Written by Kathryn Durston, Dietetic Student
There is currently a plethora of misinformation about eating disorders that circulates the internet on both mainstream and social media.
An eating disorder is a psychological disorder characterized by disturbed or abnormal eating habits1.
These “myths” are centered around a stigma that often gets implied when someone gets diagnosed with an eating disorder.
They have to be thin or it only happens to women.
The trouble is these myths can actually be harmful and lead to an increased amount of people with eating disorders going under-diagnosed and not getting taken seriously or given the proper treatment that they require.
In this article, I will be breaking down and debunking seven common eating disorder myths.
My hope is that you will all gain some additional insight into the topic of eating disorders and how to pick through recurrent misinformation on the topic.
As always, if you feel as if you or someone you know has an eating disorder, please seek out appropriate guidance. This article is purely informative.
Myth #1: You can look at someone and tell if they have eating disorder
A common misconception around eating disorders is that you can tell if someone has one just by looking at their physical appearance.
It is normally thought that individuals with eating disorders are severely underweight and if someone is an “average” or “above average” weight that they can’t have an eating disorder.
However, this thinking process is far from the truth. Eating disorders happen at every size and look different for each individual.
In fact, a cross-sectional study of disordered eating behaviors concluded there was a higher level of disordered eating habits in overweight/obese individuals than normal/underweight2.
Myth #2: Eating disorders are a choice and not a serious illness
Some people may look at eating disorders as a “lifestyle choice” because we get to choose what we do or don’t eat.
Having this mindset around eating disorders can be very detrimental. Eating disorders are complex psychological illnesses that hold the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder1.
They revolve around severe disturbances in someone’s eating habits and thoughts around eating/food that can lead to drastic nutrient deficiencies, starvation, GI issues and more3.
The treatment of eating disorders can be complex and require a multimodal approach, it is not merely about “lifestyle changes”.
Myth #3: Having strict rules around eating and “fad diets” aren’t eating disorders
Another frequent misconception is that having strict rules around food and engaging in fad diets doesn’t associate with an eating disorder.
Fad diets are often restrictive, asking people to eat extremely low calories and/or have strict rules around what foods and food groups they eat.
This disordered way of thinking accompanied by a preoccupation with food and negative body image, are often the beginning signs of an eating disorder.
It has even been shown that patients with eating disorders are more likely to try out weight loss services and other “quick fixes” instead of seeking required treatment.
It is important to note that disordered eating habits does not inherently mean you have an eating disorder. This validates the point that seeking outside support is a great first step if you find yourself dealing with these thoughts and actions.
Myth #4: Only women have eating disorders
There is a huge fallacy about eating disorders that they only happen in women and not men.
I’m here to tell you, eating disorders do not discriminate. They can occur at any gender, race, age, and sexual orientation.
Current statistics actually suggest that 25% of anorexia nervosa cases occur in men and may happen in 0.3-1.2% of the male population4.
I also should note this number is suggested to be significantly skewed because male eating disorders are notorious for being under-diagnosed.
Eating disorders are especially seen in males within competitive sports or who are suffering from substance abuse5.
However, an eating disorder can be found amongst men of all types, shapes, and size- just like with women.
Myth #5: Anorexia Nervosa is the only serious eating disorder
When you hear the word eating disorder, your initial thought may be anorexia nervosa, which involves food restriction and rapid weight loss.
While anorexia nervosa is a very serious, life-threatening eating disorder, it is not the only one.
Any form of eating disorder has the chance to be fatally harmful to our health and should be taken seriously.
Other types of eating disorders includes bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).
Check out this article that Melissa wrote that goes over the different types of eating disorders and how you can better understand them.
Myth #6: Eating disorders are solely about food
While food may be involved with eating disorders, it is not the only, or main, contributing factor.
The consequences of eating disorders extends far beyond that and can involve obsessive tendencies over other areas of life as well.
Science suggests that there could be a cross-link between “perfectionist” thinking and eating disorder and social anxiety symptoms6.
Another clinical study concluded that participants in “perfectionist” conditions reported higher levels of dietary restraint and bingeing after the intervention7.
While more research needs to be done on this complex psychologic process, we know that there is more to eating disorders than simply eating/food behaviors.
Myth #7: You only need to see a therapist or dietitian for treatment, not both
As you can see from the information I have presented here today, eating disorders are complicated and require a multifaceted approach to treatment.
Some people might think that they only need to see a therapist if they have an eating disorder, and this is another common myth!
Patients with eating disorders are at an increased risk for malnutrition and it is the job of the dietitian to accurately assess and treat the individual accordingly.
It is important for someone struggling with an eating disorder to get an adequate collaboration of care between their therapist and a specialized registered dietitian.
This article is meant to be informative and combat some of the deceiving misinformation within the media and amongst peers surrounding the topic of eating disorders.
I am hopeful that after reading this you have a better understanding about eating disorders and the impact they may have on someone’s life.
If you have questions or need help proceeding to the next step in your journey, please reach out to Melissa here to set something up.