Although there is increasing awareness of the scope and impact of eating disorders (EDs), there are still several myths or prejudices installed in society that, for the referents on the subject, it is essential to banish: because they not only distort reality, but make diagnosis and early care difficult.
That is why the World Academy for Eating Disorders developed, in conjunction with other organizations, a document called “9 Realities of Eating Disorders.” In dialogue with LA NACION, Mexican doctor Eva Trujillo, former president of the Academy for Eating Disorders, pediatrician, specialist in adolescents and eating disorders, and co-founder of the Beginning Again center, explains what are some of those most frequent myths:
Myth: You can tell just by looking at a person if they have an eating disorder.
Fact: Many people with an eating disorder look healthy, even though they may be extremely ill.
Keep in mind that many physical complications are not visible or recognizable. Most people who go through an TCA do not look extremely thin. In fact, they can occur in people of any weight, be it low, normal or high. This “healthy” appearance and failure to recognize the severity of these illnesses can delay seeking help or being detected by friends, family, or health professionals.
Myth: Families are to blame
Reality: Families are not to blame and can be the best allies in treatment for patients and healthcare professionals.
There are biological factors that contribute to the development of an ED, but no patterns associated with parental styles or family influence have been identified. Rather, families represent a very important base of support for patients in recovery. The affective support proved to be the most effective pillar in the treatment, for example, of anorexia nervosa in adolescents.
Myth: ACTs are a choice, a whim, or a wake-up call
Reality: They are not a choice, but serious diseases influenced by biological factors, among others.
Eating disorders are complex and multi-causal diseases. Among other factors, they are associated with a brain structure and function different from that of other people, with particular cognitive styles and personality traits. This is due to a dysregulation in the function of neurotransmitters.
Myth: They only occur in young, upper-class, and thin women
Reality: They affect people of any gender and sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, weight, body shape and socioeconomic status.
TCAs are far from affecting only women. However, it is true that the prevalence in them is much higher. On the other hand, men tend to seek treatment less and, therefore, are less diagnosed.
“The age group for eating disorders has widened enormously. We are seeing younger girls who start with body image or eating disorders before their first menstruation, as well as postmenopausal women,” says Guillermina Rutsztein, PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor and researcher at the Faculty of Psychology of the UBA. And she adds: “They also occur in men, although the ideal of beauty in them usually has more to do with the musculature, which gives rise to vigorexia.”
Along these lines, Juana Pouálisis, psychiatrist and specialist in eating disorders, stresses that many men begin, at mature ages, to suffer from the obsession of staying eternally young. They undertake endless days of exercise and obsessive diets. “I have had patients who consulted me for a decrease in libido, without knowing that a poor and deficient diet, and compulsive exercise routines, can be the cause of their low desire and sexual performance. Generally, men come to the consultation for the consequences. of her food obsession, by injuries that are generated by endless routines, fatigue, depression and lack of desire “, explains Pouis, author of the book. The new eating disorders.
Myth: You can live with an eating disorder for a long time without serious consequences.
Reality: They carry a high risk of suicide and medical complications.
Specialists warn that untreated eating disorders are associated with premature death. The risk of death for people with anorexia nervosa is 6.2 times that of the general population. In women between the ages of 15 and 24, the mortality rate is 12 times higher than in all other causes of death. On the other hand, anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of all psychiatric illnesses and one in every 5 deaths from this cause is attributable to suicide.
Myth: Society is to blame
Fact: Genes and the environment play an important role in the development of TCAs.
Genes play a role in TCAs, but they do not act alone, and the environment is important too. The culture of diets and the constant search for thinness can represent a risky scenario. However, despite constant exposure, only a proportion of individuals develop them. The most prevalent current hypothesis is that people who are genetically predisposed to these disorders are the most vulnerable to social pressures and environmental conditions. In short, as Trujillo explains, “genetics carry the weapon, but it is the environment that fires it.”
Myth: People with an ED will live with it forever.
Reality: Full recovery is possible. Early detection and intervention are very important.
Recovery from an eating disorder is not only possible, but probable. Early intervention improves the prognosis. Those who do not achieve complete remission of the disease notably improve their quality of life and physical condition.
Where to turn for help
- Durand Hospital: Tel .: 011 4982-5555 / 5655
- Piñero Hospital: Tel .: 011 4631-8100 / 0526
- Borda Hospital: Tel .: 011 4305-6666 / 6485
- Pirovano Hospital: Tel .: 011 4546-4300
- Argerich Hospital: Tel .: 011 4121-0700
- Garrahan Hospital: Tel .: 011 4122-6000
- Gutiérrez Hospital: Tel .: 011 4962-9247
- La Casita: is a care and prevention center for adolescents and young people and their families. To address the problem that may arise, it works emphasizing the resources of the person and their family system, relying mainly on the peer group. Tel .: 011 4787-5432.
- CITPAD: is a medical institution specialized in anorexia, bulimia and depressive disorders. It has a day hospital. Tel .: 011 4863-7640