Five Most Common Eating Disorder Myths
Takeaway: Eating disorders affect millions of people worldwide. Unfortunately, the many misconceptions surrounding these disorders can prevent people from getting the help they need. In this post, we’ll explore some of the most common myths about eating disorders and give you the real information you need to know.
Understanding eating disorders
Eating disorders are serious medical, nutritional, and psychological disorders that can take a significant toll on a person's emotional and physical health. Eating disorders rank as the second most lethal mental health condition, with opioid overdose as number one (1).
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 28.8 million Americans will struggle with an eating disorder at some point throughout their life. However, this statistic might actually be higher. Research suggests that certain populations are significantly less likely to be screened for eating disorders, which prevents some people from receiving the diagnosis and treatment they need.
By separating fact from myth and having a better understanding of eating disorders overall, we can break down barriers to identifying and treating them.
Types of eating disorders
No two eating disorders are exactly alike. A person’s own biology, psychology, and experiences will play an important role. While each person will have a unique experience, there are certain symptoms that differentiate each eating disorder diagnosis. Learning about the different types can assist you in seeking treatment or supporting a loved one with an eating disorder.
At Restored Purpose Counseling, we support people with all eating disorders, including the ones listed here (and more).
People who suffer from anorexia nervosa (more commonly known as just "anorexia") significantly restrict their food intake out of an intense fear of gaining weight. A significant amount of time and brain space is taken up with thoughts surrounding food and body image. Furthermore, physical side effects from this disorder can include fatigue, fainting, feeling cold all the time, loss of bone mass, cardiac arrest, and more. Many, but not all, people with anorexia also struggle to maintain a healthy weight.
Binge eating disorder
As the name suggests, people suffering from binge eating disorder (BED) experience episodes in which they consume large amounts of food at one time, followed by intense feelings of guilt. Similar to bulimia, people affected by this disorder often feel a loss of control around food. Unlike bulimia, however, people with BED do not engage in behaviors such as over-exercising or self-induced vomiting.
Unlike the other eating disorders mentioned above, orthorexia is not a formal diagnosis. It is still, however, a serious condition that warrants treatment and support. Common signs of orthorexia include preoccupation with healthy eating to such a degree that it actually negatively impacts a person’s well-being in other ways. For example, a person struggling with this disorder may begin to obsessively check nutrition labels and over time cut out more and more food groups. This person would also feel very distressed when certain "safe" foods aren't available in social settings.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (AFRID) is different from the other eating disorders as body image does not play a role. People with AFRID often have strict rules around the type of food they will eat while also struggling to consume an appropriate amount. The inability to eat a proper amount is related to issues with fear of choking, food textures and lack of interest.
There are many people still, who experience symptoms related to eating disorders, however, they do not meet the criteria for an official diagnosis. This does not make living with the symptoms any easier. Regardless of a diagnosis, you deserve support if you struggle with body image or your relationship with food (or both).
Five myths and facts about eating disorders
There are many misconceptions about eating disorders. The way they are portrayed in movies, television shows, and social media is not always accurate. This misinformation can create barriers to understanding, identifying, and treating eating disorders. Let’s take a look at five common myths about eating disorders and uncover the actual facts.
Myth 1: Parents cause eating disorders
Fact: Parents do NOT cause eating disorders. Research has not identified any pattern of family functioning that causes eating disorders (3). The reality is parents, or families and support systems in general, are an important part of the treatment and recovery process. If you are the parent of a child with an eating disorder, please do not blame yourself. It may be helpful to seek your own individual therapy or a family support group to help you cope during this difficult time.
Myth 2: People choose to have an eating disorder
Fact: Eating disorders are NOT a choice. They are the result of a combination of biological, psychological, and social factors (3). This is referred to as the bio-psychosocial model. It’s estimated that genetics contribute to 50% to 80% of an individual’s risk of developing an eating disorder (3). Like many illnesses, it appears there is a genetic predisposition to the development of an eating disorder. Psychological factors include things like a person’s natural sensitivity to stress, temperament, and personality. Social factors include the direct and indirect messages people receive about food, bodies, themselves, the world, and everything in between. Often, individuals with eating disorders grew up in a food- and body-conscious household, experienced bullying related to their body shape or weight, or experienced a significant life event, such as a loss, trauma, or transition.
Myth 3: Eating disorders are women’s illnesses
Fact: According to NEDA, one in three people affected by eating disorders is male. That’s right! Men can have eating disorders too. Unfortunately, boys and men are less likely to seek treatment due to stigma, cultural bias, and lack of knowledge about eating disorders and available treatment options. It can be helpful to normalize talking about body image, one’s relationship with food, and mental health in general with all genders and sexes.
