The Pandemic and EDs; Debunking Common Myths around Eating Disorders

Thursday 3rd March


This is the penultimate post I will be sharing this week to end EDAW. I hope that those of you who have read my previous posts have had insight into the world of eating disorders and learned some new facts and attempted to understand what it’s like to experience the process of recovery. Again, I apologise if this week’s content has been rather heavy and sombre but I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to share this topic that nobody seems to want to talk about.

I also wanted to say a quick word about the upsetting scenes going on in Ukraine and Russia at the moment. This week I have only posted about Westernised topics such as eating disorders and body image and I am aware that some people may find this close-minded or just mere ignorance. I try and avoid talking about politics and wars on here as this blog focuses on principally mental health and lifestyle – but this war is becoming more and more serious and something to worry about indeed. I do feel a little too “western” to ignore this war and talk about a socially-constructed concept such as EDs, but regardless this is an important topic that I will continue to share and post about.

The pandemic has had devastating effects on the prevalence of eating disorders.

In 2020 there was a 66% increase in ED hospital admissions

https://www.thejournal.ie/eating-disorders-hospital-admissions-ireland-5331990-Jan2021/

This shows a direct correlation between the two. A journal written by Linardo, Rosato and Messer (2020) in Break Binge Eating, shows that 44% of those suffering with an eating disorder do not know where to get help from. This further points out that although the cases of admitted patients is rising, not everyone with an eating disorder gets admitted – most don’t, in fact. This is a common misconception in itself: you don’t have to necessarily ‘look sick’ or ‘be sick enough’ to have an eating disorder; you don’t need to be admitted to hospital. Every eating disorder is valid and you shouldn’t compare one to the other – everyone’s experiences with them are totally unique and different.

During the pandemic, worldwide these cases have risen. The lack of control and fear of uncertainty, and the constant talk about food and exercise, the fear of gaining weight by leading a more sedentary life, drove a lot of people, including myself, to an eating disorder. It gave me a true sense of control, something I could turn to to comfort me. It allowed me to cope with the situation. As it did for a lot of others just like me. Break Binge Eating reports that in a female survey, 80% agreed that their symptoms of pre-existing eating disorders worsened during the pandemic, and 65% in a mixed-gender survey experienced more food and exercise restriction.

It was a period of turmoil and unprecedentedness, especially among teens. I didn’t know if I’d see my friends again anytime soon, whether my exams were going ahead, whether universities was going to accept me. And doing more exercise, for me, gave me a routine during a time where everything was thrown out the window. It gave me structure and, at the start, when I enjoyed it, something to look forward to each day. But as the eating disorder grew and grew inside my brain, the voice getting louder, I began to dread those long workouts and runs I’d force myself to do – or rather my ED voice would force me to do. I feel as though a lot of people who developed an eating disorder during the pandemic also experienced this.

This leads me onto debunking common myths.

Myth 1: You do not need to be underweight to have an eating disorder, especially anorexia.

This is why the GP NHS system is so messed up, because they believe if your BMI isn’t low enough, then there must be nothing wrong with you. They do not see that EDs are mental, not physical. Weight loss is just a common consequence. This is due to the medical schools’ lack of training on ED treatment: less than two hours of their entire course. Percentage wise, that’s less than one percent of their degree.

Less than 6% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder and medically classed as underweight

https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/ https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74

Myth 2: eating disorders are a choice

Eating disorders are not ‘diets’ or ‘lifestyle choices’. Those who suffer from them do not simply decide one day to restrict or binge or purge. It is a mental illness – I cannot stress this enough. It is not easy to stop the process and way of thinking. Unfortunately it is not as simply as that.

Myth 3: recovery is just say “eat”

To recover, it is not as simple as waking up the next day after realising what’s happening and eating all three meals a day like we are told we should, and not exercise, or only do the 30 minute recommended amount. Eating disorder habits and instincts do not simply go away. A study revealed the eating disorders lasts for, on average, six years. But that doesn’t take into account the long-term effects and habits that you hold onto for a large part of your life. An eating disorder sticks with you, and a relapse could indeed happen later on in life if triggered.

Myth 4: you do not need to hospitalised to have a valid ED

I touched on this earlier. Only a small percentage of those with an ED are hospitalised. Recovery from home or in a hospital ward takes equal amounts of bravery and character strength and courage. One eating disorder is not worse than another. They are all valid and everyone who suffers with one deserves help and support.

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