Eating disorder myths shattered

By Andrea Holwegner, The Calgary Herald
August 29, 2014

Photograph by ThinkstockWhen I first graduated, I was naive and unprepared for the level of disordered eating that I would eventually see daily in my practice. I’ve learned lots from psychologists, my clients and spending time reading about anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other aspects of disordered eating. I wanted to share with you some of the most common myths we see at our practice to further your understanding:

Myth: It is mainly a food issue.

Fact: It is mainly a psychological issue. It is not uncommon to receive an inquiry from a concerned family member about someone who has lost a significant amount of weight, is obsessively counting calories or is bingeing uncontrollably on a wide range of foods. They are seeking help from a nutrition expert so we can “teach them what to eat” or “get eating under control.”

Eating disorders occur as a result of a complex combination of factors including emotional, behavioural, interpersonal and genetic factors. While working with a dietitian is important to help understand the science of nutrition and dispel misconceptions about what, when and how much to eat, the heart of the issue is why food started becoming an issue in the first place. Eating disorder behaviors occur when an underlying emotional struggle or life challenge is bigger than a person’s ability to cope. This is why changing behaviors can be difficult and take time. An eating disorder serves the purpose of addressing a need for control, numbing painful emotions or enhancing self-esteem.

Seeking the help of a trained psychologist that specializes in eating disorders is absolutely critical. Try out several therapists and find someone you trust and connect with.

Myth: Eating disorders don’t happen to guys.

Fact: Eating disorders can happen to anyone.

The National Eating Disorder Information Centre suggests that while females are more likely to develop an eating disorder, rates in males are increasing. Some research suggests one in four eating disorders occur in males.

Other research suggests that binge eating occurs equally in both males and females.

Seeking help for an eating disorder can be hard for anyone but are especially difficult for males who can experience extra shame, feelings of isolation and be provided with limited gender specific support. As a concerned friend or family member, focus on your concern for overall wellbeing (not their food, exercise or weight).

Signs of an eating disorder include obsessive exercise regimes, strict eating plans or avoidance of certain foods. Other signs include perfectionistic and self-critical attitudes towards nutrition and weight, supplement use in an attempt to add bulk or decrease weight, as well as comments about feeling fat or scrawny regardless of body size.

Myth: You have to be skinny to have an eating disorder.

Fact: Eating disorders come in all different body sizes.

One of my biggest frustrations is the false notion that people with eating disorders are all skinny.

While we have seen clients in our practice who are emaciated, we also have other adolescent or adult clients who are overweight.

Dietitian Andrea Holwegner, the chocoholic nutritionist, owns Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. Visit or phone 403-262-3466 for nutrition counseling, speaking engagements and to subscribe to her free monthly ezine or blog. Twitter:@chocoholicRD

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