The truth about anorexia

On the surface, anorexia is about restricting the amount of food you take in. It’s a skewed relationship and perception of food. You severely reduce the amount of calories you consume in order to lose weight or achieve a certain body shape. But the eating disorder of anorexia is much more complex than what you see and so much more than just about food.


Anorexia causes those who are struggling with it to have distorted thoughts – a false perception of their reality. They whole-heartedly believe things about their self-image that are not true. You can be thin to the point of bones showing but still believe that you are fat. Or you may think that eating a certain amount or type of food will without-a-doubt make you gain weight.

The habits of someone with anorexia, however unhealthy, give them a sense of control; control that they may feel they are lacking in other areas of their life. Anorexia can stem from a low sense of self and a poor view of self-image or how one looks. But it can also manifest from a traumatic life event. The catalyst or reason for someone adopting the behaviours of anorexia will vary for each person.

When we haven’t experience something ourselves, or witnessed it in someone we care about, it’s easy to jump to conclusions or accept the common stereotypes.

It’s important to set the record straight and point out the false stereotypes that exist around anorexia.

Anorexia can look different than just very skinny

We tend to think of a person with anorexia as bone-thin. As is the case with most mental health issues, you can’t determine based on someone’s outward appearance what is going on with their mind or emotions. People of all shapes, sizes, weights, and body types can feel like they’re not good enough or should change the way they look.

Anorexia affects more than just teenage girls

Although more females than males experience anorexia, males can have unhealthy eating patterns as well. Anorexia can have the same effect on males or females.

Boys and men can have the same stressors and issues as women, and according to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, these can be a catalyst to disordered eating like anorexia:

  • Not feeling ‘good enough.’

  • Not feeling in control of their lives.

  • Feeling depressed, angry, anxious or alienated.

  • A history of troubled family or social relationships.

  • Having difficulties in expressing their feelings.

  • A history of abuse.

  • Feeling confused about their sexuality.

Anorexia not only affects all genders – eating disorders can affect people of all sexual orientations, ages, socioeconomic statuses, abilities, races, and ethnic backgrounds.

Anorexia is not a choice

Being on the outside of anorexia can be scary and confusing. You’re seeing someone you care about eat so little, and you know that they are hurting themselves. You may think “why can’t they just eat?!” But no matter how perplexing it may be to others, anorexia is not a choice made by those who are struggling with it. Mental health issues rarely have a simple solution and anorexia is no exception.

What is important to remember is that recovery is possible. It can take time and be difficult for both the individual struggling and their family and support system, but with the right help, recovery is possible.

At Calgary Counselling Centre we offer anyone struggling with anorexia a safe, supportive, and comprehensive path to recovery. Our research shows that people who participate in both individual counselling as well as our Overcoming Eating Disorders group program, have a greater rate of recovery than those that just do one-on-one counselling. In the Overcoming Eating Disorders program, individuals will learn how to challenge negative thoughts around food and body. This 14-week program builds confidence around body image, reinforces self-esteem, and teaches healthy coping strategies.

We also offer Eating Disorders: A Workshop for Family and Friends. This is a one-day workshop to learn how to cope and support a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder. You can learn more about our counselling services.

Evans Hunt