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February 28, 2019 | Behavioral Health • Family Medicine
Emaciated, skinny, bone-thin and underweight are all words used to label people who have eating disorders. Even though these words may describe some people with eating disorders, they don’t accurately represent everyone with an eating disorder. These words are still used in our society today to solely describe those with eating disorders, which creates stereotypes. In order to curb these stereotypes, we need to separate the myths from the facts about eating disorders.
Fact: In the past, more women have had eating disorders than men. However, a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics says that in the past 10 years, males are one of the groups with the fastest growing rate of eating disorders. In fact, one statistic says that 1 out of every 10 people with an eating disorder is male.
Fact: Those in the LGBTQ+ community face a much greater risk of developing an eating disorder than heterosexual men and women. At the young age of 12, gay, lesbian and bisexual teens all have a higher risk of binge-eating and purging than those who are heterosexual. One study shares that gay males in particular struggle with eating disorders. Even though only 5% of the total male population is estimated to be gay, amongst males who have eating disorders, 42% identify as gay.
Fact: Anybody can develop an eating disorder, whether they exercise regularly or not. Those who exercise on a regular basis, such as athletes, can be more likely to develop an eating disorder due to their environment.
For example, wrestlers need to be a certain weight to perform in a specific weight class, and as a result, they track their food intake more rigorously than others. This type of environment could contribute to an eating disorder because the athlete is closely monitoring their weight, while at the same time, feeling the pressures that society puts on athletes to perform or look a certain way. Athletes in a weight-class or an aesthetic sport, like gymnastics or swimming, often develop an eating disorder. Within both weight-class and aesthetic sports, about 33% of males and 62% of females have eating disorders.
Fact: A more obvious symptom of eating disorders, especially anorexia, is being severely underweight, but there are also other symptoms, like gaining weight. One eating disorder, called the binge-eating disorder, causes people to lose control over their eating and become overweight or obese. Considering that there are many different types of eating disorders that cause people to both lose and gain weight, the perception that you have to be thin to have an eating disorder is inappropriate.
Fact: Although eating disorders often begin during the teenage years, they can still occur during both young-adult and middle-aged years, and even later in life. Often, people have lower body satisfaction as they get older due to aging, pregnancy, menopause, retirement and other age-related life events, which can lead to an eating disorder. Some older adults still struggle with the same eating disorder that they developed as a teenager.
Fact: Unfortunately, sometimes culture does contribute to developing an eating disorder. Although cultural reasons aren’t usually the main cause of an eating disorder, they can still be a contributing factor. Some cultural factors include religious beliefs, family life and work environment.
Research shows that Jewish women are more likely to get an eating disorder. Hypotheses of why Jewish women are subject to eating disorders more than others include the importance of being thin for marriage arrangements, a stigma of mental illness within Jewish communities and an emphasis on food in holiday meals. One study shows that in ultra-Orthodox and Syrian Jewish communities in Brooklyn, 1 out of 19 girls was diagnosed with an eating disorder. This statistic is 50% higher than the rest of the U.S.
Fact: Between 50 to 80% of a person’s risk for developing an eating disorder comes from genetic factors. In fact, recent findings show that anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are influenced significantly by genetics. Even though it may seem that eating disorders are solely caused by social and cultural factors, it’s important to remember that genetics can contribute to them as well.
Fact: Across the globe, 10,500 women and girls in 13 different countries say that media drives concerns about beauty and appearance anxiety. In addition, one study shows that teen girls who use social media were more likely than non-social media users to have a desire for thinness. Scrolling through photos and seeing idealized or even photoshopped pictures of others on social media could contribute to an eating disorder. Even just 30 minutes of social media a day can change the way a person perceives their body image.
Unfortunately, many of these myths about eating disorders still linger. In reality, eating disorders can develop in many different types of people including people of different races, genetics, cultures, ages, body types, sexual orientation, gender and athletic abilities. Even too much time spent on social media could contribute to an eating disorder. If you think you have an eating disorder, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss treatment options.
Revere Health Behavioral Health offers individual counseling services to manage mental health conditions. We understand that emotional well-being and physical health can be closely linked and that both are essential for your overall health. Our behavioral health professionals will work with you to develop a treatment plan that meets your individual needs and goals.
“Identity and Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Associations
“Eating Disorders.” National Institute of Mental Health
“Eating Disorder Facts & Myths.” The Center for Eating Disorders
“Stigmatization of eating disorders.” National Eating Disorder Information Centre
“The Genetics of Eating Disorders.” US National Library of Medicine https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3010958/
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.