An eating disorder can be hard to understand if it’s something you’ve never struggled with. As a therapist that treats eating disorders, I thought I’d tackle some common misconceptions for eating disorder awareness week. Here are 4 eating disorder myths debunked!
Myth: You need to be thin/emaciated to have an eating disorder.
This is one of the biggest myths about eating disorders, largely due to the media’s consistently inaccurate portrayal. The reality is people of ALL shapes and sizes can and do suffer with eating disorders. In fact, you likely would not be able to tell just by looking at someone whether they have an eating disorder and that is SO important to remember.
“But you don’t look sick” is irrelevant. I personally know people who died from their eating disorders in average and above average weight bodies. ANYONE in ANY body can suffer with an eating disorder and it’s all equally concerning. Just because you have a friend that seemingly looks and acts “fine,” it does not mean that they can’t be suffering with an eating disorder; especially as secrecy and shame is often a part of the illness and many times people struggling will go great lengths to hide their disorders.
Myth: Getting over an eating disorder is simple. Just eat in moderation!
Eating disorders are mental illnesses and there is increasing evidence that they’re brain based, not just a diet gone wrong. Telling someone with bulimia or binge eating disorder to just eat in moderation or telling someone someone with anorexia to eat a burger is pointless because many times they know intellectually what it means to eat “normally,” but they just can’t. Mental illnesses are irrational and complex. People who suffer from eating disorders are often tormented by their illness but still struggle to get better. Recovery requires professional help.
Myth: Social media/culture/magazines are to blame for eating disorders.
Our culture’s obsession with thinness and dieting definitely plays a role but blaming just one thing is simplifying a disorder that’s much more complex. “Biology loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger” is how I’ve heard experts explain the development of eating disorders. We just don’t see everyone who diets developing eating disorders but if someone has the biology and personality propensity, outside factors can be a trigger.
Myth: Eating disorders are a choice.
No one chooses to wake up every day and be tormented from morning to night. No one chooses to live their lives with their heads in the toilet. No one chooses to be so terrified of food that they can’t go out with friends or be part of any social activities for fear of involvement with food. No one chooses to spend money they don’t have to spend on food that they feel compelled to eat until they are in agonizing pain. Eating disorders are NOT a choice but an illness with a strong biological component. Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness and are something that should be taken very seriously.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, there is help out there! Here are some resources:
- NEDA helpline: 1-800-931-2237
- Project Heal
- Alexis Conason– I work for her practice in NYC and she offers an amazIng 9 week group for people struggling with disordered eating, chronic dieting, and bingeing.
Here are a list of podcasts I highly recommend for anyone looking for information and support around eating disorders, body image, and disordered eating from a Health At Every Size and non diet framework:
- Food Psych– Christy Harrison is an RD tackling issues around intuitive eating, body image, eating disorder recovery, weight stigma, fat acceptance, nutrition, and more
- Life Unrestricted– Meret Boxler talks about eating disorder recovery and body image with some amazing guest experts as well.
- The BodyLove Project– Jessi Haggerty is a dietitian and personal trainer who covers topics with the goal of helping you get to a place where you can mend your relationship with food and your body.
- Love, Food– Julie Duffy Dillon is an RD and talks about eating disorders, dieting and more, from a non diet approach.
- Dietitians Unplugged– Aaron Flores and Glenys Oyston are two RD’s covering topics on health and wellness without a focus on the scale or counting calories.
- Body Kindness– Rebecca Scritchfield is an RD passionate about fighting diet culture.