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The SANE Blog

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Busting five myths regarding eating disorders and mental illness

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To reduce the rate of eating disorders in Australia we need to raise awareness of the symptoms, causes and impact. And to do this effectively we need to increase public understanding that these disorders are real and can affect anyone.

But there are lots of common myths that get in the way. These myths make it harder to raise awareness and can even result in judgmental attitudes and stigma. So to help demystify eating disorders, increase understanding and to stop the stigma here are five myths busted!

Myth 1: Eating disorders are a personal choice

Eating disorders are more than poor choices, they are serious and potentially life-threatening mental illnesses. A person with an eating disorder experiences severe disturbance in their behaviour around eating, exercise and self-harm because of distortions in their thoughts and emotions.

Myth 2: Eating disorders are a cry for attention

A person may go to great lengths to hide or disguise their behaviour around eating, or they may not even recognise there is a problem. Eating disorders are not a 'phase' and will not be resolved without treatment and support.

Myth 3: Families, in particular parents, are to blame for eating disorders

Although no single cause of eating disorders has been identified, there are many risk factors that increase the likelihood that a person will experience an eating disorder at some point in their life. The risk factors for eating disorders are broadly grouped into three categories:

1. Genetic vulnerability - A person’s genetics may predispose them to developing an eating disorder.

2. Psychological factors - Includes behaviours and personality characteristics including perfectionism, low self-esteem, stress, depression, trauma, avoiding social interaction and being prone to anxiety.

3. Socio-cultural influences - The society we live in plays a large role in how an individual perceives their body image. For example, the thought that thinness, muscularity or leanness equates to beauty and success. The representaion of these traits as desirable in the mass media. The social pressure to achieve and succeed. Or the peer pressure, bullying and troubled family or personal relationships that many people experience.

Family and friends play a crucial role in the care, support and recovery of people with eating disorders, by providing physical, emotional and psychological support.

Myth 4: Dieting is a normal part of life

Dieting substantially increases a person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. Dieting is also associated with other health issues including depression, anxiety, nutritional and metabolic problems, and putting on weight. Ninety-five per cent of people who diet will return to their usual weight, or weigh even more, within two years. Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and being physically active is the best way to maintain a healthy weight.

Myth 5: Eating disorders only affect women

Eating disorders are a mental illness that affects woman and men of all ages, from a range of backgrounds, and from different cultures.

Research suggests that around 36 per cent of all Australians experiencing an eating disorder are male. With men accounting for a quarter of those living with anorexia or bulimia.

Remember, the secret to fast and effective treatment is early diagnosis. Yet stigma and misinformation often gets in the way. The fear of judgement can stop people from seeking help and misinformation in the community makes it harder to raise awareness of the issue. So help SANE help others by bookmarking or sharing this mythbuster!

For free, confidential support for on eating disorders contact the Butterfly National Support Line on 1800 33 4673 or contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 187 263.

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