In light of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, it has been estimated that over 28 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. Eating disorders affect individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds, and carry the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. The mental and physical repercussions of eating disorders are especially dangerous, and often coexist with other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and addiction. National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is geared at not only spreading awareness about the dangers of eating disorders, but also expanding the conversation on how we approach body image while emphasizing the importance of safe recovery.
The stigma based around eating disorders remains prevalent in modern society, making it a topic that is often overlooked due to common misconceptions. The negative judgment and ill-fitting stereotypes surrounding eating disorders makes it difficult to seek out treatment, as it creates an added source of guilt and shame to an already debilitating disorder.
Common misconceptions surrounding eating disorders should be addressed when spreading awareness, to ensure there is no room for unhelpful judgment deriving from negative stigmatization.
- Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice
Statements associated with this misconception can sound like: “Just eat something!” or “I wish I could diet that well.”
Many individuals tend to think of eating disorders as being solely related to vanity purposes, and that it can be shut off at the flick of a switch. In reality, eating disorders can be due to many different complex factors, from environmental, psychological, and even genetic factors. The development of eating disorders should not be viewed as a conscious effort or choice, as you would likely not think that of other life-threatening disorders.
The consequences of statements like these can amplify an individual’s anxiety surrounding their eating disorder, intensified by guilt and/or self-blame. Relating eating disorders to some form of successful diet can invalidate the seriousness of someone’s struggles, whereas it is important to not reward restrictive habits with statements alluding to envy. Telling someone who is suffering an eating disorder to “just eat” is like telling someone who is battling depression to “just cheer up,” which is something we understand to be both insensitive and ineffective.
Understanding the complexity of eating disorders can aid in the de-stigmatization of them, which is a crucial factor in improving both recovery rates, and saving lives.
2. An eating disorder is not serious if they look “normal.”
The idea that all eating disorder sufferers should be visibly thin or sickly looking is an incredibly harmful stereotype, and one of the most common.
Many people who suffer from an eating disorder will maintain a “normal” weight throughout their illness, and it does not change the seriousness of the dangers involved. Mental struggles are not always visible on the surface, which is why someones assumed weight should never be used as a signifier in telling if someone is struggling with an eating disorder. This can also go both ways, in the sense that you should never assume that just because someone looks presumably thin, that they are battling or promoting some form of eating disorder. If you are under the impression that someone close to you is struggling, it is better to monitor someone’s energy levels and mood changes as opposed to commenting on someone’s physical appearance.
Using a statement like: “You don’t look like you have an eating disorder” is an unnecessarily assuming comment to make, and should always be avoided. Not only is this another way of invalidating someone who is struggling, but can also cause a significant impairment in someone’s self-esteem. Individuals who have eating disorders can be especially sensitive to comments on physical appearance, which is why comments like these tend to do more harm than you would initially imagine.
Even if you believe it is coming from a non-malicious place, avoiding making assumptions about someone’s struggles is a good rule of thumb in any situation relating to mental illnesses.
3. Eating disorders mainly affect young, white, females.
People tend to most often associate eating disorders with young, affluent, caucasian females—most likely in relation to social media and other socioeconomic factors. This stereotype could not be further from the truth, and it is harmful to assume that it is so.
Anyone is capable of suffering a serious eating disorder, and frankly age, race, and background has little to do with it. Research has continued to show that people of color, gender diverse, and transgender individuals are less likely to receive adequate care when it comes to the treatment of eating disorders.
Understanding that all individuals are at risk of developing eating disorders is a vital component in making sure everyone can at once receive the proper resources necessary to obtain effective recovery and professional treatment. Although eating disorders appear to be most prominent in teens and young adults, recent years have shown a rise in eating disorders amongst older adults and children as well.
Men are vastly prone to eating disorders, and must cope with the consequences of negative stigma as well. Eating disorders are not female exclusive, with research showing that 25% of individuals with anorexia or bulimia are in fact male, and that 36% of individuals with binge-eating disorder are also male. Men can experience high-pressure societal standards in terms of conforming to masculine ideals, making men much less likely to reach out for help when it is needed.
Increasing the awareness surrounding the gender and racial stereotypes involving eating disorders is utmost necessary in expanding the conversation, and is the first step in ensuring treatment options and support networks are equally as available to all individuals suffering from eating disorders.
Once we develop a better understanding on the seriousness of eating disorders as well as the common misconceptions surrounding them, the conversation might then expand towards the topic of how one might approach recovery in a way that best suits them.
