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As you read last week, I was recently ranked as the Number Three Best Eating Disorder Recovery Blog of 2019 by HealthLine, one of the top health information providers. And so in the spirit of that recognition, I thought it would be timely to debunk some of the most common myths about eating disorders.
Here’s the thing about eating disorders: they are so misunderstood. They are so often the butt end of insensitive jokes. There are deep seeded stereotypes that cast this shadow of shame over the sufferers, myself included. And all of this misinformation and harmful preconceived notions surrounding them, makes it truly difficult to offer meaningful and productive support.
So let’s just dive in, shall we? And debunk some of the most common myths about Eating Disorders.
It’s a rich white girl disease.
Let’s face it: when people envision in their minds, a person suffering from an eating disorder, it’s always a teenaged, pretty, affluent, white girl with crippling perfectionism and an acclivity towards self absorption. Which, let’s be real — yeah, that’s definitely a large population of eating disorder sufferers. But not all. Eating disorders don’t see race, gender, economic status, nationality, creed – it is a mental illness who’s impact spans all backgrounds and communities.
From personal experience, I can tell you that at the inpatient treatment facility where I spent three months, there were all types of women there. From different backgrounds, countries, socio-economic statuses. There were women who came in heavily addicted to drugs, there were people who’s families had to refinance their homes to be able to afford inpatient treatment. There were all different ethnicities present. Were the majority of women from “financially-comfortable” caucasian families? Yes. But not all.
It’s a diet gone wrong.
This mindset about an eating disorder is so harmful because it makes it seem as though it’s a phase or just a “brush off” episode of teen angst. When the reality is that it’s never about a diet at all. The diet merely is a manifestation of the internal brokenness that is the source of the eating disorder.
She can just “snap out of it,” because ultimately, it’s a choice.
Like the previous myth, this mentality that she is choosing this “lifestyle choice” and that she needs to just “snap out of it.” This is by far, the most destructive and most distorted mindset about eating disorders. They say that an eating disorder is not about the food and it’s not about the weight. And from an outsider’s perspective, that seems the most illogical and most counterintuitive. But it is precisely the situation.
As much as loved one want to just “snap her out of it,” believing that her destructive behavior and harmful actions are a choice she’s making, the reality is that those behavior and actions are merely symptoms and manifestations of what’s going on inside. Deep inside, she believes to her core, “The Lie” that is influencing these destructive behaviors. The Lie is different for everyone, but it always falls in the vein of: Not being good enough; Being a burden; Being unloved; Not being worthy of love; Being worthless.
And to her deepest core, she believes it. It’s this demonic tape that plays over, and over, and over. Berating her, morning and night. It is the first thing she thinks of when she wakes up, and last thing that taunts her to sleep. And sadly, try as you might, no doctor, no parent, no friend, no therapist, no priest can just “snap her out of it.” The only person who can do that is her. She’s got to silence the Lie. She’s got to renounce that Lie and muffle its incessant clamoring. And the only true source of strength for breaking free and silencing that Lie…is Jesus.
She is obsessed with her looks/vain.
I’m going to tell you something that may surprise you. Eating disorders, though they seem from the outside to be the result of “extreme self absorption” quickly and severely switch to the perverse opposite.
Maybe I should share some of my own personal history with this one: During my anorexia, I was so ashamed of my body. I hated it. I thought that my emaciated, skeletal, 78 pound frame matched the interior darkness and ugliness of my black soul. And I felt I deserved to be so hideous. (Again, tying into The Lie). And all I wanted to do was hide my body. So that’s why you will see girls with anorexia hiding under layers of baggy clothes. Yes, because they’re always cold, but mainly because they want to disappear into the background and hide away their shame, that they are literally embodying.
Only girls can get eating disorders.
This is absolutely a myth! Though most ED sufferers are women, roughly 10% of sufferers are male. And that number is on the rise recently. With hyper focus on Instagram, and dramatic diet fads, men and boys are also vulnerable to body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
Body positivity is necessary for recovering.
This is an unpopular opinion, but I am not on the “Body Positivity Train.” There are some camps of people in recovery that preach the Body Positivity “bible” but I am not one. Mainly because, when I was truly recovering, and weight restoring, “loving” my body wasn’t even on my radar. I still hated my body. And in order to fully recover, I had to see myself as more than my body. I was a soul in a body. I had to see the divine purpose of my body: as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. My body became my act of worship. I didn’t recover because all of a sudden I woke up one day and decided to “Love My Curves” or “Love Myself.” No ma’am.
You cannot recover without going to inpatient. (Minnie Maud)
There is a camp of recovery warriors who adhere to “MinneMaud.” It’s an evidence-based recovery approach, who’s name comes from the Minnesota ((Minnie)) Starvation Experiment, and the Family Based Treatment — aka MAUDsley Protocol. The guidelines are simple: eat a MINIMUM of 3,000 per day, (you’re encouraged to eat way more), no food is off limits, no restricting, no weighing yourself, and absolutely no exercise. It has a rabid, cult-like following online. And many people swear by this “at-home” style of treatment.
