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Tackling Myths about Eating Disorders and Anorexia among today’s American Youth

By Ricky M. Elgendy Published: December 8, 2011

Tackling Myths about Eating Disorders and Anorexia among today’s American Youth By Ricky M. Elgendy Published:

I never truly understood the idea of Eating Disorders or really took it as a serious mental

condition until now since I took this course and did my group project on the “Barbie theory”. I

have never met anyone who struggled with this problem in my life and for the past 25 years of

my life, I have been brought up to eat as much as I want or need. Growing up in a Caribbean

family, the common factor is to not only eat, but to enjoy eating. In most Caribbean countries,

somebody is almost laughed at for being too skinny and people always pressure them to eat

more. “Boy, you better put some meat on them bones. Here have another plate”, is a

commonly heard phrase amongst family members and I had that told to me many times

throughout my childhood, as I visited different family member’s homes at dinner time.

Even my mother grew up with the same tradition decades ago in Haiti, so for years

when we would watch Television and see mostly young wealthy girls from the suburbs who

have Eating Disorders purposely take laxatives, vomit their food, practice self starvation and

physically harm themselves, we could never understand it. So we thought that they were either

too bored, looking for attention or they just want to be on TV talking about their “disorder”. We

never even knew or seen any people of color struggle with this problem. The general

population also has limited personal knowledge about this epidemic and often create their own

ideas of myths associated with people struggling with this.

Even my mother grew up with the same tradition decades ago in Haiti, so for years

(Photo courtesy of hypnotherapist.org)

In 100 Questions & Answers About Anorexia Nervosa by Sari Fine Shepphird, PhD, she

lists a series of the crucial and commonly misunderstood myths that the general population

have about their disease and she proves them to be false.

Myth: People chose to have anorexia. Fact: People do not chose to have anorexia. Anorexia,

like other forms of eating disorders, is a serious illness. (Shepphird, 38)

Myth : People chose to have anorexia. Fact : People do not chose to have anorexia.

(Photo courtesy of newdimensionshomehealth.com)

Myth: Eating disorders are primarily about food and weight. Fact: Anorexia and other eating

disorders are not solely a problem with food. Behaviors such as food restriction, fasting and

purging are symptoms of underlying issues. (Shepphird, 38)

Myth: Individuals with anorexia are just trying to get attention. Fact: People do not develop

anorexia as a way to seek out attention. Although it is maladaptive, anorexia can sometimes

serve as a person’s way to cope with something painful in his or her life. (Shepphird, 39)

Myth: Anorexia is about vanity. If a person with anorexia says, “I feel fat”, its just to get

compliments. Fact: People with anorexia experience a real distortion in their body

image…Described as looking in a “fun-house mirror,” the self- perceptions of people with

anorexia are not an accurate reflection of their true body weight and shape. (Shepphird, 39)

Now after I read this, I seriously wonder if my ex girlfriend had this issue. She is about 90

pounds, wears a size small and was always saying that she “looks fatin front of other people.

She even says it to a person who was actually overweight by over 300 pounds. I used to tell her

all the time to stop saying that because she is very skinny and she is making the overweight

person feel back about herself. I probably should have had a serious talk with her back then

when she brought this up, but I never took what she said seriously. Like most, I thought she was

just trying to get attention or to get people to tell her, “Oh please I wish I had your body girl.

You are lucky!.

Myth : Anorexia is about vanity. If a person with anorexia says, “I feel fat”, its

(Photo courtesy of Softpedia)

Myth: Anorexia is a rich, young, white girl’s problem. Fact: Research as shown that this is not

true. A person with anorexia may be from any racial, ethnic, or economic background. Anorexia

does not discriminate. It affects young and old, female and male. (Shepphird, 39). I definitely

think that this is the biggest misconception that people have. Whenever we hear the word

Anorexia…the first thing that generally comes to mind is “White Girl. In If Your Adolescent Has

an Eating Disorder: an Essential Resource for Parents by B. Timothy Walsh, M.D., and V. L.

