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Young Adult With Eating Disorder

Debunking Common Eating Disorder Myths

Est. reading time: 4 mins
Posted Under: Interviews

Clinically Reviewed by: Amanda Fialk, PhD, LCSW, LICSW


February has arrived, which means eating disorder awareness week is right around the corner, and awareness initiatives are at the forefront of my mind. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has a dedicated week every February to build awareness around the seriousness of eating disorders – one of the most deadly of all psychiatric illnesses. As a result, it makes sense that February marks an important time for mental health professionals, doctors, therapists, psychiatrists, dietitians, as well as those affected by eating disorders (EDs), to devote time and energy to making sure that this subject is receiving the much-needed attention, treatment and research necessary for change. This February 25th through March 3rd, 2019, the Empire State building will be lit in the blue and white colors of NEDA. It’s a critical visual statement that we hope will start essential conversations, dispel myths and open our eyes to the reality of eating disorders.

Why dispelling myths about eating disorders is so important.

Research tells us that as perceived stigma is reduced, the likelihood that sufferers will seek out help dramatically increases, and, as a result, their long-term prognosis will improve. Eating disorders are chronically misunderstood and grossly underestimated. It is important that everyone understands the facts in order to increase awareness, screening and improve prevention and treatment. We all know that our culture has complicated relationships with food, exercise and appearance, but by decreasing the stigma that follows eating disorders around, we can improve mental health for everyone.

Let’s start by dispelling the top 5 eating disorder myths:

Myth #1- Eating disorders (EDs) are selective.

Fact: Eating Disorders do not discriminate, they cross all boundaries—gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, geographic and socioeconomic—no group is immune. While a majority of those diagnosed with an eating disorder are between the ages of 12-26 years old, the number of people being diagnosed later in life is growing. Males, older adults, or individuals from minority groups may not be identified as having an eating disorder by health care providers because of outdated misconceptions.

Myth #2- Eating disorders are not serious mental illnesses.

Fact: Eating disorders are the most fatal of all psychiatric illnesses; current estimates suggest that 1 in 10 individuals afflicted by an eating disorder will die prematurely due to medical complications or suicide. Starving the body puts added pressure on the heart and purging causes an imbalance in electrolytes that can become deadly. Other symptoms include bradycardia, inflammation, tearing of the esophagus and acid erosion to the teeth, just to name a few.

Myth #3: People at a normal body weight cannot have an eating disorder.

Fact: People are often surprised that the majority of eating disorder cases do not include someone who is emaciated as we so often see in film and in the press. In fact, the average individual diagnosed with an ED is most often considered to be a “normal” weight or even larger-bodied. Eating disorders involve three core traits:

  1. The undue influence of body weight or shape on self-worth
  2. An unhealthy distortion of body image
  3. Pervasive thoughts about ways to become thinner or to avoid gaining weight

A person at “normal body weight” may display all three of these traits but suffer in silence longer before seeking treatment than those with abnormal body weight due to lingering misconceptions. At The Dorm, we always advise people to be careful about letting weight or body size influence their judgment on whether or not someone should seek out treatment.

Myth #4: Eating disorders are a matter of choice or lifestyle.

Fact: In reality, people who develop an eating disorder have very little choice in the matter. A combination of biological, psychological and environmental factors are all at play and most of these factors are outside of anyone’s control. What begins as an effort to gain more control in one’s life can quickly escalate into damaging behavior. More often than not, an eating disorder can begin as a reasonable plan to “get healthy” and quickly transform into an unhealthy and potentially life-threatening illness. Although no one chooses to get an eating disorder, recovery requires choosing to give up eating disorder habits and replace these harmful behaviors with sustainable and supportive coping mechanisms.

Myth #5: Dieting is a normal part of life.

Fact: Eating disorders are not like dieting. Eating disorders may look similar to dieting, but the reality is that the sufferer often feels powerless and unable to manage their behaviors. Research shows that most people, particularly adolescents and young adults, are also confused about eating disorders; they recognize them as harmful but also view an emphasis on body obsession and dieting as a “normal” part of growing up. This is why particular attention must be paid to adolescents and teens who are dieting as this can quickly develop into an ED. Puberty is a time of biological, physical and psychological changes all happening at once and teenagers are often vulnerable to societal pressures. Feeling insecure and self-conscious in our skin are giant risk factors for EDs. You’ve heard the scary statistics – approximately half of all adolescent girls have tried to lose weight and as many as 75% of high school girls feel fat or want to lose weight.

Do you or a loved one need help with mental health?

The Dorm is here.

The Bottom Line: While moderate, sustainable and FLEXIBLE changes to one’s diet and exercise habits have been shown to be safe, familiarize yourself with the risk factors and signs/symptoms of someone who may be struggling with an eating disorder here:

To learn more about our approach to nutrition and treating eating disorders at The Dorm, please visit our dedicated web pages and/or contact our team directly:

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