character, but rather a reflection of their disease. Most eating disorder sufferers experience their own dishonesty as extremely painful, out of character and a deep source of shame.
7. “Why don’t you just eat?”
In a way, it’s like asking why blind people can’t see or deaf people can’t hear. Eating disorders trigger biological and chemical changes in the brain as well as microbiome alterations in the gut. For someone with Anorexia Nervosa, for instance, food feels life-threatening and terrifying. There is far more to eating disorder recovery than “just eating,” including restoration of physical health, learning and applying healthier coping mechanism for life stressors, rebuilding a sense of self/self-worth and repairing one’s relationship with their body.
No matter who you are, it is important to remember how powerful comments can be (negative or positive). The world would be a much more tolerant place if instead of making assumptions about things we don’t know, we took the time to properly educate ourselves.
To find out how you can get involved, visit www.waldencenter.org.
Laura Roias is director at Walden’s Worcester clinic providing clinical, administrative and fiscal oversight and development for the clinic. Formerly, she was assistant director of Walden’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs where she obtained extensive experience conducting individual, group and family therapy.
Ms. Roias employs a strengths-based perspective and uses a wide range of therapeutic modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Interpersonal Therapy. She received her master’s degree from the University of North Carolina.
*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden Behavioral Care and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment. Comments are welcome, but respect for the opinions of others is encouraged.