Cameron, they also speak on this myth by saying, “The Office of Women’s Health (OWH)

points out, an increasing number of girls and boys from all ethnic and racial groups are suffering

from eating disorders, although their cases can go unreported “due to the lack of studies that

include representatives from these groups.” They stated that the reason for the exclusion of

minorities in early research on eating disorders was due to most studies only being conducted on

college campuses or in hospital clinics. “For reasons related to economics, access to care, and

cultural attitudes toward psychological treatment, middle-class white females were the ones

seeking treatment and thus became the subjects of research.” In addition they go on to say,

“Also, the OWH surmises that girls of different ethnic and cultural groups may not seek

treatment because of “difficulty in locating culturally sensitive treatment centers.” (Walsh,

Cameron, 42)

Myth: You cannot die from anorexia if you exercise to keep your heart and body strong. Fact:

People with anorexia may believe this myth in an attempt to convince themselves that their

illness is not serious. Some believe that taking vitamin supplements will protect their bodies

from the effects of malnutrition or that they will not face health risks if they avoid certain well-

publicized eating disorder behaviors. (Shepphird, 40)

(Photo courtesy of my-children.me) Myth : Anorexia is just a “phase”. Fact : Anorexia is never

(Photo courtesy of my-children.me)

Myth: Anorexia is just a “phase”. Fact: Anorexia is never normal behavior. It is an eating

disorder that needs serious attention. (Shepphird, 41)

Myth: You can never recover from anorexia. Fact: You can recover. Recovery can take time, but

with the help of treatment, it is possible. (Shepphird, 41)

It is important to know that there are two different types of eating disorders. In Eating

Disorders: Opposing Viewpoints by Jennifer A. Hurley, she describes them. “Anorexia Nervosa

is distinguished by the refusal to maintain a normal body weight. The longer and more extreme

the starvation, the more severe the health repercussions. Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by

episodes of bingeing and purging- through vomiting, laxative use or compulsive exercising.

Although both eating disorders are highly detrimental, many medical professionals consider

bulimia the more dangerous disorder.” (Hurley, 26, 27) Hurley goes on to explain the reason why

this is, Bulimics almost always maintain a normal body weight and are extremely secretive

about their disorder. Thus, the friends and family members of a bulimic may not even know of

her problems until she is already in an extremely advanced stage of the disorder.” (Hurley, 28)

Although both eating disorders are highly detrimental, many medical professionals consider bulimia the more dangerous disorder.”

(Photo courtesy of eatingdisorderadvice.org and methodsofhealing.com)

In If Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder: an Essential Resource for Parents by B.

Timothy Walsh, M.D., and V. L. Cameron, they list the personality traits for family and friends

to look out for in determining if their loved one has anorexia disorder. “Anorexia nervosa has

been consistently linked to such personality and temperamental traits as negative self-evaluation,

low self-esteem, extreme compliance (submission to the wishes or suggestions of others),

obsessiveness, and perfectionism. These traits continue to characterize individuals with anorexia

nervosa even after recovery.” (Walsh, Cameron, 42) To me, most of these traits are in pretty

much young person I ever meet. Everybody feels down sometimes and it could be mistaken as

having anorexia, especially if the person who is down is very thin. I guess it is best to have an

open and delicate conversation with the person to get the underlying truth, and maybe even bring

the person to get evaluated by a professional to determine if there is an issue or not to be worried

about. I did find it to be very interesting that even after treatment and recovery, these negative

traits are still in the person. So their body heals, but not their mind or mentality with how they

view and feel about themselves. So I wonder if they ever do truly recover or do they relapse later

on in silence.

In Anorexia and Bulimia in the Family: One Parent's Practical Guide to Recovery by

Grainne Smith, she provides very good and wise advance to combat bulimia in a family member

that I never even thought of.

“Allow everyone to serve themselves.

To make no comment about what goes on to anyone’s plate (not easy) no matter how

much, how little, how bizarre, how disgusting, how amazing. Making comments, whether

they were meant as encouragement or condemnation or disgust, simply cause more bad

feeling.

