Updated: Mar 7, 2021
Here's some food for thought. 1 in 10 people will have an eating disorder within their lifetime, as said in studies by ANAD. Eating disorders are among the deadliest mental illnesses, with a mortality rate of 10%, second only to opioid overdose. In fact, women ages 15 to 24 years of age who suffer from anorexia nervosa are 12 times more likely to die from the illness than any other cause. Here's something that is harder to swallow: Less than 6% of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.”
It seems that peoples immediate thoughts of eating disorders are graphic images of skeletal, hollow-cheeked young women. This of course, unfortunately, can be the case... but not to the extent that people believe. While anorexia is characterised by extreme low weight, many individuals struggling with bulimia, binge eating disorder and EDNOS are normal-weighted. The majority of people facing eating disorders are what would be described physically as no different to you or I, which can only make it worse for the suffering. The misconception that an eating disorder can only occur if someone is very thin contributes to misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis in many cases, even among those patients seeking support from medical and mental healthcare professionals. People who suffer with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes. The media and other public discussions about eating disorders often focus on a specific diagnoses: anorexia, wherein sufferers often display the symptom of being severely underweight. Individuals who suffer from eating disorders can be of any weight, and they can fluctuate in weight.
It is also widely mistaken that eating disorders, despite the name, are entirely around the obsession of food. While eating disorders generally involve obsession with calories, weight or shape, these illnesses are rooted in biological, psychological and sociocultural aspects. Restriction, bingeing, purging or over-exercise behaviors usually signify an attempt to control something of substance in the individual’s life. Because friends and family mistakenly believe that eating disorders are just about food, they will often encourage their loved ones to “just eat more,” “just eat less,” or “just eat healthier” to be “cured” of this illness. In reality, eating disorders often require some combination of medical, psychiatric, therapeutic and dietary intervention to achieve full recovery. (eating recovery centre)
Another assumption to be re-established is the stigma that eating disorders are a "woman's illness". Despite there being the common sense that there is no biological reasoning to suggest eating disorders are impossible to be developed by men, a recent Harvard study found that closer to 25% of individuals presenting for eating disorder treatment are male. While research shows that eating disorders affect significantly more women than men, these illnesses occur in men and boys as well. What is misunderstood is that this notion being engrained in our society can make it agonisingly hard for a male suffering to open up and address their illness as an issue, which can lead to more severe outcomes.
Eating disorders are not something to be taken lightly. And peoples attachment and involvement in the illness can fluctuate throughout their lives, for it can depend on many different things. Therefore, it is common for many to assume that because one day a victim has eaten three meals a day, they have completely overcome their illness. The ultimate message I hope to be taken from this article is that, eating disorders are mostly unpredictable and no measure of statistics can control the insatiable illness. It can affect anyone, any time of their lives, and for no reason at all. All we can do as close ones is be supportive, educated and understanding... because you can never understand each sufferer's singular, personal, unique eating disorder.