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Demystifying Misconceptions About Anorexia

(Video transcript from Interview with Ann Kerr, Clinical Director from Waterstone Clinic for Eating Disorders):

One of the common misperceptions about eating disorders, in particular, anorexia nervosa. That’s the illness that people can see that someone has actually become very emaciated, they’ve lost a lot of weight. That in some ways anorexia is a choice.

The analogy that I use to try to help people understand this is that sometimes people cough and you can either suppress the cough or you cough.

But at some level the control of the cough changes when it becomes pneumonia and you’re coughing to stay alive. Anorexia is a bit like that. Initially, people go on a diet, maybe, or something stressful happens and they realize they’re less hungry, their weight drops, all of sudden people admire it or notice it. It feels alright initially and it’s somewhat in their control and then the nature of anorexia nervosa, as an illness, sets in. It is like pneumonia. Nobody chooses to have pneumonia, to lose their breath, to possibly die. Nobody chooses to have anorexia nervosa. The illness absolutely takes control over one’s brain, one’s character, and really- control over one’s life.

When someone has anorexia, it is a terrible illness and they are tormented within. They have very little control over their lives at that point.

So people think well maybe it’s a vanity thing because culture is somewhat about fashion and looks. Maybe, initially it starts out like that but it soon takes over and is its own dreadful illness that’s quite intractable, very hard to treat. It has the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.

People think it’s an illness of privileged people. That it’s an illness of only young people. None of those things remain true. That may have identified people when the illness was first identified. Back in the day it was identified, mostly in North America- at least in the Western world, amongst a privileged group of people and rarely identified with men.

It’s not about the privileged. People from all walks of life develop anorexia. It’s pervasive in the same way schizophrenia is pervasive. It’s all around the world.