Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hurtful misconceptions.

I think one of the hardest things about having an eating disorder is constantly being judged. Eating disorders are fairly well known, ask almost anybody what an “anorexic” or “bulimic” is and they will usually give you some kind of definition. The problem is that the information that is available is either a) inaccurate
b) incomplete
c) the perfect breeding ground for misconceptions
In some ways I almost wish having an eating disorder was as well known as having depersonalization disorder or something of the sort. Why? Because then the people that could help you would know how and the people that didn't wouldn't try. At least they wouldn't be able to add their 2 cents worth when discussing your situation. There are people that are helpfull and supportive once they discover you have an ED, and everyone is well meaning to be sure. There are just some common misconceptions that can make recovering or even just being understood difficult.

Here are some misconceptions that I have personally been faced with:

(when I refer to eating disorders I generally mean anorexia, though I'm sure some examples could be applied to other eating disorders as well)

" If you are a recovering anorexic, as long as you're gaining weight, you're fine."

This one strikes a particular chord with me because I find myself faced with it a lot these days. And it's upsetting. Why? Well becasue it focuses on an aspect that, although important, is only really a "symptom" of having an eating disorder. I could have just as easily switched from anorexia to bulimia or a binge eating disorder. I would be gaining weight then, but still in the throes of an eating disorder. I've watched this happen to people who were in IP, and that's where it started. No one realized it though, because no ont was looking.
It hurts me when instead of asking how I'm feeling/doing in terms of recovery people ask me "How's your weight?" My weight does is not a definition of my emotional or mental well being! I want to be cared about on a deeper level then just a sheer medical one. ED's are so much more then just food and eating and I wish there was some way to help people see that.

"Only girls have eating disorders."

Bullshit! Sorry for the language, but I think the situation warrents it. Although this is not personally offensive I still think it's very wrong and hurtful. I imagine it makes the male sufferes of eating disorders feel like their some kind of freaks, because they have a "woman's illness". Anorexia is a MENTAL disorder, it is not gender spesific. There was a guy in the psych ward I was in that was constantly harrased because of this and I felt so bad for him. (To clarify in this ward there were patients with mixed mental disorders – ranging from depression to alcohol addiction to autizm). Some boys/men suffer for years because they feel too ashaimed to admit their problem to their families and ask for help. All becasue of this misconception.

"Eating disorders and just ways to lose weight. They're something like a very extreme diet"

Another misconception that makes me angry. This is not a game we play. Eating disorders are not diets. Dieting may set off an eating disorder, but it morphs into something far more complicated and far worse. It's not something we can just "stop" and eat normally. And it's NOT something you should actively strive for achieving. It's not like going on the Atkins or South Beach diet. This is something that will completely consume your life till in litteraly becomes your life. And when that isn't enough it takes what's left of your "life" away from you, because all ED's end in death.

"People develop eating disorders because they want to be thin."

Again, not true. We may have started out down the path because we wanted to lose weight, but even this is not always the case. Some suffers never want to lose weight. All they long for is that sense of control over something, or a coping/numbing mechanism. As I mentioned before even for those who start off "just wanting to lose weight" it develops into something far more complex. Personally I started extreme dieting to lose weight. But when my ED really developed was when I was faced with some very painful situations and I didn't know how to cope. Anorexia gave me the sense of control I was craving and it spiralled downhill from there.

I'm sure there are many more examples like this, but these are the ones I'm most commonly faced with. And as much as I hate to say this they do affect me. People that think like this turn ED's into some sort of a self-obsession, where you're willing to do ANYTHING for self-betterment. It's something you should just “snap out of ” and “grow up already”. But it's so much more then that. This is so hard to explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it, but it often has to be done. Recovery without the support of the people around you is very, very hard. And in order to support your efforts they have to understand at least a little bit about your struggles. My own family has told me that I just need to “start gaining” because I look “ugly and no guy will find me attractive”. I cried after that discussion. Not because what they were saying, but because of the way they oversimplified my illness. I wanted to shout at them “ You think I would starve myself like this to look good for someone? You think I would exercise till I cry and nearly faint from exhaustion because I'm vain? You think I enjoyed watching everyone eat a delicious meal while I sit there sipping water and hoping no one will notice?” But I can't blame them, it's just a misconception. All I can do is patiently try to explain how things really are best I can, and weather they understand or choose to accept what I say is their choice. I will continue to fight my battles and celebrate my victories because I know how much effort goes into each fight. And I hope that some day they will understand and be able to celebrate with me.

