Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top 10 myths about Anorexia

Living with an eating disorder is hard enough, but one of the things I can't stand the most is when people make comments about how if I just ate and stop paying so much attention in the mirror, then I could be free of it. I wish that was the case. Generally, people don't understand the dynamics of an eating disorder and when it's brought up, they use what the media has told them about eating disorders to talk to the person suffering with one. I'm here to tell you the top 10 myths on Anorexia and my personal experience with it.
Myth #1: "Individuals with anorexia are just trying to get attention."  Truth is, for so long I was quiet about my eating disorder that most of the people in my life didn't know. And the more people that do know about it now, I find myself getting irritated when that's all they can talk to me about. I didn't develop an eating disorder to get attention, I developed one because I was unhappy with myself. Most of the individuals that I've met with eating disorders don't like the attention they get from having one. For me, when I got to my lowest weight of 84lbs, I was embarrassed of the way I looked and I constantly wondered if people who passed by me in public could tell if I had an eating disorder and all the negative thoughts they were probably thinking about it. If you know someone with an eating disorder, don't make it the main focus in your relationship with them because more than likely, they feel uncomfortable talking about it with you all the time.
Myth #2: "Anorexia is about vanity. If a person with Anorexia says, 'I feel fat,' it is just to get compliments. I can't tell you how many times I have heard that one. "You're not fat. You're only saying it because you like the responses that you get from it." If an individual with an eating disorder says they feel fat, it's because in their mind, they really do. I know that I still find myself looking at myself in the mirror and really do believe that I am overweight. My logical brain knows I'm not overweight, but my eating disorder mind tells me I am. If you do compliment an individual with anorexia or bulimia or BED (binge eating disorder,) they will most likely not believe it, so why would they say things just to get compliments? I know for me, it just makes me uncomfortable most of the time.
Myth #3: "People choose to develop anorexia." An eating disorder is not a choice. One of the things I learned in treatment was that some people are just born with the disease and all it takes is a small diet or the mean comment from a peer at school that can trigger the eating disorder, or even trauma in that person's life. It was a combination for me. Kids at school picked on me because I hit puberty sooner than anyone else in my grade, and by the time I was 10, I had been molested by my older brother for 2 years and raped by my uncle. I found a documentary on TV about eating disorders and the more I thought about the subject, the more I kept thinking about how it would help with my problems. As I've learned since the beginning of treatment, an eating disorder is the coping mechanism for a deeper problem. And I have learned that to be true. The more stressed I am about something, the more eating disorder thoughts I have. It's the only thing I could control. Or so I thought. Anorexia is a mental illness that chooses us, we don't choose them.
Myth #4: "Eating disorders are mainly about food and weight." Like I said in #3, eating disorders are a way of coping with other issues. Restricting, binging, and purging are all ways of you to be able to control something in your life if you live with an eating disorder. I could control when I ate, when I purged and how much I wanted to eat. When my life was out of control with external forces, I still had my eating disorder and it was all mine. No one else could control it the way I could. Individuals with eating disorders use them for control. Control over calories. Control over the number on the scale. Most people with eating disorders don't even realize how sick they are despite what the numbers say. All they was is to have control. That's how it was and sometimes still is for me.
Myth #5: "Anorexia is a young, rich, white woman's problem."  Oh my God, where do I even start with this one? Being in treatment, I met all kinds of people with different kinds of eating disorders. I met 3 men, one with anorexia, one with bulimia and one with BED. I met girls that came from a home with money, I met girls who's family had enough money to get by. I met girls that came with a background of trauma and girls that didn't have a tough upbringing. I admit that the majority of people I know with eating disorders have a rough past. I know that I do. But usually it's a combination of things that cause the eating disorder. Movies and celebrity gossip shows have always spotlighted eating disorders on rich, white woman. They don't focus on men, or women with tough pasts.
Myth #6: "People with anorexia don't engage in binge eating."  Me personally, I'm not a binge eater. I think I've only partook in it a few times through all my years of living with my eating disorder. Generally if a person with anorexia does binge eat, they generally feel so guilty and angry with themselves, that they partake in bulimia behaviors; purging, using laxatives, or working out too much. For me, I engaged in these behaviors because of the type of eating disorder I have. I am is what's considered a "purging anorexic." A lot of people that don't know too much about eating disorders often generalize them into one category. There are so many different types of eating disorders and often there is a combination of a couple different ones within an individual. So what I'm saying is if you know someone with anorexia, they most likely have other eating disorder behaviors that they engage in.
