Despite the fact that 30 million people in America will struggle with an eating disorder at some point during their lives, there is still a lot of misinformation and myths surrounding them. I talked to ya’ll on Instagram about this and together we came up with tons of ideas for this article- I am so grateful for that conversation and the chance to debunk some of the most common myths. Let’s get into it:
P.S. These are in no particular order! Also, some bolded words have hyperlinks- be sure to check them out for more information.
1. Eating disorders are a choice
A thousand times- at the top of my lungs- no. Eating disorders are not a choice. Nobody chooses to have their mental health (and often physical health) torn apart and their autonomy sidelined. While there is no clear cut reason why eating disorders happen, it is thought that they occur due to a series of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders are extremely dangerous and have the highest mortality rate among mental illnesses. It is important that if you or someone you love is struggling to get help.
2. You have to look sk*nny to have an eating disorder/only thin people have EDs
Nope! Another myth. This one, I believe, is largely due to how eating disorders are portrayed in the media and fatphobia within our society. Anyone can have an eating disorder (or struggle with disordered eating), no matter their size. Not only can they happen to anyone, but a restrictive eating disorder can have the same, terrible health consequences. A lot of times what we see and hear about is anorexia. On top of that, the figures we are shown are gaunt and skeletal. These images are graphic and shocking- but they don’t show the spectrum and diversity of people who are/get sick, need help, and recover. This one-sided portrayal not only erases and minimizes those who struggle but have bigger bodies, it also allows for people to not believe they are not “sick enough” to get help until they reach an incredibly dangerous body weight.
3. Eating disorders are easy to fix, you just have to eat
While nutrition plays a key role in recovery, eating disorders aren’t about food. Trauma, depression, OCD, perfectionism, genetics, bullying, anxiety, socioeconomic status, compulsive exercise- the list goes on- can all play a role in opening the door for an eating disorder. You can’t just eat a piece of pie and have all of your ED thoughts (and whatever was the catalyst for them) stop and no longer torment you. If it worked that way, eating disorders wouldn’t be considered so complex. A lot of recovery is rewiring your brain to not fear food. It sounds hard, but it definitely can be done. This, and the healing of your body, involve food. The healing of your mind and heart, along with learning coping skills/practices to help you long-term, are vital to a successful recovery.
4. All people with eating disorders struggle with body dysmorphia
Body dysmorphia can involve an individual being obsessed over specific body parts and/or having a distorted view of themselves. A common association is anorexia and body dysmorphia, where the sufferer may see their body as much larger than it really is. Sometimes this is also alluded to or shown by someone wearing baggy clothing, which can be a way someone hides weight changes or attempts to hide their body in general, although it mistakenly is sometimes only thought of as someone trying to hide the changes. Body dysmorphia is very serious and does affect people, but not everyone with an eating disorder struggles with this. I never have had this and one of the things that helped me want to recover was actually being able to see how drastically my body and health were changing. For people with body dysmorphia, however, the physical/visual part of recovery can be very challenging.
5. Eating disorders are about weight/food
Eating disorders, like I mentioned above, are not about these things. Mine was set off by compulsive exercise and the desire to eat “clean” and be in “perfect health”- along with my perfectionist (and at times prideful) personality. It was only after restricting for some time that my mind became fixated on weight. Food fears can start at any point on this path. It can be hard for people who don’t struggle with eating disorders to understand this because they (eating disorders) are very cruel and complex, but nobody launches themselves into a deadly disease on purpose and they definitely aren’t all about weight/food.
6. Long-term dieting is normal and not disordered
This one isn’t so much an eating disorder myth, but when it was sent over Instagram to me I still felt like this was a great point. Those who believe long-term dieting is “healthy” and normal not only perpetuate this toxic mindset, but also could potentially be at risk for developing an eating disorder themselves. This is a huge myth that I think makes disordered eating normalized and puts people both incredibly at risk for getting an eating disorder as well as not noticing one. This also can tie into the misconceptions about eating disorders being inherently about weight/food and that they’re a choice. I definitely plan on doing an entire article on this point soon, so stay tuned.
7. Not all eating disorders are serious/dangerous
Very, very false. Eating disorders are very dangerous and there are many different types. People who struggle with them can sometimes feel they’re not “sick enough” to get help- but this is always a lie that ED tells you. Anything in your body or mind that makes you feel unlike yourself, hurts you mentally/physically, threatens your relationships or daily responsibilities, dwindles your passions, and/or decreases your overall happiness is something that you can and should get help for. Eating disorders thrive in secrecy and, in my opinion, don’t have fair representation- both of these factors can make it easy for EDs to go unnoticed and untreated. It’s important to know the basic facts and warning signs. I’ve linked a few resources under the “RESOURCES” tab on my blog to get you started.
8. Eating disorders are an illness only young, thin, and white women struggle with
Again, another very dangerous myth. Eating disorders can happen to anyone regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, age, or religion- and I’m probably even missing a few things in that list. I wrote an entire article about this frustrating misconception, which you can read here.
9. Someone or something is always to blame or is the reason behind an ED
A variety of things can precipitate an eating disorder- refer to points one and five to refresh if you need to. Parents have typically gotten a lot of blame for their child’s eating disorder- specifically mothers. This is an outdated and offensive view. A big fear of mine when I went public with my recovery was that people would suspect my parents were to blame, but in reality they are my two biggest fans. My parents modeled balance, compassion, self-confidence, and love in a way that I can only hope to show my kids someday- and I still got an eating disorder. It absolutely wasn’t their fault and I’m thankful that I had their support and amazing qualities to help me through my recovery. Like I mentioned earlier, eating disorders happen because of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors– things that are different for everyone. For some people there may be a specific trauma that an eating disorder is unfortunately born out of or triggered by, but in my own experience and from people I’ve talked to who also have an eating disorder, there isn’t usually one thing that can be pointed to as the reason. This doesn’t mean someone’s home life has never and cannot contribute to their disorder- it most definitely can- and that is an important conversation to have and situation to heal from if that’s your situation. But the assumption that everyone’s family caused their eating disorder is often wrong and can be very hurtful to assume.
10. If I or my loved one hasn’t lost weight, their eating disorder isn’t that serious
People struggling with an eating disorder do not always lose weight or appear emaciated. There are numerous other physical and psychological/emotional symptoms that could mean you/your loved one is struggling. Someone struggling with an eating disorder can lose weight, stay about the same weight, or gain weight. Sudden weight changes can often be a wakeup call for loved ones to step in and help someone with an eating disorder, but weight changes are usually not the first symptom. Check out my “RESOURCES” tab for helpful links.
Disordered behaviors, like restricting, dieting, over exercising, fasting- the list goes on- are often praised in our society. That, along with a general lack of accurate representation and education for eating disorders, has led to many of these myths being perpetuated. I hope you got some clarity from these 10 now debunked myths about eating disorders and are better able to help yourself and loved ones who may be or may at some point struggle with an ED!
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash.
All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.