Dismantling the Common Myths of Eating Disorders

Eighty percent of 10-year-old girls have been on diets, according to the study “Eating Disorders Today – Not Just A Girl Thing.” Society’s focus on appearance can lead to individuals becoming obsessed with dieting and weight. As a result, eating disorders are common among people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. While most people are aware of anorexia and bulimia, they may not have heard of binge eating disorder, or BED. Binge eating disorder is the latest to be classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. BED’s characteristic behavior is taking in several thousand calories in a comparatively short time frame, multiple times a day or week. It is unique in several ways:

  • It affects nearly as many men as women.
  • It is more common in middle-aged women than teens and younger adults.
  • Many people with BED are not overweight.

Despite increased awareness of anorexia, bulimia and BED, plenty of misconceptions about eating disorders continue to circulate and confuse the public. Here, I’ll debunk a few myths and clarify the facts about eating disorders:

EATING DISORDERS: MYTHS VS. FACTS

Myth #1: Eating disorders mostly affect young Caucasian girls.

Fact: Eating disorders affect people of both genders, in all age groups and of every racial and cultural background. An estimated 10 million American men have an eating disorder at some time in their lives. Clinical psychologist Roberto Olivardia told NPR, “Over the last five, six years, I’ve been seeing younger and younger boys who are struggling with these problems.”

Myth #2: Eating disorders are a choice, and for some people, they’re a lifestyle.

Fact: People don’t choose to have an eating disorder. Attempts to be thinner or healthier can turn into obsessive or out-of-control behavior.

Myth #3: Eating disorders are a cry for attention.

Fact: Weight loss from an eating disorder may bring positive attention at first, but that typically changes to negative and unwanted attention as it progresses.

Myth #4: People with eating disorders are punishing their families.

Fact: It’s easy for parents and loved ones to blame themselves when a family member develops an eating disorder, but it is rare for these behaviors to be malicious or deliberately hurtful.

Myth #5: You can’t be at a normal weight and have an eating disorder.

Fact: Eating disorders are not solely about weight. They are about how body weight and image affect a person’s self-worth. They are about distorted body images and obsessive thoughts about how to become thinner or avoid weight gain. People of normal weight with eating disorders may actually suffer more, because they don’t receive recognition of their illness from others.

Myth #6: If people with eating disorders would just eat, they would get better.

Fact: Eating disorders are not solely about food. Healthy eating habits are essential to recovery, but eating normally is not the only solution.

Myth #7: Eating disorders are just a teen phase. They will go away if you ignore them.

Fact: While eating disorders generally begin during teen years while identity and independence are being established, they are not a normal part of growing up. Ignoring unhealthy habits can be hazardous.

Myth #8: Celebrities enjoy being super-thin.

Fact: For those who make their living on stage or in front of cameras, constant scrutiny can lead to serious eating disorders.

Female and male celebrities who have sought treatment for or talked about their eating disorders include the singer Kesha, actress and entrepreneur Mary-Kate Olsen, musician Elton John, singer and actress Demi Lovato, actor Dennis Quaid, musician Lady Gaga, comedian and actor Russell Brand and actress Portia De Rossi.

HELP IS AVAILABLE

Eating disorder experts say that awareness and understanding are the first steps to combating anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. Decreasing emphasis on weight, encouraging healthy eating habits and the presence of positive adult role models can all help young people develop healthy attitudes toward weight and diet and change the way they see themselves.

If you or someone you love is developing or living with an eating disorder, you can learn more, get help and start on the road to recovery.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders

Tip of the Day

Fit activity into your commute! Get off the bus or subway one stop early and walk or skate the rest of the way. It’s an easy way to fit an extra 10 minutes of physical activity into your day.

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