Sunday, February 2, 2014

Eating Disorders Stereotypes and Myths Hurt, by Victoria Maxwell

Quick! What do you think of when you think of eating disorders?

Bulimia? Anorexia? Women and girls? What do those individuals look like? If it’s anything like the images and stories in the media, they’re rail thin young women barely hanging on to life. Now don’t get me wrong. These are accurate depictions of eating disorders, but they’re not the only ones. And this is where eating disorder stereotypes and myths hurt. There are other ‘faces’ of eating disorders too – ones that are less well known, less stereotypical, perhaps more hidden but just as destructive.

I know. For over 10 years food ran my life. Starting at the age of 17 I dealt with what I thought was ‘just a food problem’. Lots of out of control binges, shame, guilt, obsessiveness and then panicked attempts to reverse the damage. It was a cycle of hell. Then eventually it was everything except the panicked attempts to compensate. But it was still hell.

Because I was a ‘regular’ kind of weight (neither thin nor fat) and I didn’t fit with what (at least I thought) was ‘typical’ bulimic or anorexic behavior, I didn’t think my disorder was even a disorder. And worse, even if it was, I felt like I didn’t deserve the same care and attention as someone with what I thought was most certainly the ‘more legitimate’ illnesses.

What I did discover, thankfully, is that individuals with eating disorders come in all different shapes and sizes. A person with an eating disorder can be overweight, underweight, ‘normal’ weight; male, female, gay, straight, transgendered, young or old. And each and every one deserving good care and treatment.

I know now that what I initially had was a less common but not less serious form of bulimia which then developed into binge eating disorder (or BED). And both of them wreaked extensive havoc in my life.

But as I reached out for help through support groups and counseling I discovered that those of us with eating disorders may look different on the outside, the struggle within is equally painful. The support groups I attended were a huge help because I recognized although the outer symptoms of my illness were different, my mind set, my thinking, my perfectionism, my shame, and low-esteem was identical to others struggling and recovering.

It took time, but as I delved deeper into therapy, learned about cognitive behavioral therapy and attended support groups I can say that the disorder (whatever type you want to call it) no longer runs my life. It is barely perceptible to me, though I remain aware of warning signs, but even those are few and far between.

So this post is for all of you who feel isolated because you’re a man, a young boy, an elderly woman, maybe you don’t fall into the ‘traditional’ category of anorexia or bulimia or match the usual behaviors or images of eating disorders that we so often hear about in media stories. This for all you who feel you don’t fit in, don’t deserve help because you think what you’re going through isn’t serious enough or isn’t the same. This is what I know for sure. It is serious enough, you do fit in, and you do deserve support. Please reach out. You are not alone. And...it will get better.

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