As with most mental illnesses, including eating disorders, there is a vast amount of misinformation and biases. This distorted information, combined with the stigmatizing attitudes of shame and embarrassment, has permeated our society and hindered treatment. National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is the perfect time to raise awareness, which can lead to a shift in knowledge and attitudes, as well as open the door to honest conversations surrounding eating disorders.
What are some of the most common eating disorder myths?
There are endless myths surrounding eating disorders; however, below are a few of the more common ones:
- Eating disorders are a choice. The development of an eating disorder is complex in nature. Eating disorders are a serious and life-threatening psychiatric illness, which can be the result of social, biological, emotional, and societal factors. Eating disorders do not typically occur alone, rather they commonly co-occur with other psychological disorders, including, but not limited to, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Classifying eating disorders as a “choice” further hinders treatment for those who are suffering as it can be difficult for them to open-up for fear of judgment from others.
- Eating disorders are not severe. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological disorder, with up to 20% of individuals dying from complications associated with Anorexia Nervosa. Eating disorders are complex and devastating, and can have serious physical consequences, such as electrolyte and metabolic imbalances affecting the heart, kidneys, liver, and other major organ functions.
- Only Caucasian teenage girls have eating disorders. While eating disorders are more common among females, they affect both men and women of all ethnicities. It is estimated 20 million women and 10 million men from diverse backgrounds and age ranges will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders are not limited to one group of people as there are many who are at risk, which has prompted an increase of importance in raising awareness.
- Eating disorders are a problem with food and diets. It is often difficult to distinguish if someone is suffering from an eating disorder. Many people may appear of normal height and weight; however, may be battling a severe disorder that is overlooked from the outside. For example, someone suffering from Bulimia Nervosa may be of average or above average weight; however, he or she is binge-eating and purging daily or multiple times daily. On the other hand, an individual who may be suffering from Anorexia Nervosa may not appear significantly underweight, but is currently consuming very little food per day, and experiencing heart palpitations. Most commonly, the driving force behind an eating disorder has nothing to do with the actual food itself, but rather, what the action of eating or not eating signifies, such as a response to acute trauma and/or control over a powerless situation.
How do we make a change?
Understanding the truth behind the development of an eating disorder and minimizing guilt and shame are primary initial steps to help pave the way for successful treatment and sustained recovery. We must look at ourselves and recognize how our beliefs and the negative talk about appearances, size, and eating habits can often increase disordered behaviors, fear of judgment, and capacity to seek help. It is also important for us to challenge each other to expand our knowledge and understand that our attitudes and behaviors can be a hindrance to seeking treatment.
“We live in a society that holds independence as a very high ideal. Asking for help goes against that ideal and often brings us all kinds of negative thoughts about ourselves. When we ask for help, we aren’t sure how others will respond or what they will say. That can be scary. The truth is that as humans, we are social; we need others to survive. We are at our best when we have healthy relationships that involve helping one another, which means it is OK to ask for help! That is the first step to getting treatment for an eating disorder,” says Jessica Ward, Selah House Director of Therapeutic Services.
At Selah House, we understand that breaking through the fear of seeking treatment is difficult, but we are here to help those suffering from an eating disorder walk into freedom and restore what matters most in life. Jessica adds, “So often, when girls and women enter the doors of Selah House, they still aren’t convinced they want to be here. It’s unknown and unfamiliar AND we’re asking them to give up everything they have known for a long time. That’s a really big step. However, once they get to Selah and get to interact with our amazing and loving team, they start to feel better. As they adjust and get to experience for themselves that it really isn’t so scary and is a place of support, encouragement, grace, and God’s love, they can relax and work on their goals for recovery. The work our clients do to move into freedom from their eating disorder and toward recovery is amazing. Their journeys are amazing to witness and take part in.”
Individualized treatment plans are developed with the client and comprise a combination of treatment modalities. Using a comprehensive, evidence-based approach, our treatment plan meets the medical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual, social, and emotional needs of each client.
Darlene Graham, Family Therapist, says, “Getting real is one of the hardest things our clients will ever do, but we empower each of them to get real anyway. In the world of recovery, R.E.A.L. means to Regularly Embrace an Authentic Life! Getting real is a never-ending, life-long journey that begins today.”
We understand the complex needs of someone who is battling an eating disorder, and we provide the necessary therapeutic techniques to empower sustainable freedom. Stigma and lack of understanding make the innocent people who are suffering feel ashamed, preventing them from getting the treatment they need. We can never be fully without fear, but when we learn that we can ask others to understand and support us and with that support, can face our fears, life becomes amazing. Eating Disorder Awareness Week is a time for us to bring light into these dark crevices of life.
Amos Taylor, Selah House CEO, shares, “I am constantly reminded that the frontline battle with eating disorders is fought in secrecy and isolation. The world blasts these hurting and shattered ones with the assertions ‘you are broken beyond repair’ or ‘you are not worthy of healing.’ However, our Lord and Savior declares in Psalm 51 that He will ‘set these once-broken bones to dancing,’ and longs for you to experience FREEDOM so that you may declare, as David did in Psalm 139, ‘Body and soul, I am marvelously made!'”
“Sorrow looks back with sadness. Worry looks up and down, from side to side, with fear. Faith looks forward with hope and gladness.”