6 Things People Don’t Understand about Eating Disorders

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In today’s society, it’s extremely challenging to know what a healthy relationship with food should look like. We’re expected to care about what we eat and look a certain way to live a “healthy” lifestyle. While at the same time, we are bombarded with unhealthy foods, unrealistic expectations of what our bodies should look like, and weekly diet trends. This brings me to ask the following question: 

The misconceptions we have around eating disorders may prevent you from noticing. Leaving an eating disorder untreated can have life-threatening consequences, which is why it’s crucial to uncover the truth behind eating disorders.  

Even though eating disorders differ from person to person, there are some common signs and misconceptions we can acknowledge to help prepare ourselves to support those who have an eating disorder. 

1. Eating disorders aren’t about food 

Telling someone or yourself to just eat more or less is not the solution to the problem. It’s not about the amount of food you are or aren’t eating but rather understanding the root cause of the eating disorder.  

Eating disorders can evolve from an array of causes such as genetics, trauma, body image, control issues, and cultural or societal pressures. 

Realizing that eating disorders aren’t about food helps us to unravel the outside triggers that could be causing the eating disorder.  

2. People don’t “choose” to have an eating disorder 

An eating disorder can lead to a life-threatening illness, it is not a lifestyle choice.  

Yes, we are all responsible for ourselves, and we decide what and how much we eat. For some, this may seem like an easy part of the human condition but for someone with an eating disorder, it becomes a constant battle. 

Eating disorders may start with someone choosing to starve themselves to get into a pair of jeans but there is a psychological element behind this choice that we must understand. Once an eating disorder evolves, it can take over your life. 

3. Eating disorders aren’t easy to identify  

Not everyone who has an eating disorder fits the stereotype. Being extremely underweight isn’t a sure-fire sign of someone having an eating disorder. For example, it’s common for people with bulimia to appear to be average weight, but that doesn’t mean they’re healthy. The same goes for people who look healthy simply because of their size. It’s hard to guess based on their physical appearance and our obsession with commenting on people’s bodies further complicates the issue.  

4. Eating disorders don’t just affect teenage girls 

Weight is not the only misconception when identifying someone with an eating disorder. It’s often assumed eating disorders only impact adolescent girls. Yet, eating disorders don’t discriminate against age, racial or ethnic identity, or gender. Statistics show that 2% of men struggle with binge eating disorders.  

5. We should speak up in a sensitive manner 

Commenting on someone’s weight or eating habits is very triggering for someone with an eating disorder. Remember their eating disorder is not their fault; it’s an illness. But if we avoid speaking up, the consequences can be detrimental to the person’s health. That’s why it’s important to communicate in a sensitive and educated manner. Let them know that you’ve noticed their patterns, that you’re worried about them, and that you care for them. Make an effort to be as supportive as possible and let them know you’re there for them. 

6. Recovery is possible 

Recovering from an eating disorder is not something that comes easily but it’s possible! Recovery looks different case by case but no matter the journey, it’s important that they don’t face it alone. Seeking support - be through counselling or recovery meetings - can make all the difference for a successful recovery.  

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder know that we are here for you. Avalon has a variety of free resources and meetings to help guide you through your recovery every step of the way. 

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