myths of anorexia

1.  “Anorexia is a just a teenage fad.  They’ll outgrow it.”

Anorexia is a severe medical illness.  It is not a fad, lifestyle choice or innocent way of losing weight. 

All eating disorder patients need help, the sooner the better. It does not go away on its own.

Seek help if you suspect an eating disorder with someone you love….restrictive eating, over-exercising, never eating with others, using the bathroom after meals, or in baggy clothes to hide weight loss.

2.  “Aren’t they just doing this all on purpose to lose weight?”

Anorexia is not a form of dieting. It is an unnatural physical response to unresolved emotional conflicts.  Eating disorder behaviors are unhealthy coping mechanisms to perceived or underlying life stressors.

Although the loss of weight is intentional, the addiction to unhealthy eating behaviors is not.  

Once hooked on restricting, binging or purging, the brain’s reward center drives these unhealthy behaviors, similar to nicotine, alcohol, drugs or gambling. 

3.  “Why don’t they just eat something so they will get better?”

You can re-feed the body, but you can’t force an anorexic to wantto eat until their mind is ready to be healed.  Anorexics have an inner voice that says, “I would rather die than gain weight.”   

Restricting and purging behaviors are the only logical responses to the inner voice.  Every pound lost to them is an accomplishment.  Their goal is to get as thin as possible and still be able function. 

In their twisted thinking, “survival” means “not eating.”  

4.  “Binging sounds like fun.”

Binging is an instinctual survival response to the severe restriction that precedes it.  The anorexic becomes so hungry that they voraciously devour food as though they are starving to death, which in fact they are.  The process is riddled with guilt, shame and self-disgust.  It is expensive and uncomfortable. They become obsessive and ritualistic about eating; planning binges consumes their thoughts and time.   

Medically, restricting, binging and purging are dangerous.

5.  “Once an anorexic, always an anorexic.”

Healing is possible, although it may take up to seven years even with therapy.  Without treatment, these disordered eating patterns can last a lifetime.  The emotional root of the problem needs to be identified and treated.  It takes a team to make an anorexic well; Including a primary care provider, therapist, psychiatrist and nutritionist.

6.  “There is nothing I can do to help my child from developing an eating disorder.”

Parents can help by promoting body image acceptance of their child and themselves, focusing away from the thin ideal portrayed in media.  They can help build a child’s self-esteem. Make sure your child feels heard and knows they are worthwhile.  Recognize their strengths and talents and bolster them up when they face disappointments in life. Parents can promote resilience against social forces by acting as a mentor to their child, providing a loving, clean and safe home, and creating a positive family environment.