Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illnesses, and four out of 10 Americans have either suffered from an eating disorder or know someone who has.* Yet misinformation about these diseases remains prevalent, and unfortunately, the shame and secrecy associated with eating disorders can make it difficult for some individuals to seek the treatment they need in order to experience lasting eating disorders recovery.
Addressing common myths about eating disorders helps to not only educate the general public, but also remove the stigma associated with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). When misperceptions are addressed and eating disorders are understood and accepted as serious mental illnesses, the men, women and children who struggle with these diseases are more likely to recognize their disordered eating and feel more comfortable addressing their illnesses by seeking treatment.
To raise awareness and curb misinformation, below are five common myths about eating disorders, followed by the facts.
- Eating disorders are a women’s disease. Although commonly thought of as a “teenage girl” disease, the prevalence of eating disorders in men and boys is increasing. Eating disorders statistics reveal that more than one million men currently struggle with eating disorders.** It’s unclear whether these illnesses are actually becoming more common in men and boys, or if more eating disorders awareness activities and less fear about seeking treatment has prompted more males to identify their eating disorders and seek treatment.
- The cure for eating disorders is to “just eat.” While eating disorders involve calorie restriction and/or purging of calories after consumption, they’re complex mental illnesses that aren’t really about food. These illnesses often emerge from issues of control that go far beyond food and calories. Therefore, it’s also quite common for what triggered an eating disorder – trauma or another precipitating event – to be completely different from what maintains it—usually disordered thoughts and behaviors around food and calories.
- Eating disorders don’t run in families. Genetics and heredity play an active role in the development of an eating disorder. A woman with a sister or mother who has had anorexia is 12 times more likely to develop the disease and four times more like to develop bulimia.*** Just as it’s important to understand family history when evaluating the risk for cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s vital that individuals understand if their family members have struggled with eating disorders or displayed disordered eating behaviors to maximize opportunities for prevention and illness recognition.
- Eating disorders are a choice. People don’t engage in disordered eating behaviors because they are simply choosing to eat fewer calories or they don’t want to be healthy. Eating disorders are complex illnesses with medical, psychological and sociocultural implications and they can be deadly if appropriate treatment isn’t pursued.
- Eating disorders only affect wealthy individuals. Men, women and children from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds can, and do, develop eating disorders. Regardless of family income, everyone experiences certain life transitions like puberty, which is one of the most common times during which eating disorders can develop.****
Setting the record straight when it comes to myths about eating disorders is an ongoing process for the community of eating disorders treatment professionals. However, the distribution of accurate eating disorders facts and important information about treatment resources can not only help prevent the development of disordered eating behaviors and negative body image, but also support those suffering from these illnesses as they access appropriate treatment.
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