As an eating disorder therapist, I am constantly inundated with a number of questions and statements surrounding the mysterious nature of eating disorders. Whether it is a way to gain more knowledge and understanding, or otherwise, I am constantly amazed by the myths floating around our public sphere. I find myself curious as to where some outlandish ideas originate.
Recently, I was watching a trailer for a new film and as though my question was being answered, a scene spoke strongly to me as to where some myths surrounding eating disorders may be born.
In the film, two young women are sitting at a table for a meal. The anorexic girl looks at her plate of food and rattles off the calorie content of her plate like she is playing a fun, new viral game. The other woman looks enthralled by the ability of her friend and praises her for speed and accuracy. They both laugh and smile at each other. I was not laughing.
Just like the friend, I was also baffled. Not, however, that someone knew the exact calorie count of a plate of food. Rather, I was astonished that a film was portraying an eating disordered symptom as a humorous activity.
Eating disorders are not funny. Eating disorders are not a game.
Presently, film and social media have erupted as a platform to share and discuss current events and hot topics. Nonetheless, eating disorders have become a popular subject to display in movies, TV series, and trending hashtags. I have mixed feelings about this as I am a cheerleader for eating disorder awareness, and at the same time, I cringe to see my disease so poorly portrayed and stigmas and stereotypes reinforced.
What I have taken from recent films and the growing conversation about eating disorders is that people are desperately seeking the truth. I love the idea that people are brave and sharing their stories and I also understand that everyone experiences an eating disorder differently.
Off the top of my head I have listed several myths taken from recent films and press about eating disorders that have hit me as incorrect from my own personal narrative. This is my own personal take and challenge to these myths:
1. Eating disorders are about food, thinness, and beauty.
My eating disorder was about so much more than any of the above. My eating disorder was a complex, serious disease that stemmed from a need for control in my chaotic surroundings. My eating disorder behaviors were aimed at making the world a better place and striving to be a good citizen through obedience to outward messages of the thin ideal. To be honest, I can’t put my finger one exactly what my eating disorder was about and why it happened. I personally believe it would be a great injustice to my suffering and growth to say my eating disorder was about one thing and that’s that. I want to leave it open so I can continually grow and learn from the recovery process.
2. Eating disorders are a choice.
Why would I choose to give up my childhood and adolescence to live in a tiny hospital room where I was poked with needles twice a day and forced to go to the bathroom with the door open? My simple challenge to this myth should be self-explanatory.
3. To have a legitimate eating disorder you have to be admitted to an inpatient facility.
Yes, I spent several years in inpatient facilities. However, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent outside of a treatment center. There are several people struggling with severe eating disorders that do not have insurance coverage, childcare, or means to an inpatient facility. This is not an indication of severity or presence of an eating disorder.
4. You have to be underweight to have an eating disorder.
Similar to my answer to question #3, the most challenging years of my eating disorder were spent at a healthy weight. Again, eating disorders are much more complex than food and weight.
5. To recover from and eating disorder you simply have to eat.
Hopefully this has been explained enough in the answers above. I can’t stress enough that there is so much more than “just eating” and the process of recovery is a challenging transformation of self-exploration and behavior change.
As much as I have disagreed with aspects of recent films about eating disorders, I appreciate that there can be multiple truths and multiple lived experiences. What may be offensive or outraging to me may hit home for someone else. As I have read comment sections out of interest on other’s views, I have certainly noticed this to be true with many varying opinions. The beauty in advocacy is that there are many stories to be told and I believe the world is ready to hear them.
This is only my take and my own story. At Rooted Recovery, we hear different stories every day and understand that eating disorders do not discriminate. We want to give you a chance to share your experience and story; we want to debunk myths and share the truth about eating disorders.
If you would like to share your story on our website and blog please email your story to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that submitting your story via email may result in your story being published on our website or other partnering sites, such as The Mighty or Huffington Post.