Myth 4: You can tell by looking at someone if they have an eating disorder
Fact: Eating disorders affect people of all ages, ethnicities, sexes, genders, socioeconomic statuses, shapes, sizes, and weights (3). There is absolutely no way to know if someone has an eating disorder simply by looking at them. Many family, friends, and healthcare professionals often miss eating disorders because they focus on an individual’s appearance. Learning about eating disorders can increase early detection and intervention.
Myth 5: It is impossible to recover from an eating disorder
Fact: It is entirely possible to recover from an eating disorder. Keep in mind that recovery is a process, not an event. It can take months or even years, but it is possible. A 22-year follow-up found that 62.8% of participants diagnosed with anorexia nervosa and 68.2% of participants diagnosed with bulimia nervosa recovered (2).
Getting help for your eating disorder
Seeking treatment for an eating disorder can be overwhelming. You may not know where to start or which treatment options are the best fit for you. This is where we can help! Our team of expert clinicians, including both mental health professionals and registered dietitians, have extensive education and training in treating eating disorders of all kinds. We are passionate about providing effective and comprehensive care around treatment of eating disorders. Through our robust programming, we are able to tailor treatments to your unique situation, needs, and goals to create the one of a kind support you need to thrive.
While undergoing treatment, you can expect to build strong relationships with your treatment team. These connections are meant to create a safe space for you to freely discover and express your authentic self. In the end these relationships can help you foster the one that matters most: your relationship with yourself.
During our work together, we can help you find the freedom to enjoy food again, embrace your body, and learn new ways to care for your emotional, physical, and mental well-being. If this sounds good to you, Reach out today to get started. We can't wait to meet you!
Services we offer
We provide a range of services tailored to your specific requirements at our eating disorder treatment center. Our program offers a significant level of support for people in recovery with comprehensive services similar to those found at formal intensive outpatient settings.
Get in touch to find out if we are the right fit for you!
Individual therapy is a key piece towards recovery for many people with eating disorders.. Studies have shown that individuals with eating disorders are also at a much higher risk of developing a mental illness. At Restored Purpose Counseling, our clinicians use evidence-based psychological treatments to treat eating disorders, and many clinicians also have lived experience which further connects them to the work. When you reach out to start services, you will be connected with a mental health professional whose style and approach best resonate with you to ensure you feel understood and supported.
In bulimia nervosa (more commonly known as "bulimia"), people engage in a cycle of binge eating alongside compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting or excessive exercising. People affected by bulimia will struggle with their body image and often feel out of control around food. Similar to anorexia, there are serious physical health symptoms like dizziness, acid reflux, electrolyte imbalances, and constipation.
During the recovery process, physical and mental health work together. Our team of registered dietitians are specially trained in the treatment of eating disorders and help our clients learn how to properly nourish their bodies in a sustainable manner. For those in recovery, food can often bring up a lot of emotions and at our practice, we incorporate this awareness in the process of helping you heal your relationship with food and your body.
Support from peers on the same recovery journey as yourself can be incredibly healing alongside individualized support. Group therapy is a powerful reminder that you are not alone in this struggle and being able to connect with other people with eating disorders can also help you gain new perspectives, feel validated in your experience, and build a community to help support your recovery.
We understand that mealtimes are unfortunately stressful for people in eating disorder recovery, however, they cannot be avoided. We offer customized meal support which includes helping you learn how to navigate meal planning, cooking, and eating. Our team of professionals will work to make mealtime more manageable by working with you to determine the best level of support required.
- Arcelus, Jon et al. “Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta-analysis of 36 studies.” Archives of general psychiatry 68,7 (2011): 724-31. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74
- Eddy KT, Tabri N, Thomas JJ, Murray HB, Keshaviah A, Hastings E, Edkins K, Krishna M, Herzog DB, Keel PK, Franko DL. Recovery From Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa at 22-Year Follow-Up. J Clin Psychiatry. 2017 Feb;78(2):184-189. doi: 10.4088/JCP.15m10393. PMID: 28002660; PMCID: PMC7883487.
- Schaumberg K, Welch E, Breithaupt L, Hübel C, Baker JH, Munn-Chernoff MA, Yilmaz Z, Ehrlich S, Mustelin L, Ghaderi A, Hardaway AJ, Bulik-Sullivan EC, Hedman AM, Jangmo A, Nilsson IAK, Wiklund C, Yao S, Seidel M, Bulik CM. The Science Behind the Academy for Eating Disorders' Nine Truths About Eating Disorders. Eur Eat Disord Rev. 2017 Nov;25(6):432-450. doi: 10.1002/erv.2553. Epub 2017 Oct 2. PMID: 28967161; PMCID: PMC5711426.