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Three Misconceptions about Eating Disorders - EDAW 2017

Posted February 1, 2017 by Valarie Bittner M.A. CPC

Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2017 February 1-7 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week across Canada. We want to address three common misconceptions about eating disorders that perpetuate stigma, and can hinder support for people in recovery and their loved ones.

1. Eating disorders come in a variety of shapes and weights. The media often displays images of people with eating disorders as quite underweight or emaciated. While some people’s weight reach these levels, many people with eating disorders appear to be a “normal” weight to others around them. What is not seen by others is the dangerous ways that they are eating or compensating for eating. Or how the eating disorder is affecting other areas of their life, like work, relationships or their sense of self. A cultural misconception is that the more someone’s appearance fits the "cultural ideal," the more they must like themselves and their body. People with a variety of shapes and weights struggle with eating disorders, and their devastating effects.

2. An Eating disorder is a serious mental illness and not a choice. People struggling with eating disorders are often bright successful individuals which can make it hard to see them as having a mental illness. The tendency is to see their disorder as a “disorder of choice” and their struggles as issues of will power or discipline. This misconception can lead to a lot of shame for someone in recovery. Someone with any eating disorder often fears judgement from others and will put in a lot of work to hide the eating disorder symptoms from the people around them, not wanting others to see what they consider their biggest weakness. And this cycle of secrecy and shame can be a barrier in recovery. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness and is never a choice.

3. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible, and requires willingness - both to take action and tolerate the distressful emotions and thoughts that will be experienced. Slip up’s are normal in recovery. When these are interpreted as a relapse, it perpetuates perfectionistic expectations about the recovery process and the fear of letting themselves and others down by not being able to recover "perfectly." The development of an eating disorder takes times, as does recovery and the development of new beliefs about the body and self.

"I have been 100% free of anorexia and bulimia for these past 8 years, and no doubt, will be free from them for the rest of my life. I entered your centre as a self-loathing girl, sure of her ugliness and stupidity... but there was a whole life waiting for me, a life without self-hatred and self-destruction. A life with promise and hope." – former client