The common assumption about people with anorexia is that they don’t eat or eat only healthy, nutritious foods, are frightfully thin and that they do not want to restore weight. This is true for some people who struggle with anorexia, but not all. In fact, people with anorexia range vastly in symptoms and appearance. The following misconceptions are things I hear regularly from my clients and families:
Myth 1. People with anorexia don’t eat. While some people with anorexia eat minimally, others eat regular meals and snacks. The commonality is that the person with anorexia consistently eats less than their body requires which leads to weight loss or maintenance of an artificially- low body weight.
Myth 2. People with anorexia only eat healthy foods. Fruits and veggies, no processed foods, whole or no grains are rigid rules of some people with anorexia, but just as many anorexics consume hamburgers, cookies and candy. How can this be? Many anorexics have figured out that quantity, not quality leads to weight manipulation. If intake is less than needs, regardless if the intake consists of calorically dense foods, weight loss is achieved. Other people with anorexia “eat for show.” In social situations, eating is normalized; however when alone the individual with anorexia makes up for eating by restricting.
Myth 3. People with anorexia are skeletal and frail. This is probably the most misunderstood myth. Because the media sensationalizes only the sickest girls with anorexia, our society tends to think that anorexia is defined as those girls whose appearance is extreme. The other reason this is difficult to understand is because all bodies are different. Weighing less than 85% of expected weight differs since expected weight is dependent on many factors including ethnicity, genetics, age and body frame.
Myth 4. If someone has been thin throughout her life, she doesn’t have a problem. In some cases a child or adolescent who has always been thin increases in height but does not keep up with expected weight gain.
Myth 5. People with anorexia do not want to gain weight. Some people who struggle with anorexia have a realistic body image and do in fact want to restore weight.
Everyone knows someone with an eating disorder and just because a person eats and looks “OK” doesn’t mean that she is healthy.
Pam Chin-Lai, MS, RD, LD, CEDRD specializes in the nutritional rehabilitation of eating disorders in children, adolescents and adults.