Eating Disorders: The Misconceptions

As someone who has suffered from a lot of different eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, binge eating – I wanted to use my experience to help clear up a few myths and misconceptions that tend to surround disordered eating.

This blog post contains descriptions of eating disorders and could be potentially triggering, especially to anyone in recovery. If you feel that you could be affected negatively by this, please stop reading here.

1. You must be underweight to have anorexia or bulimia.

This is completely untrue. My dress size, now that I’m eating a regular amount for my body (ie. not binging or purging), usually stays between a UK size 10 and 12. When I was in the very depths of anorexia and bulimia, I was a size 8. I was never frail enough to be hospitalised, I never collapsed due to starvation, I was never at the point of being just skin and bone – and at my worst, I was eating 500-800 calories a day. The idea that a person has to be a skeleton with skin in order to have an eating disorder is misinformed and downright dangerous, as it means that people with anorexia who aren’t thin end up being completely ignored and miss out on the support and treatment they desperately need for recovery. Anorexia and bulimia come in all shapes and sizes, and someone who is anorexic and/or bulimic at say, a size 16, is dealing with a mental illness just as much as someone who is a size 0.

2. All binge eaters are overweight.

Again, not true. When I was at the worst of my binge-eating – around my pre-teens – I was never any bigger than I am now. Binge eating is not as simple as eating a lot, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you eat non-stop all the time. You start with something small, like a chocolate bar or a biscuit, and then another, and another, until you’ve eaten maybe four or five times the amount of food you originally set out to eat. Binges are quick and done in secret. Sometimes they go hand-in-hand with bulimia, and often they mask an underlying issue. For me, I replaced the emotional support I needed, but wasn’t receiving, with food. Like anorexia sufferers, binge eaters come in different shapes and sizes. It’s ignorant to presume that someone who is overweight is automatically a binge eater, much as it’s ignorant to presume that a very thin person is anorexic.

3. Bulimia is a quick and easy way to lose weight.

Eat whatever you want, quick trip to the bathroom, done. Sounds so easy, right? Wrong. Bulimia is just as difficult, if not more difficult, to cope with as any other eating disorder. Your throat is used to food going down it, not coming back up. And it’s not easy as a minute or two over the toilet and it’s all done. It hurts – your eyes are watering, your throat is in agony, and then when you finally get it to happen, it doesn’t want to stop, and then you’re trapped, hoping to god that it does stop before you either choke or someone hears you. And then there’s the disgusting taste and stinging in your throat that refuses to go away, and the horrible empty feeling in the stomach that’s going to need fed again. And so the cycle repeats. There’s nothing glamorous about it.

4. People with eating disorders can control what they’re doing.

This is honest to god horseshit, and frustrates me to no end when I hear ignorant people say that people with eating disorders are “just doing it for attention” or are “selfishly hurting the people around them”. An eating disorder, no matter which it is, is a mental illness. It may start as the thought of “I only want to lose a few lbs”. That’s how mine started. And even when I was barely eating, throwing up what I did eat and running around the house like I was possessed when no one else was home, I still thought I had control. I thought I was just on a diet, and this was completely normal behaviour.
And that’s the scary and dangerous thing about eating disorders, they gain so much control in such a short space of time that you often don’t realise when it genuinely used to be just a diet, or just a few extra chocolate bars at night, or just a few gym sessions a week, and when it became your whole life. Everything becomes about food, how much you can eat, how much you can avoid, what helps you lose weight the fastest, what food satisfies that nagging craving, food food food. Does any of that sound like someone who is in control of what they’re doing? I sincerely hope your answer was no.

Eating disorders don’t have a “look.” They don’t have a size. Anyone can suffer from an eating disorder, regardless of weight, gender, anything. Eating disorders don’t discriminate. But society does, and there’s where the problem lies. We live in such a horribly fatphobic world – people don’t care if you eat healthily or if you exercise, unless you’re fat. They praise the thin people who can eat whatever they want, and mock fat people for eating the exact same thing. People don’t care about your health – though lord knows they’ll claim to – your body is seen as offensive if it’s a certain size. And this is where eating disorders can very easily creep in and pretend to make things all better. But please remember:

You are more than your size.
You are more than your weight.
You deserve to be happy, and thin doesn’t automatically mean happy.

If you are living with an eating disorder and need help, or think someone you know may need help, I’ve put a few useful websites below that are a good starting point for more information and advice. Alternatively speak to your doctor, or check if there’s a local support group you can attend. If you think I can help at all, feel free to leave a comment here or contact me via Instagram (@frenchy.kiss), and I’ll do my best to respond.

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