To continue our lifelong practice of eating together at the table, despite more than one

suggestion from Anorexia of separate eating times.

To tell anyone who is there for a meal of the eating problem and ask them to avoid

mentioning any topic connected with food and try to keep conversation general, to think

of topics in advance if necessary.

At the end of the meal, to try to keep Bulimia at the table, to keep her talking, anything to

disctract her from going immediately to the bathroom to get rid of what she has eaten. It

is possible that a discussion of interesting topics may indeed help prevent or at least delay

a visit to the bathroom.” (Smith, 113 to 115) I really love all of this great advice that

Smith gave, because she herself is a person who is now recovered from anorexia after

many years of effort to beat the disease and these steps helped her become the expert in

this topic that she is today.

is possible that a discussion of interesting topics may indeed help prevent or at least delay

(Photo courtesy of acelebrationofwomen.org)

(Photos Courtesy of the Wendy Williams Show) Even fitness guru Richard Simmons had a serious eating
(Photos Courtesy of the Wendy Williams Show) Even fitness guru Richard Simmons had a serious eating

(Photos Courtesy of the Wendy Williams Show)

Even fitness guru Richard Simmons had a serious eating disorder for all of his life and he

described it on the Wendy Williams show on 11/15/11. He took diet pills, threw up, starved and

did other things ever since he was a child to remain thin, since he thought that people would

ONLY like and accept him if he was physically thin. He said at one point he lost 115 pounds in 2

and a half months and lost all his hair, which resulted in him having to get a hair transplant at

the insanely young age of 19. I never knew that he of all people in this world would have that

issue, since he is always working out and helping other people get in shape by way of working

out for decades. I also never knew that anyone can get a hair transplant at the age of 19. That is

a procedure that is supposed to be done by middle age and older men who have lost their hair

through the aging process and not starvation. He gave a piece of advice to the audience by

saying, If men and women lose their hair too quickly, it doesn’t come back and if you look in

the mirror and you do not like what you see…change it!”.

In Understanding Eating Disorders: Conceptual and Ethical Issues in the Treatment of

Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa by Simona Giordano, she describes how the idea of an eating

disorder is virtually unknown in other countries as they are here. “Eating disorders have

always been thought to be related to social factors. They are found almost exclusively in

Western countries or Westernized societies. Medical literature does not report cases of

eating disorders in developing countries. They are already registered in South Africa and

Santiago Chile. They are spreading in areas that are becoming more Westernized, such as

China after Mao. For these reasons, it is agreed that eating disorders are a culturally bound

syndrome.” (Giordano, 146)

In conclusion, I wonder after reading this, where did “we” or the westernized society get

the concept of eating disorders from since developing countries seemingly have no

problems with eating? And since we are spreading our ideas around to different countries

and continents, would eating disorders be the norm one day in the future? If so, then this

would be a huge problem for how women see themselves and their life span will be

radically reduced a unfortunate number of years. In a world where the western world

dictates what is “cool” and the “norm” for other countries to follow, I can only imagine the

young girls all over the world who may see this as something that is “normal” U.S. culture

and not as the disease it really is. At least this article proves that the current commonly

misunderstood myths about eating disorders are false and we will just have to wait and see

what happens in the future as more people learn the truth about the disease one person at

a time.

Bibliography

Giordano, Simona. Understanding Eating Disorders: Conceptual and Ethical Issues in the Treatment of Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. Oxford: Clarendon, 2005. Print.

Shepphird, Sari Fine. 100 Questions & Answers about Anorexia Nervosa. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett, 2010. Print.

Hurley, Jennifer A. Eating Disorders: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2001. Print.

Walsh, B. Timothy, and V. L. Cameron. If Your Adolescent Has an Eating Disorder: an Essential Resource for Parents. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. Print.

Smith, Grainne. Anorexia and Bulimia in the Family: One Parent's Practical Guide to Recovery. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2004. Print.

Wendy Williams Show interview with Richard Simmons on November 15, 2011.