1. “…that someone can love food AND have an eating disorder.
Many people with eating disorders spend their entire day thinking and obsessing about food, and many are chefs or bakers themselves. One reason is that restricting directly causes food obsession (see the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, but TW for emaciation, restriction, numbers, disordered thoughts and behaviors). Eating disorders are just that — a disordered relationship with food, rather than no relationship with food at all.
2. “…that eating disorders are an illness, not a choice or a character flaw.”
Eating disorders are a mental illness. The individual behaviors may be choices, but the self-destructive compulsion behind them is not something anyone would choose.
3. “…that eating disorders are about more than wanting to lose weight and get thin.”
Eating disorders are a coping mechanism whereby people all other worries and insecurities are translated into body dissatisfaction/a disordered relationship with food. It may present as a single-minded desire for thinness, but first and foremost it is a mental illness and a self-destructive, slow suicide.
4. “…that ANYONE can get an eating disorder.”
People with eating disorders can be extroverted, introverted, vain, selfless, cheerful, morose, popular, outcasts, smart, learning disabled, rich, poor, young, old, Black, White, Latin@, Asian, male, female, queer, gay, straight, bi, fat, thin, or anything in between. There is no group that is totally immune to mental illness.
5. “…that eating disorders are largely genetic.”
Recent research indicates that people are born with a predisposition for eating disorders; a common analogy is that genetics is the gun, and environmental factors (upbringing, diet culture, fatphobic messages in the media, etc.) are the trigger.
6. “…that diet culture is so insidious, pervasive, and harmful.”
Diet culture is what allows eating disorders to hide so well. Instead of being alarmed at rapid changes in diet or the obsessive following of arbitrary food rules, we laud people for their “self-control” and “willpower.” When someone goes to the gym so often they are letting their other responsibilities slide and injuring themselves, they are “dedicated” and “determined.” Diet culture holds weight loss as a worthy goal in and of itself, so eating disorders become merely a misguided way to a good goal rather than a completely distorted, deadly value system. Diet culture preaches everything that eating disorders preach: that self-loathing and body hatred are normal, that fat is universally bad, that the only way to really love yourself or be happy is to change your body.
7. “…that eating disorders aren’t ‘just a phase’.”
Some people do only have an eating disorder for a short while and it gets better with time. However, many people do not get better without help; and if an eating disorder goes untreated it can become a debilitating, lifelong disability with a death sentence.
8. “…that not everyone with an eating disorder loses weight.”
Not all eating disorders are purely restrictive; some eating disorders are characterized by binges, like BED or bulimia nervosa. Disordered eating also very often leads to weight yo-yoing rather than sustained weight loss.
9. “…that eating disorders are very messy.”
Eating disorders are far from glamorous. They cause great physical damage, everything from dry nails and rotting teeth to laxative addiction and muscle wasting, to eroded stomach lining and Barrett’s esophagus — where throat lining is replaced by intestinal lining, sometimes leading to throat cancer.
10. “…that bulimia isn’t delicately/quietly puking after meals.”
Purging can include over exercising, diuretics and laxatives, not just vomiting. [TW: v*miting] Also, vomiting is rarely delicate OR quiet. Your body doesn’t like to throw up, so it makes it as unpleasant, loud, noisy and messy as possible. It’s nowhere close to dainty OR neat.
11. “…that people with anorexia actually do eat.”
If someone did not eat at all they would be dead in 1-4 weeks. Anorexia is marked by restriction, generally not total abstinence from food.
12. “…that there are other eating disorders besides anorexia and bulimia.”
Binge Eating Disorder (BED), and Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), which includes Atypical anorexia nervosa, Subthreshold bulimia nervosa, Subthreshold binge eating disorder, Purging disorder, and Night eating syndrome, are also very serious eating disorders that can cause significant emotional and physical damage.
13. “…that just because someone is doing it for attention, doesn’t mean they’re not sick.”
Sometimes it IS for attention; often there are other situations (such as abuse or a pre-existing and untreated mental disorder) which a sufferer doesn’t know how to talk about; instead, they develop an eating disorder as a way to cope with that situation as well as to communicate that something is seriously wrong. Ignoring an eating disorder because you believe it’s “just” for attention is exactly like ignoring a suicide jumper who you think is doing it “just” for attention. The end result is unfortunately very similar.
14.“…that someone I’m close with may have an eating disorder even I don’t know about.”
Eating disorders are very secretive and thought of as something shameful, so many sufferers will lie and hide their eating disordered behaviors.
15. “…that I don’t have to be ashamed of or regret my eating disorder in order to recover.”
Eating disorders serve a purpose for a tough period of someones life. They may not be a good coping mechanism, but it is not something you choose. You should not be ashamed of having an eating disorder.
16. “…that recovery is really hard.”
Eating disorders are an addiction, and are as hard to recover from as any other addiction. But with eating disorders, it’s complicated because total abstinence thing isn’t possible — you have to learn moderation, you have to eat.
17. “…that recovery is so worth it.”
When you can go out to eat with friends and focus on being with them instead of the number of calories on the table, when eating is a part of your day instead of the thing that ruins your day, when you are really living instead of dying… there are infinite reasons to recover that make it worth it.