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We’re not all thin

By: Carley Borrelli

Individuals with eating disorders are often stereotyped as extremely skinny and underweight. While many individuals do exhibit this appearance, individuals can still be a normal weight and be diagnosed with an eating disorder. Below are some myths similar to the one above commonly used to discuss eating disorders and their diagnosis.

Myth: Only females have eating disorders.

While females are much more likely to have eating disorders, people often forget that they occur in men as well. According to The Eating Disorder Foundation, eating disorders are about ten times more prevalent in females than in males.

Myth: Binge eating is not a real eating disorder.

In the most recent edition of the DSM, The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disoders, binge eating disorder was recognized as an eating disorder. It is characterized by recurrent episodes of consuming large amount of food in specific period of time.  The binge eating episodes must have occurred once a week for the past three months and not have concurrently occurred with vomiting or excessive exercise.  The individual also must show marked distress regarding binge eating, according to the DSM.

Myth: Anorexia nervosa is the most highly diagnosed eating disorder.

The majority of individuals with an eating disorder are diagnosed as EDNOS, or eating disorder not otherwise specified. Roughly 50% of all eating disorder cases fall under EDNOS. If an individual does not meet the exact criteria for an eating disorder, they are put into this category. Individuals with EDNOS could also have a combination of eating disorder symptoms that don’t fully agree with the criteria. This can be difficult for individuals to understand and for health professionals to decide on a treatment plan.

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Myth: People with eating disorders are not at a high risk for death.

Out of all psychiatric disorders in the DSM, anorexia nervosa has the highest rate of mortality, even though it only occurs in 5% of the population. 20% of people suffering from anorexia nervosa will die from complications related to anorexia nervosa such as malnutrition or suicide.  A high number of individuals with anorexia nervosa often have comorbid depression, which can lead to suicide.

Myth: If you make yourself vomit, you have bulimia nervosa.

Individuals with bulimia nervosa often exhibit self-induced vomiting, but there are many possible compensatory behaviors. Other compensatory behaviors for bulimia nervosa include: fasting, excessive exercise and use of laxatives to prevent weight gain. You must also have recurrent episodes of binge eating where you consume a large amount of food during a two-hour period, use the compensatory behavior to offset the eating, and  feel a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode. The use of compensatory behaviors to prevent weight gain following binges distinguishes bulimia nervosa from binge eating disorder.

Myth: Bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa have been around for a few hundred years.

While there have been reports of self-starvation from the 11th and 12th century of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa has only occurred in the 20th century and has been categorized as a culture-bound disorder. This means that bulimia nervosa came about due to characteristics of the Western culture. With access to unlimited amounts of food and indoor plumbing to hide binges, individuals have been able to hide their behaviors in the midst of the developed Western culture. Also, high pressures have been imposed on women in Western culture due to the standards of female beauty in our society which has led to higher rates of bulimia nervosa.

These facts highlight the grave importance of eating disorders and seriousness in early diagnosis and treatment. It is crucial to pay attention to friends and family in your life and help them seek help from a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed.