Myth vs reality: What you need to know about eating disorders

Common misconceptions about eating disorders can cause a lot of damage. Some of the most frequently seen and repeated myths are listed and busted below.

Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice

Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder. Often, suffers start by thinking that they’re making choices about their own lifestyle, only to find that they have become completely enslaved to their illness. Anorexic, bulimic and binge-eating behaviours cannot be stopped simply because someone decides to. If that were true, people would be able to do that when faced with serious consequences.

Eating disorders are not harmful

In fact, eating disorders can be incredibly harmful and even fatal. They can cause hormonal and neurological imbalances and can have far-reaching effects on almost every system and organ in the human body. And since they continue to develop, they eventually consume and dictate every facet of a sufferer’s life. Often, people can’t hold down a job, manage a relationship, or continue with school because of how much time and energy their disorder takes.

Families are to blame for eating disorders, especially parents

There are always multiple causes of these complicated diseases, including other co-occurring mental illnesses, trauma, stressful life events and media influences. Social experiences outside of the home, such as bullying in a school, can also be a big factor. There’s also strong evidence for biological predispositions to developing eating disorders, but no studies have found a link between specific parenting styles and incidence of these illnesses.

You can’t develop an eating disorder unless you are female, white, middle class, and probably still in your teens

Eating disorders do not discriminate. In fact, as the understanding of these diseases grows more people feel comfortable about coming forward with their problems. We’ve seen an increase in disorders being diagnosed in various age groups, in males and transgendered individuals, and across different faces.

You can tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them

For many people, Anorexia is still the only eating disorder that they know about. This leads them to believe that unless someone is severely underweight, they can’t possibly be suffering from an eating disorder. Others might understand that compulsive overeating is also part of this group of illnesses, but might then think that unless someone looks very under- or overweight, they do not have a problem.

In reality, people who have a normal body weight might well be wrestling with an eating disorder. Everyone’s physiology is different, so someone with anorexic behaviours could look completely healthy. And bulimics’ cycles of binging and purging usually cause huge disruptions to their life, but keep them within a normal weight range.

Eating disorders are nothing but a cry for attention

Both laypeople and medical professionals can believe this myth, which can make seeking help very difficult. Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, and without treatment and support, people rarely recover from them.

Often, the disease isn’t diagnosed until it is quite far along since so many individuals consider them cries for attention or even just a normal phase of life. However, a lot of research shows that early diagnosis and intervention can shorten an ED and lessen its effects. As an understanding of the condition spreads, more people will hopefully get treated earlier.

Recovery from an eating disorder is not possible

As mentioned above, it is possible to recover from an eating disorder. No one can do it alone, but by seeking help the disease’s progress can be arrested and healing can begin. However, sufferers usually need to be mindful of their disordered thought patterns and behaviours for the rest of their lives, to prevent a relapse. Having this illness is not the same as breaking a leg – people can heal, but they always need to prioritise maintaining their recovery.

Other means of maintaining recovery include finding support groups and connecting with others who have experienced similar struggles, and individual or group therapy. Regular check-ins with psychiatrists and dieticians can also be very beneficial. Recovery from an eating disorder is definitely possible – but it also definitely takes work.