A wide variety of biological and environmental variables contribute to the
emergence of an eating disorder and often it co-occurs alongside other conditions, such as depression, obsessive compulsiveness, perfectionism or anxiety. While eating disorders are considered to be a silent epideic in America, affecting over 24 million people, there are many misconceptions surrounding the quiet condition. The consequences of these misconceptions are fewer diagnoses and options for people to seek treatment and access support.
Misconception 1: Eating disorders focus on food.
A common misconception is that eating disorder behaviors only focus on food. While individuals with eating disorders generally experience an unhealthy relationship between food and weight, the condition can extend far beyond an individual’s relationship to food and be caused by perfectionism, anxiety, impulsive behavior, and troubled relationships. Refusing or overindulging in food is usually an indicator of a repressed problem.
Misconception 2: People who are a normal weight can’t have an eating disorder.
You cannot tell if someone is living with an eating disorder based on their weight. While people who are too skinny or overweight are stereotyped as suffering from an eating disorder, these are misconceptions, as those suffering from an eating disorder can be any shape or size. Even athletes, who appear to fit, may be suffering from an eating disorder.
Misconception 3: Eating disorders are a disease of vanity.
Media and social pressure can certainly be contributing factors to someone’s perception of beauty, negative body image and their development of an eating disorder; however, eating disorders are a mental health issue that emerge due to biological, genetic and psychological factors.
While an eating disorder may be related to self-esteem, they are primarily about fear, avoidance and/or a need to have control. Often, disorders co-occur with conditions such as PTSD, trauma, anxiety and substance use.
Misconception 4: Eating disorders only affect women.
According to the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness (AEDA):
- 25% of anorexia and bulimia cases are male
- 40% of individuals seeking treatment for binge eating disorder are male
- 1 in every 4 eating disorders cases are male
While eating disorders have historically been associated with heterosexual white females, they affect people of all ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender and religion. Despite subclinical eating disordered behaviors being as common among men as they are women, men are less likely to seek treatment due to sociocultural stigmas.
Misconception 5: Eating disorders are cured when a normal weight is established.
Although weight recovery, full nutrition and the cessation of eating disorder behaviors are necessary for recovery, the psychological aspect of eating disorders must be addressed and treated. Most patients require a variety of treatments to address the underlying causes of a disorder, such as psychotherapy, medication, and social + lifestyle changes.
National Eating Disorder Association
The Alliance for Eating Disorders