Eating disorder recovery is no simple task, as it involves the introspective addressment of complex psychological, behavioral, and emotional factors. Not only can these factors be difficult to confront as is, but requires a commitment that for many can feel so much as a grieving process. Because recovery journeys are so complex, professional treatment is an important step in ensuring the path towards recovery is handled with caution and safety. Nutritional counseling, therapy, medication, etc. are common means of professional treatment options that may best increase the likelihood of successful eating disorder remission.
Although professional treatment is the most viable option for those suffering from eating disorders, there are other key components involved in recovery that can make a significant impact on the recovery process.
Support networks play a crucial role in recovery, as opening up about eating disorder struggles with trust-worthy family and friends will likely make the transition into recovery much more comfortable. The simple act of just having someone who can listen and receive information in a non-judgmental way will allow those suffering from an eating disorder to feel less isolated, making it easier to eventually reach out for professional help. Support networks can be used in various ways, such as receiving help with daily tasks, or just simply providing a comforting presence in times of anxiety or sadness out of one’s control.
Another thing one might prioritize in eating disorder recovery is self-care. Self-care can look like many different things depending on the person, but can be a great help in repositioning our view of oneself in ways that are less attributed to physical appearance or negative habits. One effective way to go about self-care can be through the practice of mindfulness. Meditation, breath work, time in nature, or time with animals, are all effective grounding techniques that may help some mitigate the negative mental health symptoms brought upon by eating disorders. In conjunction with mindfulness, hobbies that involve a source of passion or relaxation can reduce stress and potentially restructure thought patterns when executed on a consistent basis. Gardening, painting, dancing, writing, etc. are some hobbies that may aid in the recovery process by making it a bit more comfortable and overall enjoyable.
Although the recovery process is inherently complex and can bring on months or even years of occasional or frequent setbacks, each minor and major success is one to be proud of. There is no one size fits all version of eating disorder recovery, which is why individual journeys will vary in time spans and recovery methods from person to person. As within the recovery process, the post-recovery process will also present unique challenges of its own—ones that matter just as much.
A healed relationship with food can be a common description of eating disorder remission, as well as a more healthy thought process surrounding body image. While these fundamentals are true, it is still normal for negative thoughts and habits to linger throughout the post-recovery stage. This can be due to a few factors, but is likely attributed to the coexisting mental illnesses that can often stick around even once the eating behaviors have improved.
Research shows that individuals who have or have had an eating disorder are at higher risk of developing other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, OCD, and substance use disorders. Coming out of recovery, individuals may find themselves struggling with one or more of these mental illnesses, which can feel defeating after already overcoming an obstacle so large. Because of this, finding ways to cope is vital in making sure that not only one’s quality of life can continue to increase, but to make sure they do not fall back into old habits as a way to cope with separate mental illnesses.
It is important to know that things like self-care, social networks, and therapy can assist in anyone’s life, therefore keeping them as a priority post-recovery can make it easier to stay on track and hopefully improve wellbeing as a whole.
Microdosing psilocybin has been particularly on the rise in recent years, as it continues to show efficacy in the treatment of some mental health disorders. Microdosing mushrooms is the practice of consuming sub-perceptual amounts of entheogenic mushrooms as a way to reap the medicinal benefits of psilocybin, without the hallucinatory effects of a larger dose. Studies have suggested that microdosing psilocybin can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as increase feelings of mindfulness and creativity.
As more conversations expand on the topic of microdosing, researchers have begun to recognize psilocybin-assisted therapy as a potentially viable treatment for those suffering from eating disorders. It has been speculated that the mental rewiring abilities of psilocybin could be used as a tool in eating disorder treatment, by essentially locating the root of the issue and working on it from the ground up. Psilocybin as well as other psychedelics seem to correlate with significant emotional breakthroughs and personal revelations, which may allude to the reason why those battling treatment-resistant mental illnesses have found solace within the use of psychedelics.
More research is necessary to provide information on psychedelics in correlation to eating disorder treatment, although preliminary evidence on the topic seems to be notably promising.
As health and wellness culture takes over social media platforms, it is crucial that we take the steps necessary to unpack the harsh realities of eating disorders. Standards of beauty, lifestyle, wellbeing, and more, have caused mental illness statistics to rise at a pace we can hardly keep up with. The prospect of self-betterment and achieving peak wellness is an attractive one, but should be catered to as safely and as honestly as possible from the standpoint of those fortunate enough to promote it.
The progression of psilocybin research has instilled hope in those longing for an all-natural form of mental health treatment, and we do hope there will be more concrete evidence in its relation to eating disorder treatment in the near future. If microdosing is something you are hoping to integrate in your own journey, it is recommended you do your research as well as speak to a healthcare professional beforehand to ensure proper safety.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder there is free helpline available to those in need of assistance that you can call or text at: 1-800-931-2237
You can also learn more about National Eating Disorders Awareness week at: https://nedic.ca/