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Eating Disorders: More Varied (And Prevalent) Than People Think

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Disordered Eating Beyond The Stereotypes

Around 10% of Americans* have (or have had) an eating disorder. That might not seem like a high percentage, but that’s one in ten; do you know 10 people? If so, it might be a topic that’s near to you.

*Source: Social and economic cost of eating disorders in the United States of Americ

Our hope is that even if you yourself have never had such a problem in your life, today’s article will help arm you with knowledge. You never know who in your life might need your support.

Very misunderstood

Eating disorders are so widely misunderstood in so many ways that we nearly made this a Friday Mythbusting edition—but we preface those with a poll that we hope to be at least somewhat polarizing or provide a spectrum of belief. In this case, meanwhile, there’s a whole cluster of myths that cannot be summed up in one question. So, here we are doing a Psychology Sunday edition instead.

“Eating disorders aren’t that important”

Eating disorders are the second most deadly category of mental illness, second only to opioid addiction.

Anorexia specifically has the highest case mortality rate of any mental illness:

Source: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa & Associated Disorders: Eating Disorder Statistics

So please, if someone needs help with an eating disorder (including if it’s you), help them.

“Eating disorders are for angsty rebellious teens”

While there’s often an element of “this is the one thing I can control” to some eating disorders (including anorexia and bulimia), eating disorders very often present in early middle-age, very often amongst busy career-driven individuals using it as a coping mechanism to have a feeling of control in their hectic lives.

13% of women over 50 report current core eating disorder symptoms, and that is probably underreported.

Source: as above; scroll to near the bottom!

“Eating disorders are a female thing”

Nope. Officially, men represent around 25% of people diagnosed with eating disorders, but women are 5x more likely to get diagnosed, so you can do the math there. Women are also 1.5% more likely to receive treatment for it.

By the time men do get diagnosed, they’ve often done a lot more damage to their bodies because they, as well as other people, have overlooked the possibility of their eating being disordered, due to the stereotype of it being a female thing.

Source: as above again!

“Eating disorders are about body image”

They can be, but that’s far from the only kind!

Some can be about control of diet, not just for the sake of controlling one’s body, but purely for the sake of controlling the diet itself.

Still yet others can be not about body image or control, like “Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder”, which in lay terms sometimes gets dismissed as “being a picky eater” or simply “losing one’s appetite”, but can be serious.

For example, a common presentation of the latter might be a person who is racked with guilt and/or anxiety, and simply stops eating, because either they don’t feel they deserve it, or “how can I eat at a time like this, when…?” but the time is an ongoing thing so their impromptu fast is too.

Still yet even more others might be about trying to regulate emotions by (in essence) self-medicating with food—not in the healthy “so eat some fruit and veg and nuts etc” sense, but in the “Binge-Eating Disorder” sense.

And that latter accounts for a lot of adults.

You can read more about these things here:

Psychology Today | Types of Eating Disorder ← it’s pop-science, but it’s a good overview

Take care! And if you have, or think you might have, an eating disorder, know that there are organizations that can and will offer help/support in a non-judgmental fashion. Here’s the ANAD’s eating disorder help resource page, for example.

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