In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, this blog post is dedicated to briefly discussing three common myths about eating disorders (ED) and hopefully raise awareness about these disorders more generally. Eating disorders can be devastating illnesses, but with help, recovery is possible. If you are struggling with symptoms of an eating disorder, please reach out to someone you trust and consider treatment. The Delray Beach practice of Raul J. Rodriguez, MD specializes in eating disorder treatment. If you know someone who is showing signs of an eating disorder, consider reaching out to let them know that you care and encourage them to seek help.
Frozen yogurt, rainbow looms, and the phrase “YOLO”—fads seem to emerge on the scene suddenly, attract a massive following, and lose steam over time. Some people think ED also fall into this category: that they are temporary phases that some people go through, primarily during their teenage years. Though the onset of ED does frequently tend to occur during adolescence and young adulthood, these disorders are not fads. Dieting and extreme exercise strategies may more closely resemble fads—hence the moniker “fad diets” given to many restrictive (or strange) and unsustainable weight loss plans. In contrast, some individuals struggle with ED for months, years, or even an entire lifetime if they do not receive and engage in effective treatment.
It isn’t only the time frame that separates ED from fad diets, however; it’s also worth considering the costs associated with each. Someone might travel out of their way to visit a popular food truck or spend too much time playing Angry Birds, but few individuals will isolate themselves from the people and things they love most, risk serious physical health consequences, or hide their behavior from others—all of which might be seen in an individual with an eating disorder—just for a fad.
Individuals who struggle with ED come in all shapes and sizes. In addition to anorexia nervosa (which for its diagnosis requires a low weight), there are two other major forms of eating disorders—bulimia nervosa (which entails binge eating and unhealthy compensatory behaviors such as vomiting, laxative use, or excessive exercise) and binge eating disorder (which entails binge eating without compensatory behaviors)—and neither of these diagnoses is based on body weight. What is more telling of an ED is someone’s relationship to food and to his/her body image.
Many people think EDs occur exclusively among females, but this is not the case. Though the lifetime prevalence is lower than what is found among women (.9 percent, 1.5 percent, and 3.5 percent), lifetime prevalence estimates for men are .3 percent, .5 percent, and 2 percent for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (according to the DSM-IV), respectively (Hudson, Hiripi, Pope, & Kessler, 2007). This indicates that males are more likely to be diagnosed with bulimia nervosa than anorexia nervosa and more likely to be diagnosed with binge eating disorder than either other diagnosis, a trend similar to what is seen among women.
In addition to these recognized ED diagnoses, researchers have observed in some men (and some female athletes) a preoccupation with the perception that one is not muscular enough—termed “muscle dysmorphia”—which may lead some individuals to go to extreme lengths to gain muscle. In a 2014 study, men with muscle dysmorphia reported significant obsessive-compulsive symptoms regarding this issue and more frequently reported avoiding showing their bodies too much out of concern of being too small and avoiding activities in order to work out at the gym (Olivardia, Pope, & Hudson, 2000). Men with this problem were also more likely to have or have an ED as well as depression and an anxiety disorder—both common co-morbidities among those with ED.
“I’ve finally recognized my body for what it is: a personality delivery system, designed expressly to carry my character from place to place.” – Anna Quindlen
Those are some commonly held myths about eating disorders. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, Dr. Raul J. Rodriguez is a board-certified psychiatrist in Delray Beach that specializes in treating disordered eating and eating issues. Contact us today to schedule your initial assessment and find out what treatment options are available to you.