Common Misconceptions About Eating Orders | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

Common Misconceptions About Eating Orders

Lottie Wistow debunks some of the most common misconceptions surrounding eating disorders

According to the BBC, more than 165,000 people in the UK have an eating disorder. However, very little is known about them from the laymen’s perspective, with many assuming that they come about from a person’s desire to look thin and have the model-like figure constantly promoted in the majority of beauty and fashion magazines. This misconception is not the only one, and so it’s important to ‘set the record straight’ in order to help those affected. As we come to the end of Eating Disorder Awareness Week, this article addresses common misconceptions about eating disorders, ranging from who and what type of person is usually affected, to the numerous potential symptoms that can help people recognise someone who may need their help.

First of all, as mentioned, many assume that eating disorders are simply a result of a strong, and perhaps vain, desire to be slim. But it’s much more complicated than this. Studies have shown that eating disorders tend to affect a certain personality type, which includes people who strive for perfection.

Studies have shown that eating disorders tend to affect a certain personality type, which includes people who strive for perfection

What most people would think of as a minute physical flaw, such as the coined term ‘bingo-wings’, may be a major concern for someone with an eating disorder. Eating disorders can also affect people who feel as though they have no control over a situation. For example, a person going through a very stressful time, may latch onto food as a way of grappling for some semblance of control. In this way, they can attempt to concentrate their efforts and energy on one aspect of their life, and protect themselves from the stresses of the outside world. Finally, a change in life circumstance, such as a divorce or the death of a relative, can also result in a change in eating habits; grief is a lot more common in sufferers than you may think. As you can see, there are not only a wide variety of reasons for why someone may acquire an eating disorder, but also how they can be deeply rooted in the psychological states of their victims.

Following on from this, I ask the question: do you have that annoying friend who can eat as much as they like and always stay the same size? Well, as surprising as this may be, eating disorders are not always only to do with weight. In fact, those who suffer with Bulimia tend to have the cyclical pattern of binge eating and then starving themselves, or even forcing themselves to be sick afterwards. In this way, although the repercussions of this pattern could be losing weight and even gaining weight, many may not change size at all, making it very difficult to notice from an outsider’s perspective. And, while many people (myself included) love a bit of comfort food now and then, many people with eating disorders will consistently use food to make themselves feel better and relieve stress, which will adversely affect them by substantial weight gain. Therefore, the common misconception that eating disorders only result in a dramatic loss of weight is not true; in fact, they encompass more than just Anorexia, with symptoms also including the dangerous health effects of obesity.

Another common misconception around eating disorders comes from the perception that the sufferers are only young girls. A UK study, reported by the BBC, found that one quarter of sufferers are in fact male. This statistic allows us to be sensitive to the needs of men, as well as women, when it comes to certain eating behaviours. Whilst beauty and fashion magazines promote women as unrealistically slim and beautiful, men’s magazines also put emphasis on being overtly masculine by obtaining a muscular and toned physique. So, these differing social pressures could suggest why both males and females are affected by eating disorders; against popular belief, it is not just a woman’s disease.

With professional help, and the vital support from friends and family, eating disorders can be controlled and even cured

A final misconception of eating disorders is that they cannot be cured, and that a sufferer will always be a ‘recovering anorexic’. This is definitely not true. With professional help, and the vital support from friends and family, eating disorders can be controlled and even cured. It is a lengthy process, with counsellors giving advice on how to break the cycle of thoughts that leads to this obsession with counting calories and eating habits. It’s important to recognise if someone has an eating disorder as soon as possible, as this will make treating them a whole lot easier. Also, the desire to change has to come from the sufferers themselves and so, in your approach to helping them, make them aware of your support gently without aggression; forcing them into something will be futile.

So, as you can tell, there are many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, including ones from who is affected, to the numerous ways it affects people and why. The charity Beat provides further information and support to those who need it. Not just because of Eating Disorder Awareness Week but just in general, please start up the conversation of this somewhat taboo topic with your friends, and get the messages out there that can help raise awareness; you may even save a life by doing so. #SockItToEatingDisorders

3rd year English Language student and writer for Life&Style. (@lottie_wistow)


7th March 2018 at 9:00 am

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