Eating disorders have been around for centuries, and yet myths and misunderstandings still persist. Although eating disorders are now more common than ever before, there is still a stigma attached to them. Many people don’t understand the true facts of an eating disorder and their views are often misguided or simply untrue. Let’s talk about some of these myths surrounding eating disorders and how they can be dispelled.
Myth #1: Only young females have eating disorders.
Not true! It was previously believed that only those of a specific demographic or those with a pre-existing mental illness could be susceptible to developing an eating disorder. However, that is no longer the case. Although many people believe that eating disorders are an issue exclusive to young women, the truth is that anyone can be affected. Eating disorders are not selective. They can be found among people belonging to all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, sexual orientations, lifestyles, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Recent studies have brought to light the increasing numbers of men and individuals of minority populations who struggle with body perception, dietary restraints, and mental health implications that can lead to an eating disorder.
Myth #2: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by their body size.
Not true! An individual can have an eating disorder even if they are within their desired weight. It is a common misconception that individuals must have a certain body type or size before they can be diagnosed with an eating disorder. This is simply not true. While some people may associate the diagnosis of anorexia with looking emaciated, anorexia is no longer defined by a person’s body weight, and there are many different forms of eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, and other-specified eating disorders, where it is impossible to tell if someone has an eating disorder by appearance alone. Anyone, regardless of their body size, can have an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect people of all descriptions, including those of widely varying body sizes.
Myth #3: People have eating disorders due to being vain.
Not true! Most people with eating disorders are not vain and do not have high opinions of themselves. While they can be related to body dissatisfaction, the root of eating disorders typically stems from a variety of serious mental and emotional issues, such as low self-esteem, depression, and trauma, which can be a result of biological, psychological, and environmental factors. An eating disorder can also be a coping mechanism to regulate difficult emotions, maintain a sense of control, or cope with serious difficulties in life. It’s also not about seeking attention. Just the opposite – often people with an eating disorder come up with elaborate ways to conceal their eating disorder.
Myth #4: Eating disorders will fade away on their own.
In most cases, this is not true. Many people have the misconception that those affected by eating disorders can overcome their condition on their own, but the truth is that serious eating disorders require specialized treatment, as they tend to be held in place by powerful and recurring mental and emotional restrictions. Self-care is important, but without proper treatment, it can be very difficult to recover fully. Additionally, some may not recognize the severity of eating disorders. Eating disorders can cause long-term physical and mental damage if left untreated, and can even be fatal. It is important to seek professional help if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder.
Myth #5: It’s easy to identify an eating disorder.
This is often untrue. It is important to note that eating disorders can take various forms, and they are not always easy to spot. One of the main issues in identifying someone with an eating disorder is that people often don’t display symptoms consistently. As people try to conceal their eating behaviors, they may not fit the stereotypical image of someone with an eating disorder and symptoms can become easily overlooked. It’s important to be aware of these issues and to approach people with a sense of understanding and compassion if you suspect someone may be suffering from a disordered relationship with food.
Myth #6: People choose to have an eating disorder.
This is not true. Eating disorders are complex, and the causes of their development are not fully understood, but they are not simply a personal choice. Risk factors include a combination of distorted body image, experiencing a mental illness like depression, a history of trauma, media influences, family dynamics, struggles with obsessions or compulsions, and genetic predispositions. All of these things and more can lead to a disordered relationship with food and feelings of guilt and shame related to eating and body image.
Myth #7: Parents are the reason people develop eating disorders.
Not true! It is important to remember that parents should not be blamed for their child’s eating disorder, as an eating disorder is a serious mental illness with highly complex and multi-faceted causes and risk factors. In addition, identifying the early signs of an eating disorder can be difficult, and blaming a parent can keep them from getting their child the help that they need. Therefore, instead of circulating blame, it is important to shift the focus to getting the child the help that they need to restore wellness and achieve long-term recovery.
Myth #8: All eating disorder treatment is the same.
Not true. Each individual will have a unique journey with their eating disorder and there are many different treatment options available. It is important to find the right option for each individual, as each person will have different needs. A full treatment team typically includes various healthcare professionals including a mental health therapist, a psychiatrist, a primary care doctor, and a dietitian in order to provide comprehensive care. Treatment may be provided at the outpatient level, at a day program, at a residential facility, or at a hospital, depending on the level of need. With the right support and treatment, many people learn to manage their eating disorder and move forward toward greater wellness and empowerment.
Above all, it is essential to recognize the reality behind eating disorders. They can affect anyone and cause serious lifelong consequences if left untreated, making it important to seek help if you or someone you know is struggling. At River Oaks Psychology, we want everyone to feel welcome here no matter where you may be in your mental health journey. If you have questions about eating disorders or your relationship with food, please reach out to us. We would be honored to connect you with our eating disorder specialists who can help you make sense of your experiences. You matter. You’re never alone. And we really care about you.
Written by Lauren Presutti