Myth #7: "A person cannot have anorexia if they eat three meals a day."  Food restriction is not the only factor in anorexia. With me, it varies on the day. Some days I can go all day eating what's considered "normal" and other days I will still eat my 3 meals but restrict what I consume. I will restrict maybe calories or a type of food because it scares me. I have my "safe foods" that I can go days eating it in a row because I can control the amount of calories in it. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a safe food for me. Red meat is something that I just can't do. An individual with an eating disorder may find foods that healthy to be unsafe foods. I know that with my eating disorder, I am terrified of eating apples, even though I know how good they are for me. The amount of calories in them scare me. Same with orange juice. So just because you see a friend or family member eating their 3 meals a day, doesn't mean that they aren't restricting what they eat in other ways. If you know someone with an eating disorder that is working towards recovery and they are restricting in different ways, approach them kindly and let them know that you've noticed. That works for me sometimes.
Myth #8: "You cannot die from anorexia if you exercise to keep your heart and body strong." Exercising is one of the most popular ways of "purging" when a person has an eating disorder. I learned when I was at my smallest weight that I couldn't even exercise because I was too weak. The people who mostly believe this myth is the individual with the eating disorder. They tell themselves that they are "not sick enough" to die from this disease. Normally their perception of themselves is so distorted that they don't see how skinny they are or how sick they look. I know that this was the case for me. It wasn't until I got back from treatment and I looked at my pictures from this summer that I realized how sick I really was. And it wasn't until my doctor told me that I had less than a year left to live if I continued with my eating disorder behaviors, that I realized that I really am going to die from my eating disorder. I had one leg in my grave and I was doing enough to get through each day. I couldn't stand up on my own. I couldn't go for a walks with my kids. If I would have gotten meningitis before I went to treatment, my doctor said there's a good chance I wouldn't have lived through it. It's divine intervention that I didn't get sick until I put some weight on and I was in a healthier state of mind.
Myth #9: "People with eating disorders always look underweight." Media often only shows the extreme cases of anorexia where the individual looks like they are on their death bed. Sometimes that is the case. Like I said above, I looked sick. I looked like I was on the verge of losing everything. When I was in my active bulimia, my cheeks appeared chunky because of the constant purging I was doing. Often when a person is purging, they are still not "getting rid of" every single calorie they consumed. If an individual partakes in binge eating, they will overeat because they know that there will be some sort of purging involved. For me, I would eat either a normal amount of calories or under eat, then I would purge or use laxatives anyway. Then there are people with BED which is a quite serious eating disorder because of the different health risks it brings that you might not get with anorexia or bulimia. Living with an eating disorder for over half of my life, I found myself judging overweight people at some point. Until I met girls with BED and how their eating disorder thoughts are so much like mine, but they just have a different way of coping with it. Don't assume that a person doesn't have an eating disorder just because they are not rail thin.
Myth #10: "Anorexia is just a phase." I've heard many parents, teachers and counselors say this when I was younger. Sometimes the individual will say it to themselves. Convincing themselves that they will use these behaviors just long enough to get to a "goal weight" only to learn that it's not that simple. Those eating disorder thoughts worm their way to your very core and it consumes you faster than you could imagine. Often parents who suspect that their child has eating disorder behaviors tell themselves and others that it's just a phase and don't take it seriously. Truth is that eating disorders can start as young as age 8 and that parents should look for any signs that their child could possible be developing an eating disorder. Below I've listed signs that someone you love is suffering or develping an eating disorder:
The following symptoms and behaviors are common in people with anorexia:
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Wearing loose, bulky clothes to hide weight loss
  • Preoccupation with food, dieting, counting calories, etc.
  • Refusal to eat certain foods, such as carbs or fats
  • Avoiding mealtimes or eating in front of others
  • Preparing elaborate meals for others but refusing to eat them
  • Exercising excessively
  • Making comments about being “fat”
  • Stopping menstruating
  • Complaining about constipation or stomach pain
  • Denying that extreme thinness is a problem
The following are common signs of bulimia:
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Evidence of purging, including trips to the bathroom after meals, sounds or smells of vomiting, or packages of laxatives or diuretics
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others, or eating very small portions
  • Exercising excessively
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
  • Complaining about being “fat”
  • Using gum, mouthwash, or mints excessively
  • Constantly dieting
  • Scarred knuckles from repeatedly inducing vomiting
Common signs of binge eating disorder include:
  • Evidence of binge eating, including disappearance of large amounts of food in a short time, or finding lots of empty food wrappers or containers
  • Hoarding food, or hiding large quantities of food in strange places
  • Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
  • Skipping meals or avoiding eating in front of others
  • Constantly dieting, but rarely losing weight
   *Courtesy of WebMd

I hope that this gave you a better perspective and more information on eating disorders than you had at the beginning. Eating disorders are a serious disease that has the highest mortality of any mental illness. It's something that 24 million people of any race, religion, background, age and sex deal with in the US alone. Only 1 in 10 men and women receive treatment for their eating disorders. I got to be that lucky 1 that got the opportunity and blessing to experience treatment first hand and it gave me such a better outlook on my life and other people's lives with eating disorders. Please feel free to share this and get the word out about eating disorders. Much love.
XOXO Katie

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