Millions of people suffer from eating disorders in this country. While the prevalence of eating disorders is high, so are the misconceptions surrounding them. Unfortunately, myths about eating disorders can lead to increased stigma, inappropriate treatment interventions, and even misdiagnosis. This is why it is so important to debunk these myths and misconceptions.
Myth: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them.
Many people believe that if someone is suffering from an eating disorder, it will be obvious based on the person’s outward appearance. This could be true in some cases, such as a severely underweight person who has anorexia. Yet, changes in body weight are just one potential sign when it comes to eating disorders. And due to the secretive nature of eating disorders, many will go to great lengths to cover up any obvious bodily changes (i.e.-wearing baggy clothing). Weight changes can occur for numerous reasons beyond an eating disorder. So, whether a person is very thin or quite overweight, assuming he or she has an eating disorder would be terribly presumptuous.
Myth: Only women and girls suffer from eating disorders.
Although eating disorders primarily affect females, men (and boys) are also vulnerable to these life-threatening diseases. In fact, the most recent research of how many males suffer from eating disorders today shows upwards of 10 million. The perpetuation of this myth has undoubtedly affected some medical and mental health professionals’ inclination to screen and diagnosis this population. This myth is not only hugely inaccurate, but also has the potential for serious consequences.
Myth: Eating disorders are only about the food.
Of all the myths about eating disorders, this is one of the most common. Even though the behaviors that are inherent to eating disorders surround food in some way (i.e. – anorexia and restricting food intake or bulimia and bingeing on food), the food is not the driving force of the disease. The behaviors around food are essentially just a symptom of a deeper-rooted issue or cause. Saying eating disorders are just about the food is almost like attributing an eating disorder to a diet, rather than a serious mental illness and psychiatric disease.
Myth: Parents are to blame.
This myth about eating disorders has misinformed many when it comes to understanding root causes. In fact, there is not one specific cause that could be applied across the board, when it comes to eating disorders. Of course, parents may play a role in a child’s development of an eating disorder (genetically-speaking). Yet, there are so many other possible contributing factors to evaluate, such as negative body image, low self-esteem, trauma, or major life changes and stressors. Routinely attributing one’s eating disorder to the parents means the true cause(s) may never be identified and treated, leaving that individual vulnerable to relapse.
Myth: The person should be fully recovered after treatment.
Seeking treatment is essential for those struggling with an eating disorder. Most start the treatment process in an inpatient or residential setting. Unfortunately, many struggle to understand the recovery process continues once an individual leaves the initial treatment facility. Recovering from an eating disorder is a difficult process, full of ups and downs, and the potential for slips along the way. For the best chance of achieving and sustaining recovery, continued outpatient treatment is essential. Understanding the need for ongoing support and a long-term treatment plan, rather than expectations of immediate recovery, can be extremely helpful to the individual in the recovery process.
With so many available resources to help with anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, it is unfortunate these false beliefs continue to exist. Educating yourself, and encouraging others to learn the facts about anorexia, bulimia, etc. is vital to dispelling the many myths about eating disorders.