Guest post: What eating disorders are, and aren’t.

Here at See Change, we passionately believe in the power of story-sharing to foster a shared understanding of the mental health problems that can affect any one of us. This week, we’ve asked bodywhys to share some common myths and facts surrounding eating disorders

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What Eating Disorders are-and arent












comma-leftThe myths that surround some mental health conditions can play a major role in creating – and maintaining – stigma around those issues. In the case of eating disorders, the misconception of an eating disorder as a short-term condition experienced by a young woman can be particularly problematic for those whose experience falls outside of that expectation.



Eating disorders are not about food

An eating disorder is a physical manifestation of complex emotional issues. The fact that the coping mechanism is centred around food behaviours does not mean that the issues themselves are in any way related.


An eating disorder is not a diet

Eating disorders are complex life-threatening conditions, and as such it is vital to distinguish between these mental health conditions and a ‘diet’.


Dieting is, however, a significant factor in the development of an eating disorder, and as such care must be taken when promoting healthy eating habits to ensure that excess emphasis is not being placed on achieving a certain level of weight loss, etc.


An eating disorder is not a choice.

Eating disorders are not a wilful form of ‘attention seeking’. When the eating disorder takes hold, it is as if the person does not have a conscious choice – they feel compelled, and frightened of not engaging in the disordered eating.


Eating disorders are not “a women’s issue”.

An estimated 10% of all cases of anorexia and bulimia are male – with recent research suggesting the true figure is closer to 25%. Promoting the perception that eating disorders are a women’s issue only serves to propagate this misconception, which in turn can further stigmatise men who are experiencing an eating disorder themselves


Eating disorders are not exclusive.

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that can extend beyond the class divide, beyond age, sex, and race. Eating disorders can affect everyone.


Eating disorders are not for life

With the appropriate treatment, people can and do recover from eating disorders. It is particularly important that this message be communicated in order to shatter the myth that an eating disorder may be a ‘life sentence’.




An eating disorder is a complex, life-threatening, mental health condition

In order to respect the experience of those affected by eating disorders it is important that the nature of the conditions be reflected appropriately in media work.


An eating disorder is a coping mechanism

For the person with an eating disorder, controlling food and the body is their way of relieving distress and achieving some degree of control over their life. Understanding that an eating disorder is a person’s coping mechanism helps those around the person to realise how frightening and difficult it is for the person to let it go as they recover.


Help is available

While an eating disorder can be a very isolating experience, there are a range of support services available both to those affected and to friends and family members. Bodywhys can also provide information about the range of treatment options available in Ireland.


Bodywhys – The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland

If you, a friend or a family member  are affected by an eating disorder you can contact

LoCall 1890 200 444


If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in raised here, or if you need to speak with someone, click through for a list of organisations that can help.

See Change understands that there is a complex multiplicity of perspectives on mental health problems and the experience of being unwell. See Change encourages the publication of material that promotes understanding of mental health problems, the experience of being unwell, and recovery. The opinions expressed by contributors to the Make a Ripple campaign are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of See Change, funders, or partner organisations.

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