5 Eating Disorder Stereotypes Worth Rethinking

Sufferers of eating disorders are often met with victim-blaming, cattiness, or awkward silence. Many people tend to assume that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are rooted in vanity and self-absorption, but some interesting new studies are beginning to suggest that eating disorders may be a more complex phenomenon than we'd previously thought.

Eating disorders may not be one-size-fits-all, and the factors causing them aren't always what you'd expect. Here are five myths worth rethinking.

(Image: Christy McKenna via Flickr)

Stigma and Stereotypes

Sufferers of eating disorders are often met with victim-blaming, cattiness, or awkward silence. Many people tend to assume that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are rooted in vanity and self-absorption, but some interesting new studies are beginning to suggest that eating disorders may be a more complex phenomenon than we'd previously thought.

Eating disorders may not be one-size-fits-all, and the factors causing them aren't always what you'd expect. Here are five myths worth rethinking.

(Image: Christy McKenna via Flickr)

It's Not a "Real" Disease

A story set for release in the August issue of The Science Times reveals what might prove to be groundbreaking new research about anorexia as a neurological disorder. New brain imaging methods have allowed doctors to compare the brains of anorexic patients with those of people with normal, healthy eating habits. They have found significant differences, visible even to the naked, untrained eye.

The brains of eating disorder sufferers showed a distinct dullness in the insulas (the parts of the brain that react to stimuli like pain and hunger) and overactivity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (which exercises self-control). These discoveries could have major implications for the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.

Doctors are met with something of a chicken-or-the-egg conundrum with these findings: do anorexic habits rewire your brain or is it your brain that causes them in the first place?

You Have to Be Super Thin To Be Dignosed With an Eating Disorder

Even when people with eating disorders manage to return to healthier weights and eating habits, much of the psychological torment remains. You can still suffer from body dysmorphia and irrational fear of gaining weight without acting on those feelings.

Patients diagnosed with simultaneous anorexia and alcoholism often don't actually lose any weight due to the calories in alcohol. Their bodies, however, remain starved of important nutrients from the lack of food even if they don't immediately show it on the surface.

(Image: S via Flickr)

It's a "Girl Thing"

Eating disorders have also long been associated with the teenage girl community, and while that population does make up the majority of those suffering from anorexia or bulimia, they're certainly not the only ones. Men make up about 10 to 15 percent of eating disorder sufferers, and face disproportionate stigma when it comes to approaching doctors or loved ones for help. Treatment options also tend to be aimed at a female community, a problem that author Sam Lansky faced head-on as the only male patient at an all-female clinic.

(Image: Mike Cicchetti via Flickr)

Eating Disorders Are Unrelated to Other Behavioral Disorders

According to a 2013 study, over 50% of those diagnosed with eating disorders also meet the criteria for depression. Often, eating disorders are about asserting control over an otherwise out-of-control life. They are often linked with anxiety, compulsive disorders and alcoholism. Studies have also found that eating disorders and ADHD are not only linked in many cases, but that these kinds of behaviors can also reinforce one another, causing both disorders to spiral out of control.

Recovery Is Permanent

Relapse rates amongst patients treated for bulimia are estimated at between 30 and 50 percent in six months, but old habits can lurk beneath the surface for even longer.

Oprah Magazine published an article this month on the overlooked issue of middle-aged women with eating disorders. Some cases were new, but many more were relapses to old unhealthy behavior triggered by traumatic life events such as divorce or aging parents. Worse yet, many of these women report that their doctors not only failed to recognize a problem, but actually reinforced their behavior with praise.

(Image: Stefano Covre via Flickr)