Recently at the University of North Carolina, Dr. Cynthia Bulik, debunked nine myths about eating disorders. The following outlines those myths and the truths that bust them.
Eating disorders do not discriminate. Many believe that eating disorders are found in females. However, more male teens are beginning to reveal their obsession towards looking good, staying thin, and having muscles. Over the years, there have been many cases of adolescent males with eating disorders. However, a recent study conducted by Boston Children’s Hospital indicated that male adolescents might be more at risk to eating disorders then previously thought. Researchers found that about 18% of male teens had extreme concerns about their weight and physique to the point that they were beginning to engage in risky behavior. Another survey done in 2012 interviewed over 2,800 middle and high school teens and found that two thirds of boys changed their eating habits to increase their muscle size and tone.
A teen’s physical size won’t indicate whether he or she has an eating disorder. It’s common to believe that those teens that are very thin have anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder in which food intake is controlled. Or that teens that are overweight might have binge eating disorder or bulimia, disorders in which the ability to control how much one eats is lost. However, any teen, no matter their weight or physical size can be vulnerable to any type of eating disorder.
Families do not cause eating disorders. Instead, families can be great allies when a teen is in treatment for his or her disorder. It’s sometimes believed that certain types of families create the right conditions for an eating disorder to present itself in teens. However, there is no typical family that could cause an eating disorder. These mental illnesses can show up in any family at any time.
Certain biological genes will lead to having an eating disorder. Although genetic disposition is a factor in the development of eating disorders for teens, genes do not have a 100% predictability rate. About 40% of those diagnosed with eating disorders indicate that their environment was a greater factor than their genetics. For instance, teens who participate in gymnastics, ballet, figure skating, and long distance running often feel pressured to keep their weight low and their physical performance high. This pressure can increase the risk of developing an eating disorder. Risk factors include sports that pressure athletes to perform at certain standards and who require periodic weight check-ins.
Society alone is to blame for the development of eating disorders. Many still believe that society is the only major contributor to whether a teen or adult develops this mental illness. However, the truth is that eating disorders run in families; they are heritable. Genes play a significant role; however, environment is also very important.
Complete recovery is possible. Although there are many who believe that once you have the illness, you will always be vulnerable to relapse, in fact the opposite is true. Recovery from teen eating disorders can happen and they can happen at any age.
The above myths and the truths behind them were presented by Dr. Cynthia Bulik at the NIMH Alliance for Research Progress Winter Meeting, February 7, 2014 in Rockville, MD.
Bulik, Cynthia. (February 7, 2014). Nine Eating Disorders Myths Busted. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved on July 31, 2014 from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2014/9-eating-disorders-myths-busted.shtml
By Robert Hunt
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