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HealthInfo Canterbury

Myths about anorexia and bulimia

Myth 1: Families can cause anorexia

There is no research evidence that proves a link between family dysfunction and the start of anorexia. Before the illness starts, the proportion of families with relationship problems is about the same in the families of people with anorexia as in the general population. It is common for families to become distressed once anorexia is confirmed, but in spite of this, most families are supportive and keen to help wherever possible.

Many families become frustrated by the illness and with the sometimes-inadequate response of health professionals. Sometimes family relationship problems have developed by the time they get help.

Myth 2: Bulimia cannot be treated

Many people have had unsuccessful attempts at treating their eating disorder in the past and so believe bulimia cannot be treated. This is not true. Extensive research suggests it is a treatable problem. It is also clear that specialist treatment is essential. Few bulimic people get better spontaneously (although sometimes it does happen) and few get better with generic psychological treatment. Specialised psychotherapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy have the greatest promise in treating bulimia. It's important the person with bulimia is committed to making the treatment work.

Myth 3: Anorexia cannot be treated

Many people have been treated unsuccessfully for anorexia nervosa in the past. Treatment for anorexia nervosa involves first treating the effects of starvation, which must include weight gain, as well as treating the psychological problems that go with the eating disorder. Many people with anorexia are terribly frightened of having to gain weight as part of their treatment. Very few people get better by themselves. This may be because the starvation takes on a life of its own and professional intervention becomes essential. Careful monitored weight gain and specialised psychotherapy are the keys to improvement in anorexia nervosa. Many people continue to be preoccupied with their shape and weight even after treatment. Treatment for anorexia nervosa is not simply weight gain. In fact, true treatment only starts once the weight is restored and work can be done on the psychological issues.

Written by the South Island Eating Disorders Service. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. September 2013

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Page reference: 76202

Review key: HIEDI-73561