Debunking 4 Myths About Eating Disorders Print

When 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

scale 2It 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, behavioral, 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 that are emaciated, we also have other adolescent or adult clients that are overweight. We also have clients that over-exercise and eat less food than a two year old requires but would be classified within the healthy range of the Body Mass Index (BMI). In this case the comment “you don’t look like you have an eating disorder” is particularly damaging especially coming from a health professional, family member or friend.   This can lead to further feelings of shame, unworthiness and deepen controlled eating disorder behavior. Just like you can’t “work harder” to try and decrease your shoe size, our body size is similar in that at some point you can’t eat any less or exercise any more and be smaller. You cannot determine your body weight by looking at a chart (after all we are not robots). Your best weight should be determined individually by the notion of eating reasonably healthy (not obsessively dieting), being moderately active (not excessively exercising) and thirdly having enough fun and flexibility to live a balanced life.

Myth: I used to have an eating disorder but it went away on its own

Fact: Eating disorders do not go away and sustain into adulthood if untreated

“My mom never eats the same foods we do” “My dad only eats health food and exercises like crazy every day” “My mom wears smaller jeans than I do” “My sister had an eating disorder but I think it went away on its own” These are a few of the statements I have heard from clients struggling with an eating disorder that indicated some of the challenges around food, exercise, weight and emotions were learned at home. Children learn what they live. Actions speak louder than our words. Stuffed and starved emotions reflect back in unhealthy coping and limit our ability and our family’s ability to live our best life. It is never too late and you are never too old to seek help for disordered eating or problems with depression, anxiety and emotional health in general. Be honest and be brave. You can live a better and more flexible life than you are right now.

About Andrea Holwegner

CEO, Registered Dietitian, Counseling Practice Director & Professional Speaker

Andrea the «Chocoholic Nutritionist» is founder and CEO of Health Stand Nutrition Consulting Inc. since 2000. She is an online nutrition course creator, professional speaker and regular guest in the media. Andrea is the recipient of an award by the Dietitians of Canada: The Speaking of Food & Healthy Living Award for Excellence in Consumer Education....Read more

Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. Andrea and her team really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Andrea is an excellent teacher and motivator. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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