Eating Disorder Myths

You have to be skinny to have an Eating Disorder or Disordered Eating.

A common eating disorder myth is that people have to look emaciated in order to have an eating disorder. In fact, people suffering from an eating disorder can be of any weight. For many, weight tends to go up and down. Eating disorders are mental illnesses, with a strong emphasis on shape, weight, and weight management strategies. While these issues are certainly a part of the disorder, they are by far the whole story. In fact, Anorexia is the only diagnosis that requires an actual weight criteria to be diagnosed with that condition (15% below ideal body weight you’re your age and height)

Having an Eating Disorder is a choice; there are no genetics involved.

The risk of developing an eating disorder is 50-80% determined by genetics. People who have family members who have, or used to have, an eating disorder are more likely to develop one.

Medication can cure people with Eating Disorders or Disordered Eating.

Another eating disorder myth is “no medication is a cure-all for an eating disorder”. While medications can certainly assist in the treatment process, one cannot negate the importance of psychotherapy in order to explore the underlying reasons that support and sustain the problem. In most cases, treatment plans are tailored to the individual’s needs, and may include medical care, ALONG with nutritional counseling, and individual, group and family psychotherapy.

People who binge eat, but don’t use laxatives or throw-up can’t be bulimic.

Bulimia nervosa is characterized by eating large quantities of food and attempting to compensate through various means. In addition to vomiting and laxative use, exercise, use of diuretics, fasting and even chewing & spitting are considered purge-type behaviors. While many believe using these tactics will help with weight loss, they are actually ineffective and in reality, can lead to rebound eating, weight gain, fluid retention, and damage to kidneys, heart, digestive tract, and teeth.

People with Eating Disorders are just driven by vanity to be thin and beautiful and to get attention.

While societal pressure to be thin and beautiful has played a major part in the increased onset of eating disorders, this explanation is not accurate or complete. Eating disorders are driven by genetics, personality traits, interpersonal concerns, and social norms. People with eating disorders are often suffering greatly and do not know how to handle their lives or their emotions effectively. The manipulation and control of food and weight becomes a person’s primary coping tool more than anything; and is certainly more than a drive for vanity.

People who look like they are a “healthy” weight or are overweight certainly couldn’t have an Eating Disorder.

Because an eating disorder is actually a psychological issue, the real struggle is within their thoughts and beliefs. The person with an eating disorder is tormented with irrational food and body thoughts; they likely have a distorted view of their body, even if it falls in a “healthy” range. Someone who restricts may actually be “overweight”; someone who overeats may actually be an average weight. The symptoms and eating patterns that a person exhibits are what determine if an eating disorder is present. Don’t believe this eating disorder myth or it could be to late to tell the signs.

If people with an Eating Disorder could just stop their unhealthy habits and start eating “right” they would get better.

Quite often people first come to a dietitian / nutritionist because they believe that if they’re “just told what to do, then they’ll be able to do it…and life will be better”. However, because food and body issues are only symptoms, working through the emotions at the core of the eating disorder will heal the real issues. Focusing solely on changing the food will only lead to frustration. Balanced eating isn’t’ about good or bad, right or wrong.

Compulsive overeaters are all overweight or fat.

Compulsive overeaters use food as a way to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and daily problems. The food helps block out feelings and emotions, but keeps people from dealing with the real issues. Compulsive overeaters have difficulty identifying and/or responding to their signals of hunger and fullness, typically feeling out of control when they overeat. Over time, compulsive overeating can lead to weight gain, however individual metabolisms will determine how each body uses or stores it.

Binge eating disorder (or compulsive overeating) is not any different then Bulimia.

The diagnosis of Binge eating disorder and Bulimia are both characterized by frequent episodes of bingeing (eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time). However, people with Bulimia will participate in some form of purging behavior, while people with Binge eating disorder do not.

Only college and teenage girls really struggle with Eating Disorders.

Eating disorders do occur in people of all ages, genders, and races. In fact, recent reports reveal that 1 in every 4 eating disorders cases are male, and the most rapidly growing group of individuals developing eating disorders are women in midlife.

It’s a “phase” that they will grow out of.

Eating disorders are not phases that one will grow out of. In fact, they are serious, life-threatening mental illnesses that require professional help. While people tend to go through dieting phases; having an eating disorder is much different. Although eating disorders may begin as a diet, these disorders are far more than just about food and weight. In fact, individuals diagnosed with eating disorders suffer from complex medical and psychological issues that are not simply out grown, and instead require intensive treatment to overcome.

People who get treatment for Eating Disorders really don’t ever recover.

People absolutely can recover from an Eating Disorder! Specialized holistic treatment is recommended by a team of professionals who commonly work in this area and have received extra training to do so.

If a person eats a lot of candy and junk food, then they don’t have anorexia.

In actuality, sweet or high flavor food is often a symptom seen in anorexia and other eating disorders. Sweet is our first developed taste, one that truly assists in survival. The fuel from sugar containing foods (& other carbohydrates), is utilized almost instantly for energy, and is the only energy source for our brain. Once the body gets regular and adequate nutrition again, the cravings for candy and other short-energy foods will begin to go away. Even if a person eats candy or other less nutritious foods, if they are under eating for their individual needs, maintaining a weight too low for their body, and are preoccupied with food and body, they are likely struggling with anorexia.

Only anorexics can die from an Eating Disorder.

Eating disorders have the highest death rate out of any psychological illness. Individuals with Anorexia, Bulimia and Compulsive Overeating are all at risk for serious medical complications and possibly death, as a result of their disorder. Some die from medical complications related to the disorder while others take their own lives. What is known is that the mortality rate for women (between the ages of 15 and 24) diagnosed with Anorexia, is 12 times higher than the death rate for all other causes of death. However, while the death rate for those with Anorexia is much higher than other eating disorders, the reported mortality rate for Bulimia is 0.3%. Unfortunately, mortality rates for eating disorders more not completely reliable due to the fact that an eating disorder is rarely listed on the death certificate as the cause of death, and instead a complication of the disorder (i.e. heart failure) is notated instead.