Eating disorders are often misunderstood, leading to harmful stereotypes and misconceptions. With the abundance of misinformation surrounding food and healthy eating, it can be challenging to grasp the severity of eating disorders. Let’s break down the most common myths about eating disorders and find the truth. 

1. Eating Disorders Only Affect Women

Myth: Eating disorders are a “women’s issue.”

Reality: While it’s true that eating disorders are more common among women, they also affect men. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), up to one-third of all eating disorder sufferers are male. About 10 million males in the US will struggle with an eating disorder. The misconception that eating disorders only affect women can prevent men from seeking the help they need. 

2. Dieting Causes Eating Disorders

Myth: Dieting is the primary cause of eating disorders.

Reality: While dieting can be a triggering or exacerbating factor for some individuals, it does not spontaneously lead to the development of an eating disorder. Individuals practice dieting for many reasons, commonly guided by a nutrition specialist.  

3. Eating Disorders Are a Lifestyle Choice

Myth: People choose to have an eating disorder.

Reality: Eating disorders are not a choice; they are serious mental health conditions. Like other mental health issues, they emerge in individuals with genetic, biological, and environmental factors that make them susceptible to developing the disorder. They often co-occur with other mental health issues like depression and anxiety.  

4. Eating Disorders Can Be Cured Quickly

Myth: A quick treatment can cure eating disorders.

Reality: Eating disorders are mental illnesses that require comprehensive treatment to address the underlying causes. Recovery from an eating disorder is often a long-term process that involves medical and psychological intervention. Up to 20% of individuals with chronic anorexia nervosa will die due to their illness, emphasizing the need for comprehensive treatment.

5. Binge Eating Is Just a Form of Overeating

Myth: Binge eating is the same as overeating.

Reality: Binge eating disorder involves more than just overeating. It is characterized by frequent episodes of consuming large amounts of food and lacking control. The disorder can have a significantly negative impact on an individual’s life. 

6. Eating Disorders Are Only About Weight

Myth: The main concern of eating disorders is weight loss or gain. 

Reality: While weight is a component, eating disorders are about much more. They often involve issues of control, self-esteem, and emotional regulation. They can also co-occur with mental health conditions like major depression and anxiety. It’s essential to recognize that eating disorders are not determined by physical appearance or weight status. They can affect individuals of all body sizes and shapes.  

7. People with Binge Eating Disorders Don’t Care About Eating Healthy

Myth: Those with binge eating disorders are not concerned about health or nutrition.

Reality: Contrary to this myth, many individuals with binge eating disorder are concerned about their health but struggle with emotional triggers that lead to binge episodes. Individuals with eating disorders often have rigid and obsessive thoughts about food. These behaviors do not indicate a lack of concern for eating healthy. They reflect the disordered thoughts and behaviors associated with their illness.

8. Bulimics Are Always Overweight

Myth: People with bulimia nervosa are always overweight.

Reality: This is a misconception. Many people with bulimia nervosa are of average weight or even underweight. The disorder involves cycles of binge eating followed by purging behaviors, which can include self-induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or laxatives.

9. Vanity causes Eating Disorders

Myth: Eating disorders are a result of being overly concerned with appearance.

Reality: Eating disorders are not about vanity. They are complex conditions influenced by biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Environmental triggers like media-driven body ideals can contribute but are not the sole cause.

10. Eating Disorders Are Rare

Myth: Eating disorders are uncommon and not a significant health concern.

Reality:  Eating disorders are more common than many people think. About 9% of the population worldwide struggles with eating disorders. In the US, 9% of the population, or 29 million people, will have an eating disorder in their lifetime. And less than six percent of people with eating disorders are medically diagnosed as “underweight.” This shows that eating disorders are often silent killers in modern societies. Eating disorders also have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness.

The Bottom Line

This article aims to correct misconceptions about eating disorders. If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s crucial to seek professional help.