It is estimated that approximately 16% of Australians are currently experiencing an eating disorder or disordered eating pattern and there is an increasingly obvious prevalence of comorbidities among those suffering from the condition.
In fact, the National Eating Disorders Collaboration cites research that has shown up to 97% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with concurrent experiences of anxiety, depression, substance misuse, or personality disorders.
Despite these alarming statistics, eating disorders are still one of the most under-communicated medical conditions in Australia, with a number of eating disorder patients describing their experience as misunderstood.
Eating Disorder Specialist at The Banyans, Dr Leanne Barron, works with those experiencing complex eating concerns and disorders to ensure the safest medically supported recovery journey. In an effort to end the stigma surrounding eating disorders and shed light on this condition that is too often hidden, we’ve broken down some of the most common myths about eating disorders.
Myth: Disordered eating is the same as an eating disorder
A common misconception is that disordered eating is the same as an eating disorder. While both are issues relating to food, eating disorders are more severe, both emotionally and physically. As a result, eating disorders have a much greater impact on a person’s life compared with disordered eating patterns.
Disordered eating patterns reflect some of the characteristics of eating disorders, but not all. Patterns of disordered eating include dieting, skipping meals, emotional eating or fasting. This focus on food and altered eating patterns can often be a catalyst for the development of a diagnosable eating disorder.
The difficulty comes when attempting to distinguish when disordered eating turns into an eating disorder. However, there are some signs that indicate this path. All-consuming thoughts about food, inability to socialise where food will be involved, and spikes in anxious feelings when thinking about food are just some of the signs to look out for. Ultimately, everyone suffering from an eating disorder will have a unique relationship with food, and picking up on changes in behaviour and focus will be a key identifier.
Myth: People choose to have an eating disorder
People never choose to have an eating disorder.
Instead, disordered eating patterns, such as frequent meal skipping or strict dieting, can prompt the development of more severe eating issues. Similarly, prolonged starvation can cause changes in cognition, behaviour, and interpersonal characteristics, which then only further exacerbate the development of more intense food-related concerns. It is also important to understand the wide variety of underlying issues that can trigger eating disorders, such as complex trauma, abuse, or anxiety.
In the instance of Anorexia Nervosa or Other Specified Food Eating Disorder (OSFED), these conditions are often control related. Individuals experiencing these eating disorder conditions may feel ‘out of control’ in other areas of their life, and thus focus on food to regain a sense of control. In contrast, those experiencing Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder often feel they have little or no control over their food consumption.
Eating disorders are a complex mental illness with a physical manifestation, and similar to other mental health conditions, no one is to blame. This can be especially difficult for a person’s friends and family to understand. The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders also cites a genetic basis for eating concerns, particularly relating to appetite, metabolism, mood, and pleasure-reward responses. Research unveiled this month showed 60% of eating disorders are now believed to be genetic.
Myth: People who have an eating disorder are always too thin
You cannot tell simply by looking at someone whether or not they are experiencing eating concerns. Eating disorders are very complex, and there are several manifestations. People experiencing eating concerns may be very underweight, they may be within a normal range, or very overweight, depending on their particular circumstances.
The four main diagnosable eating disorders – being Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Bulimia Nervosa, and Other Specified Food Eating Disorder – all present in individuals in very different ways, according their biological makeup. It is important to understand that no two eating disorders are the same – from the way the individual presents, the individuals’ underlying issues, and comorbidities.
Myth: You can recover, but you will struggle with eating concerns your whole life
Recovery is always possible. However, it is true that the longer someone has been experiencing eating concerns, the more difficult it can be to break the cycle.
If you are worried about a loved one, address any concerns you have in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. It is important that you have a discreet discussion with the person, as many people feel ashamed of their experience and go to great lengths to hide it.
Related: The language of addiction
As eating issues are such a complex psychological and physical illness, the importance of a comprehensive biopsychosocial approach to therapy, which Dr Barron specialises in, is crucial for successful recovery. The extended eating disorder treatment team at The Banyans Health and Wellness may involve other medical specialists (especially in cases involving comorbidities), psychologists, counsellors, dieticians or nutritionists as well as a supportive, reliable network of friends and family. It is important to be aware that treatment for eating disorders may also require hospitalisation, depending on personal circumstances and the severity of the condition.
The Banyans provides a completely individualised programs for those experiencing eating concerns. The highly experienced team and multidisciplinary approach to recovery is provides a unique method of restoration and treatment. The Banyans Health and Wellness approach addresses both the psychological and physical components of eating concerns, encouraging long lasting recovery and rehabilitation.
If you or someone you love would benefit from a program at The Banyans Health and Wellness residence, please call +61 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926) for a non-obligatory, confidential discussion or fill in our enquiry form below.