And unpopular opinion alert: I have a few qualms about it. To put it simply:
1) ReFeeding syndrome is a real, potentially fatal condition. To go from a state of severe starvation to putting on weight is a very delicate thing that needs to be monitored. Just think about it: the malnourished girl’s heart is so compromised because as a muscle – the starving body has been using its own muscles as fuel to keep the girl alive. So the deteriorated heart is doing everything it can just to stay alive. So to just all of a sudden overload it with a massive influx of calories could send it into cardiac arrest and be fatal. So there is a strategic method to trickling in — initially — the calories. This was why, at inpatient, I had to sleep at the nurse’s station for the first 2 weeks, and get my vitals monitored around the clock, to make sure I wasn’t entering refeeding syndrome. So to attempt to navigate that scary water without proper medical supervision — that’s a no from me, dog.
2) Secondly, I don’t like the MinnieMaud method because it puts parents in the role of “Food Police.” It is not the parents’ job to be the Bad Cop in regards to food, as counterintuitive as that seems. But ultimately, it creates this nearly-irreconcilable relationship around food. During recovery, parents should be there to love and support their child through it — not being the Food Police — that is the job of the nurses at an inpatient facility. Because real talk: the eating disorders cause girls to be sneaky, manipulative and deceptive – and they all have “tricks” to make it look like they ate, or cleaned their plate or what have you. Boy, do I have some stories from inpatient. But that is territory for a stern nurse that will draw a hard and firm line. Not a parent that is, frankly, easily manipulated.
3) Lastly, with how entrenched I was in my disease, I simply would not have been able to adhere to the 3,000 calorie guidelines, nor would I have branched off of my “safe foods.” And let’s face it: you can’t reach the calorie goal with diet yogurt and dry oatmeal.
OK THIS IS GETTING LENGTHY — TIME FOR SOME RAPID FIRE:
Athletes can’t get eating disorders.
Absolutely false. In fact, at inpatient, I was with a professional swimmer, former professional figure skater, and there were two gymnasts in the program as well. Sports that are so hyper focused on body mass and size in general, are breeding grounds for eating disorder. Especially when it comes to exercise addiction.
Starving yourself is the only “real” eating disorder.
Nope! Anorexia Nervosa is what people most commonly think of in terms of eating disorders. But there’s also: Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, OSFED (Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder) and Compulsive Exercise. For more indepth information, visit NEDA.
You have to have a feeding tube in order to recover.
Nope! Though many do, not all choose to. I didn’t use one!
You have to be emaciated to have an eating disorder.
Again, definitely not! EDs come in all shapes and sizes.
Once you’re weight restored, you’re “healed.”
This one is really really important. In my humble, non-medical doctor, non-therapist, non-dietician opinion, once you’re weight restored, your true recovery has only just begun. And dare I say it: the mental recovery from an eating disorder is much harder than the physical. And that’s coming from someone who had over 30 pounds to gain! Because in order to truly recover, you’ve got to silence that Lie. You’ve got to silence it and replace it with the Truth, or else it will just manifest itself in other ways again and again and again — if not in ED relapse, then in your relationships with others, or alcohol, or codependency, or you name it. Just like the eating disorder isn’t about “the weight” – neither is the recovery. Yes, it is necessary to be weight restored, but the internal restoration is equally – if not more – vital for healing. And to that end — recovery is a way of life for the rest of your life. You will always have to choose to listen to the Truth and silence the Lie. Every. damn. day.
If you relapse, you’ve failed.
This might be an unpopular opinion, and let me preface by repeating my non-medical, non-therapist, non-dietician place in this world, and say: that recovery is a long and winding road. It is truly a journey, and for many, if not most — myself included — relapse is part of that process.
There will be days, perhaps even seasons, where “The Lie” can slip in here and there, and perhaps even regain control. But the important thing is to use everything – good and bad — as an opportunity for growth. And to wake up every morning and rededicate your life to living in the Freedom of Recovery.
You can’t be vegan and “truly” recovered.
This one is tricky because you have to look and see where the motivation is coming from. If she’s vegan because it’s just another way to exercise her eating disorder in a “socially acceptable” way — then absolutely not. You’ve got to root that demon out by the gonads. But, yes, it is possible to be truly recovered and vegan. But you’ve got to really examine the motives and stay diligent in your recovery.
Eating disorders are caused by insensitive parents
Last but certainly not least, this myth is false, false, false. So if you’re a parent and reading this — feeling like you’re out of options, out of hope, and carrying around this crippling guilt of “What Could I Have Done Differently?” — I want to just pause, give you a hug, and tell you to just let that go. Truly, take a deep breath and let it go. Because just like you can’t “snap her out of it“…you didn’t “snap her into it” either. Eating disorders are influenced by a number of different both biological and environmental factors — having EDs run in families, or family history of mental illness, or other food-related diseases…like in my case: Ulcerative Colitis, where it physically hurt to eat at times.
But other risk factors that influence the development of an eating disorder, are things like perfectionism, bullying or abuse, depression. And even still – societal pressures – through advertisements, or social media. Magazine covers or conventional “beauty standards” all influence the development.
Yes, “father hunger” is a real and very strong commonality among many sufferers of eating disorders, insensitive parenting does not “cause” an eating disorder.
So there you have it. I hope that this may have been helpful or illuminating. Eating disorders are about so much more than the number on a scale or the food on a plate. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can offer compassion, love, and effective support to those who need it most.
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
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