Common Anorexia Myths Debunked
“She looks soooo anorexic!”
“I couldn’t get an eating disorder even if I wanted to! I just love food too much!”
“I’m so jealous you have the self-control to not eat that slice of cake. I don’t….that’s why my bikini body will never exist.”
The number of times I hear flawed, absurd comments like these, either at school, in public places, or in conversation, is mind-blowing. My first reaction whenever I hear such remarks is one of guttural exasperation. It takes true strength to not fire back a childish insult like, “Why are you so stupid and ignorant?” However, upon calming down, I often find that people who make such comments aren’t coming from a place of maliciousness, but rather one of unbelievable unawareness. Because I have for so long received first-hand exposure to the world of recovery and thus have inadvertently become an expert on the inherent nature of eating disorders, I often forget that most have not received such an “extensive education.” Instead of blowing up in the faces of the mistaken, I have decided that it is both kinder and more useful to enlighten them.
1. There is one common physical characteristic between all anorexics—and that is being severely underweight.
False. Although many who struggle with anorexia can be so-called “stick thin” in the depths of their disorder due to restriction, anorexia nervosa by definition is a mental illness that may or may not be accompanied by some physical manifestation. While extreme weight loss is a common side effect of more inherent emotions of worthlessness, it does not occur in many cases. Thus, contrary to popular belief, you cannot tell if someone is anorexic merely by looking at them. Unless you hold some unheard of magic that allows you to read minds, you should let a diagnosis fall into the more professional, trained hands of a psychiatrist.
2. Weight-restored = Recovered
False. Again, weight-restoration is only one aspect of physical recovery, and doesn’t even begin to touch the surface of mental and emotional recovery. How can simple weight-restoration fix one’s bruised and broken mind? It can’t. To truly recover, an anorexic needs to change his/her delusional mindset and body-image, to restore an essential sense of self and life, and to gain the freedom to enjoy life without the constant obsession with food and flood of guilt concomitant to the disorder.
3. Recovery is easy: “Just eat.”
To me, this misconception gets under my skin the most. While trying to recover, I have often been asked the simple question, “Why can’t you just eat?” What frustrated me the most whenever I was asked this is that there was no clear answer, no way to put into words the seemingly demented power that my disorder held over me, literally making it physically painful to eat or even think about eating. To be quite frank, my answer to this day would still just be, “I don’t entirely know….it’s just more complicated than that.” How can I explain the inexplicable? How can I try to rationalize a truly irrational voice? How can I justify the unnatural act of self-starvation? I can’t.
But, I will say this. If recovery was as simple as “just eat,” why would we need all these residential treatment centers and specialized hospitals? Why would we need therapy? Why wouldn’t we all be cured by now? It’s because just eating will never solve the deeper issue, the issue of why we feel unworthy of the essential, the issue of why we feel undeserving of happiness and warmth and wholeness.
So, my responses to the initial three comments would be, “How can someone look anorexic when anorexia is an illness of the mind?,” “An eating disorder has nothing to do with a lack of love for food and everything to do with a lack of love for the self,” and “Those with eating disorders are diminished to props of an evil puppet master. They are not the ones doing the controlling, but the ones being controlled.”