5 myths about eating disorders
By: Amy Pfeffer, Master's level intern
There are many preconceptions about why an individual might struggle with an eating disorder and the steps that have led someone to succumb to disordered eating. For many who have never struggled with an eating disorder, it may seem easy enough to simply put food in one's mouth and "just eat" in order to quickly remove any "eating disorder" status. But for those who have walked the path of an eating disorder, there is a shared understanding that it is much more complex than simply "eating" and "food." Below is a list of five myths that tend to accompany eating disorders.
1) Myth: Attaining the perfect body will bring value, joy, and fulfillment to my life. Many of us have grown up watching movies, commercials, billboards, concerts, shows, and music videos that have been created in an over-sexualized and objectifying culture, particularly for women, but also including men. The message from diet culture is that weight loss elicit a life of perfection, attention, and satisfaction. However, what the literature tells us about perfectionism, in any regard, is that it reduces the capability for true human connection and the highest quality of life we could attain. This actually leads to decreased sense of self, decreased joy, and lowered fulfillment.
Oftentimes, those who struggle with an eating disorder may have anxiety and depression symptoms which mask the maladaptive perfectionism that lies underneath the surface. Learning to accept, or even love, our bodies, and reduce our perfectionistic tendencies, opens the door to true healing, connection, intimacy, and fulfillment.
~Maine, M. & Kelly, J., 2016, Pursuing Perfection: Eating Disorders, Body Myths, and Women at Midlife and Beyond
"It is a courageous act to accept your body in a society that is constantly telling you to take up less space." ~Laura Deneen
2) Myth: Eating disorders are only a "thing" because of body image issues. While many people with eating disorders struggle with their body image, eating disorders are also emotionally avoidant disorders. Whether you grew up in an environment that stifled emotional development or if you experienced relationships which drove the message home that feeling and expressing emotion was not appropriate, you may have learned to "can" your emotions throughout your life. Facing and challenging our thoughts, investigating and leaning into our emotions, and resisting shame of what our emotions might be telling us is an incredibly important part of your recovery.
"Are you turning towards or away from your emotions?" ~Laura Deneen
3) Myth: There is bad food and good food. Eating food that scares you is actually a part of eating disorder recovery. Breaking self-instilled boundaries to cope with outside factors is incredibly hard. Focusing on your thought process about food and challenging it with real truth is one way to beat this myth. Dietary allergies are real; and, putting food on a "banned" list (when it has nothing to do with allergies) may just increase the legalities that an individual with disordered eating places upon themselves. Individuals who have struggled with eating disorders understand that strict legalities only lead to further restrictions - whereas removing the labels of "good" and "bad" can be a freeing therapeutic and healing experience.
4) Myth: Recovery from an eating disorder is impossible. Thankfully, full eating disorder recovery happens every day! However, as Brene Brown points out, "Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." It is very important for you to be aware of which part of you has the microphone in any given moment. Is it your eating disordered self or your true, authentic, spirit-led, healthy self who is yelling the loudest? If it is your disordered eating self, it may be a good opportunity to thank this part of you for trying to protect you, but that today, you are going to allow your healthy self to speak a bit louder. Over time, this part of yourself will grow to appreciate your healthy self and may even integrate fully which allows the healthy you to take full charge. Remind yourself that people with eating disorders recover every day and that one of these recovery stories can be yours!
~8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder
5) Myth: I can only achieve uniqueness through my eating disorder. Some individuals who exhibit disordered eating patterns may think: "I get a lot of attention from my willpower over food. My eating disorder makes me stand out and be different. " It makes complete sense why some individuals would feel this way, however, the fact of the matter is that your food choices and your body are not what make you unique! Beginning to notice your thoughts, understanding that your thoughts may not be true, challenging your thoughts, and replacing them with affirming true and positive statements which override these negative, false thoughts, is one way to approach a new, healthy way of looking at food and how it impacts your body.
~8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder
The clinicians of Anchored Counseling Co. are authors of the blog, which includes content on eating disorders and co-occurring issues.
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