Busting Myths About Eating Disorders

Sad woman with eating disorder

There are now more victims of eating disorders than ever before. Many of those who suffer are younger than the patients in the past. There are many factors for this, and one of them could be the harsh environment of social media where strangers can be very critical.

The media and even well-meaning relatives can be triggers for those who are prone to eating disorders. Any offhand comment about their weight, along with advertisements that use thin models as the standard for beauty, can trigger abnormal eating habits. Bulimia nervosa treatment centers have attested to media being the primary cause of their patients’ general feeling of inadequacy and guilt.

Fact vs. Myth

Myth 1: Those who have eating disorders are underweight or emaciated.

This myth may have started when Anorexia became the first well-known eating disorder. But an eating disorder is a broad term that reaches both ends of the spectrum. Not eating at all, or eating in very small amounts is a symptom of a disorder just as eating excessively is also a symptom.

People suffering from eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, some may even have an average weight. The keyword here is control. When you have an eating disorder, there is a food-related tendency or reaction that you could not control.

Myth 2: Eating disorders only affect teenage girls and women in their early twenties.

There could be many reasons this myth came about. One possibility is that teenage girls and young women are perceived to be more concerned about their appearance than other demographics. This is not necessarily true, but this is the prevailing perception. Since they are perceived to be more concerned with their appearance, the assumption was that they would be more sensitive to criticism, and therefore, would develop eating disorders as a reaction.

Another probable reason is that teenage girls and young women were the age/gender group that had the highest number who sought treatment for eating disorders. While that may support the myth, the fact is there are male and female patients of very diverse age groups.

Myth 3: People develop eating disorders because they are vain.

woman looking at body in the mirror

There have been many instances where a person with an eating disorder was portrayed as such in the media, but that’s an oversimplification. Many people who have eating disorders have already crossed the line of the weight or look that they want to have, but they continue to refrain from eating because they are driven by fear or other uncomfortable feelings.

Myth 4: Eating disorders should not really be a cause for alarm.

This is probably the most dangerous myth if you’re a parent or loved one of someone with an eating disorder since you would prevent seeking treatment instead of encouraging it. Eating disorders have led to serious complications and even fatal conditions such as heart disease, liver and/or kidney damage, stunted growth, bone loss, and malnutrition. These conditions can cause death if left unchecked.

It is important to distinguish eating disorders from dieting or efforts to lose/gain weight. Disorders are extreme and obsessive with a sense of fear as opposed to a controlled effort propelled by desire and resolve.

Eating disorders should be given proper attention and treatment. People really suffer from this, not just physically but also emotionally. If we want to help, we must strive to gain more knowledge about this condition.