Myth # 4: Eating Disorders are a Choice
In this fourth of a series of videos debunking nine myths about eating disorders, Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina, explains why eating disorders are not a choice. The video was excerpted from a talk, "Eating Disorders Essentials: Replacing Myths with Realities," presented at the NIMH Alliance for Research Progress Winter Meeting, February 7, 2014 in Rockville, MD.
See the entire "Eating Disorders Myths Busted" series.
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>>Bulik: So here's another huge myth--that eating disorders are a choice. I think this is perhaps the most damaging one that our patients have had to deal with. We still see this when patients go to the emergency room and they get triaged really far down the priority list because the physician thinks that somehow they chose to have a ruptured esophagus or they chose to have electrolyte imbalance. We're going to bust it now. One of the reasons that I think this myth has really stuck with anorexia nervosa, perhaps more than other psychiatric disorders, is what I call the tyranny of face validity. People see this all the time in People magazine. They see the Calvin Klein ads, they see Twiggy back in the sixties, or they see the models, and they may make an association between the cultural thin ideal and what they imagine to be anorexia nervosa. What they don't see is the difference between these two pictures. This would never be on the front of People magazine because that has nothing to do with the cultural thin ideal. If you ask our patients if something like People magazine or models was what put them on the path to develop anorexia nervosa, the vast majority of them say no. There might have been a role in the very beginning that made them think “I'm going to go on that first diet.” But the minute they go on that first diet, their anomalous biology kicks in and anorexia nervosa just sends them down a path that they have no control over. So eating disorders are illnesses not choices.