Written By: Katie Schipper
Misconceptions About Eating Disorders
Like addiction and alcoholism, eating disorders are a vastly misunderstood disease. The mental, emotional, spiritual and physical anguish that accompany an active eating disorder is immense. Also like alcoholism, the obsessive thinking and pathological devotion to protecting the disease are such that outsiders often resort to blaming the individual – this makes it easier for loved ones to swallow. Over a series of articles, we’ll look at common misconceptions about eating disorders. Dismantling myths is a vital step towards the future of eating disorder treatment.
Misconception: Eating Disorders Are a Choice
Perhaps the most dangerous of myth about eating disorders is that the suffering individual choses their condition. While initially there may be behaviors that were chosen, there comes a point where the person’s power of choice vanishes. Dieting and exercise are no longer about losing weight. They’ve become a compulsion and addiction. They lead to still more dangerous habits, including: laxative abuse, purging, and abusing diet pills of all shapes and forms.
The same can be said for those who suffer from binge eating and compulsive over eating. What initially begins as comfort, soon takes on a dangerous life of its own. Consumption is no longer a choice.
The parallels to addiction are impossible to ignore. Like an alcoholic with a bottle of booze, or an addict with a pipe, all choice is lost. All control vanishes from the individual suffering from an eating disorder.
Eating Disorders Can Be Deadly
If untreated, eating disorders are fatal. They carry a higher mortality rate than addiction and alcoholism. In fact, eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness.
Again, like addiction, the paths that lead to eating disorders are varied. They usually involve a combination of both genetics (nature) and the environment someone was raised in (nurture). There’s rarely a single cause.
For many young women, the first noticeable sign of an eating disorder is poor body image. The insistence that what they look like is the end all and be all feeds into the misconception that eating disorders are voluntary. Eating disorders are not about vanity. Sure, that can be the first step, the first warning sign and trigger. In the end, eating disorders have very little to do with how one looks.
Eating Disorders Aren’t a Choice
While they aren’t a choice, and shouldn’t be viewed as such, recovery from eating disorders is a choice available to ALL suffering individuals. Eating disorder treatment, paired with aftercare and twelve-step involvement, is often successful.
However, long-term recovery isn’t possible by merely treating symptoms of the disease. Symptoms include those things that look like causes, i.e. the desire to be thin, or dissatisfaction with one’s body. For any hope of recovery, each case has to be faced honestly.
As with recovery from alcoholism and addiction, recovery must be an ongoing, lifelong process. It can’t be done alone. The first step in eating disorder recovery is becoming clear about the true nature of the disease – it isn’t a choice.