What is the most hurtful/upsetting misconception regarding ED's that you've been faced with?


  1. L,
    I know exactly where you're coming from- thank you for this post. The misconceptions about eating disorders make me SO ANGRY as well!!!! It's frustrating how people assume they know what we're going through, when really they have no idea. You're right, though, that the only way to try to repair the misconceptions is through patience and honesty. It's not easy, though, I know that- good for you for celebrating each victory and staying strong throughout the fight- it is lonely at times, but keep in mind that there are many other people out in the world who understand what you're going through. I like to think of it as, all of us in recovery are in it together. We each have our own personal journey, but there are people out there who understand.

    The misconceptions that make the most angry are definitely that weight defines an ED and that people with EDs are vain and shallow (making it all about appearance). I have been weight-recovered for quite some time but still struggle with behaviors and thoughts, and it's hard to feel like some people don't acknowledge my struggle simply b/c I don't "look" like I have an ED.

  2. Very well put! There are tons of misconceptions about the disorder and you've summed up a good portion of them very nicely. The only thing I'm having trouble relating to is the desire to become thin. That's originally, as far as I can remember, what part of my ED started with - I wanted to be attractive toward others, I wanted to be the skinny ripped kid, like some of my friends, who could get girls to like me. Eventually, as that didn't come (because there's more to liking someone than appearance), I kept spiralling downward and I think the ED helped me cope with the disappointment, and eventually other things in my life. Now it's changed and I can see there are many other factors involved, but I still fear that gaining weight will make me less pleasing to the eyes of others, even though I know that it's not really true and they'll care about me regardless of my size.

    I whole-heartedly agree with your feelings about the "just gain weight to be cured" mentallity. If only it were that easy, don't you think a lot more of us would just do that?

  3. Yes, thank you so much! This post is very true. There is not a lot of true awareness about eating disorders out there.

    One of the hardest things for me is when people act like they can make everything better by saying things like "you're not fat". (I get this one all the time!) I've even had a few friends tell me that I'm small, but I don't look anorexic, which made me want to lose even more weight. (I'm still not weight restored.) But people are only trying to help, and you're right, patience is the way to go.

    It's hard when people act like an ED is a choice, not a disease. That one always bugs me.

    Keep fighting!

  4. These misconceptions really anger me, as well. I have always said that if anorexia was just about losing weight, then it wouldn't be so hard to recover from. It's the mental aspect of the disease (which is what anorexia mainly is-mental) that is the main issue, not the weight. Like you said, it's only a symptom of the disorder. But as one becomes more and more malnourished, they find it even more difficult to think rationally and then it does become more about the weight until the sufferer begins recovery and begins to realise that it was much more than that.

    This is a great post, L, and so well written. Maybe you should put this on WBB :P


  5. Reading all of those questions made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end! I hate it when people treat ED like some unreal made up thing!

    I received a letter from a lady telling me that practically told me I was a huge sinner and just needed to "trust God' and go eat until I was at a normal weight!!! I don't even know how to say how upset that made, and still makes, me!! And the lady that wrote it, her daughter had an Ed!!

    I tore that letter to shreds and burnt it! That felt amazing!

    My nutritionist ALWAYS tells me that recovery is NOT ABOUT THE WEIGHT!! My weight is only a number - not the only determination of health! Not to say it doesn't play a significant part but it is not the main focus!!

    My major frustration along with everything else you all mentioned..

    Amazing post!! You should write a book!

    Your a fighter!