So last month in July I had the amazing opportunity to present my research at a women’s conference in Washington D.C where I shared my findings about the effects of peer comparison on Facebook on body image. Not to brag but it did trigger a longer-than-stipulated 20 minute round table discussion about body image, and the audience and presenters started throwing questions and thoughts about what triggers body image worries and what it means to love your body. I also shared with them my own personal struggles with EDNOS that plagued me since I was 17 and it initiated another quick sharing session on the common misconceptions about eating disorders.
I myself know exactly what misconceptions these are and sometimes its frustrating to know that some people get the wrong idea about what eating disorders are. Here are some:
1. Eating disorders encompass only anorexia and bulimia.
WRONG. I study psychology and terms like anorexia and bulimia are just labels given to make communication among practitioners easier. Besides, anorexia and bulimia are perhaps the types of EDs that are more heard of among the community. There are many subtypes of eating disorders and a wide range of life-consuming disordered eating patterns that don’t fit even neatly into the established categories of eating disorders. There’s compulsive exercising. There’s chewing and spitting. There’s an obsessive fixation on only certain food groups and refusing to eat other food groups (usually refusing to eat carbs and eating only protein and vegetables). Plus, not all people suffering from anorexia engage only in restricting of food to lose weight. Some abuse laxatives, diuretics or self-induced vomiting. This is called “anorexia, purging type”.
2. Its all about wanting to be thin.
WRONG. Being thin is one of the main goals many people get eating disorders. Sometimes, its about gaining attention because of feelings of neglect. Sometimes its about perfectionism, and attempting to gain some control in a world where people feel they are spiraling out of control. All in all, eating disorders are a silent and hidden cry for help.
3. Eating disorders are easy to identify.
WRONG. For the record, not all skinny girls have eating disorders. Its an unfortunate misconception that eating disorders plague only young and emaciated looking women. In fact, statistics show that more women in the healthy weight range suffer an eating disorder. A skinny person may have a e healthy relationship with food, but a person of normal weight may be battling with an ED. Hell, I’m not skinny yet I developed an ED. This misconception was what made me so afraid to speak out and tell others about my ED. I wasn’t anorexic. I was both restricting AND bingeing. Then getting all that food out via “purging” and over exercise. My weight didn’t change and that was what prevented anyone from noticing that something so terrible was happening. Once ran for 3 hours straight after going through a “binge”. It was the best and worst feeling in my life. At the peak of my ED, I was scoring straight As in classes and had a GPA of 4.6 out of 5. A friend commented “It just didn’t seem real. Smart, pretty, funny – the whole package. You weren’t losing or gaining excessive amounts of weight. I never expected you to be going through something so awful”
4. Binges involve large numbers of food.
SOMEWHAT TRUE. Technically a binge involves eating a large amount of food in one that’s a lot for one person, and eating til the pint of being extremely full with the feeling that you can’t stop, which then causes feelings of guilt and/or anxiety. This does occur in people yet a catch is that some people see the amount of food they are consuming as a binge, Its not a whole lot to a regular person, yet, for them, it is a massive amount. They’re called subjective binges. 5 cookies to a regular person might not be a binge, but to someone suffering from an eating disorder, 5 cookies could be just that. One who is continuously restricting him or herself and suddenly eats a plate of pasta might think he/she had just binged on a entirely new level. For a regular individual, eating a plate of pasta is satisfying. For one who restricts, eating that plate of pasta is seen as life or death.
And a final note that’s not a myth or misconception per se and instead, just a personal opinion that I wanted to share…
You can recover from an eating disorder.
THE VERDICT IS STILL OUT FOR ME. Recovery from an eating disorder can takes months or even years of therapy and subsequent independent work. A patient can complete a course of treatment, but there is so much ongoing work that needs to be done. Self-love and self acceptance is a work in progress, especially concerns about body shape and weight. Sure, everyone of us struggle with body image issues once in a while, but I think those graduating from therapy have the added work of having to be aware of triggers, identifying negative thoughts and restructuring them. People suffering from eating disorders have struggled with that for a long time, and practice everyday on those aspects is needed. We may be “done” with therapy, but independent work still needs to continue after. We will always need to keep ourselves in check and make sure we don’t fall into past trappings.
Anyway, on a more positive note, I guess this is a cue to conclude that I shall end this post with some pictures from my D.C trip. I managed to visit places that I didn’t get to visit when I was there for Thanksgiving in 2013. Seriously unlike what TripAdvisor says, 3 days then was not enough to have truly experienced Washington D.C. But moving on. PEEKTURES: