The Truth about Eating Disorders

Despite the extensive media coverage given to anorexia and bulimia, many people still harbor misconceptions about these eating disorders.

Dr. David S. Rosen, a professor of internal medicine and psychiatry at the University of Michigan, recently identified several common myths about eating disorders.  It’s especially important that friends and relatives of those suffering from eating disorders learn how to separate myth from fact so that they can identify the warning signs of these potentially deadly eating disorders and help their loved one seek help.

Dr. Rosen’s list of eating disorder myths includes:

•    Myth: Only Women are affected by anorexia and bulimia. 

Truth: The media tends to depict eating disorder patients as young white women, but statistics show that all segments of the population are vulnerable, including men, children and members of all races and economic classes.

•    Myth: Young women develop eating disorders when they try to emulate thin actresses and models.

Truth: Researchers have found that eating disorders are similar to other psychological disorders like depression and anxiety.  Genetic factors play a key role in determining who will be affected.

•    Myth: Bulimia always involves vomiting. 

Truth: Bulimia is characterized by binge eating followed by purging.  Although vomiting to purge is a common symptom of bulimia, there are also people who abuse laxatives or exercise obsessively to maintain their weight after bingeing.

•    Myth: People with anorexia are extremely thin. 

Truth: Thinness is one of the signs of anorexia.  According to Dr. Rosen and other experts, the main sign of anorexia is a distorted body image that interferes with healthy eating.

•    Myth: Eating disorders are not serious conditions.

Anorexia and bulimia should be taken very seriously.  These eating disorders are fatal for between 5 and 10 percent of those affected.  Some of those suffering from these disorders take their own lives, while others die from heart damage or other complications.

•    Myth: Eating disorders are embarrassing and shouldn’t be talked about. 

These disorders can be treated only if help is sought.  Trying to ignore or cover up the problem will allow the condition to become more serious or even deadly.
If you suspect that a friend or loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, don’t wait until they have lost an excessive amount of weight before expressing your concern.  Eating disorders begin when someone becomes obsessive about body weight and devotes an excessive amount of attention to what they eat and how much they exercise.  Early intervention is the best way to diagnose and treat eating disorders.  The most effective form of treatment involves doctors and therapists who work with the patient to develop a realistic body image and healthy eating habits.