Having an eating disorder is more common than most people realize. It is an all-consuming disease that impacts at least 9% of people worldwide. The scientific community only recently began to investigate eating disorders. That being said, there are many misconceptions regarding eating disorders, which contributes to the negative stigma surrounding them. These are just some of the many myths about eating disorders that continue to persist today.
The biggest misconception circulating about eating disorders is the idea that they are entirely a choice that stems from vanity. Not only is this false, but it is incredibly dismissive of the severity of eating disorders and the experiences of people who suffer from eating disorders. Oftentimes a desire to get healthy or exercise more can spiral out of control, thus resulting in an eating disorder (University of Rochester Medical Center, 2021). Eating disorders are a mental illness as well as a physical one. In addition, most eating disorders occur alongside other mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are a lot of factors that play into eating disorders, which illustrate how they are not merely the result of a personal choice or decision. They are illnesses that need to be addressed by a medical professional or expert. Furthermore, eating disorders like anorexia are mainly about self-image rather than external appearance to others.
Another common myth about eating disorders is that they only affect a small subset of people. It is important to recognize that eating disorders look different for different people, and they can impact someone regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or background. In the United States, approximately 10 million males will develop an eating disorder at some point (National Eating Disorders, 2018). Men do not get a diagnosis early on since they might not exhibit physical signs of having an eating disorder until much later, which can prolong the suffering and damage done to the body. As a result of the stigma and gender bias, most men are unlikely to seek treatment for their eating disorder. Creating these unnecessary misconceptions only adds to the lack of information and representation that exists within the eating disorder and health communities.
Lastly, a pervasive misconception about eating disorders is that they center around weight fluctuation. As stated previously, eating disorders are mental as well as physical, so being overweight or underweight does not mean that someone is not suffering from an eating disorder. Someone who is of a normal weight can also have an eating disorder. In fact, eating disorders are often paired with self-esteem issues, so changes in eating patterns do not fix the underlying mental health issues (Health Talk, 2019). Focusing on weight actually makes it harder for those who are suffering to seek help. Centering the conversation around weight instead of mental illness makes it harder to destigmatize eating disorders.
Engaging in a conversation around mental illness and eating disorders can help alleviate some of the negative stigmas surrounding them. In addition, educating others who do not have eating disorders can have a positive impact in changing the way we look at eating disorders. If you know someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s important to support them and encourage them to seek professional help.
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Eating disorder myths. (2019, August 22). Retrieved April 19, 2021.