5 Eating Disorder Myths Debunked
We need to debunk eating disorder myths because, despite their jarring prevalence in modern society, eating disorders are often misunderstood by people who have not experienced them firsthand. Because of this limited consideration and knowledge, common myths about eating disorders have emerged that need to be debunked.
Once thought to be contained in the framework of Western culture, evidence shows that eating disorders now affect people on a global scope, from Thailand to Pakistan to South Africa to Fiji.1,2 No matter the age bracket, ethnic origin, sexual preference, gender identity, or economic status, anyone can be susceptible to eating disorders, but misconceptions could interfere with seeking eating disorder treatment. So it's crucial to debunk the common myths about eating disorders and replace them with more compassionate attitudes and increased awareness to support those who suffer.
5 Eating Disorder Myths and How to Debunk Them
- The development of eating disorders is rooted in appearance and vanity. From an onlooker's perspective, it can seem as though people with eating disorders are self-absorbed or desperate for attention; but often, their extreme behaviors are propelled by the antithesis of vanity—insecurity. For these people, shedding pounds is not about enhancing their bodies for "swimsuit season." It's about numbing their lack of confidence, deep inner loathing, and other negative emotions with an illusory sense of control over how their bodies function.
- For most people, eating disorders tend to result from traumatic events. While some eating disorders involve a history of sexual abuse, childhood bullying, or familial dysfunction, trauma is not the single cause of disordered eating behaviors. In fact, many people raised in stable home environments with healthy social networks and opportunities for success become eating disorder victims just as readily as those with traumatic backgrounds. The through-line for sufferers is not an extreme injustice or violation, but an intense, personal dissatisfaction.
- Once sufferers achieve healthy weight restoration, they will be "cured." Just because their bodies don't appear underweight or malnourished anymore does not mean the recovery process has reached a smooth, orderly conclusion. Often, those who look improved on the outside continue to face severe urges, anxiety, and distress on the inside. As others around them offer encouragement for "getting healthier," people with a disordered eating mindset can internalize that praise as confirmation of regaining the weight they strove to lose.
- Disordered eating behaviors follow specific patterns and conventions. Since eating disorders are as unique and individualized as the people who struggle with them, it's not realistic to impose a formula on how they manifest. There are certain behaviors and symptoms to know about, but these illnesses can't be treated with a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, not every anorexic person starves all the time and not every bulimic person vomits to purge. These are stereotypes, but they don't represent the experience of all sufferers.
- Those who want to find healing, simply need to "consume more food." This is arguably one of the most frustrating misconceptions because, while the behaviors seem to orbit around caloric intake, the actual development of eating disorders is not about food. If the solution to breaking that toxic cycle of restriction, deprivation, and oppression was to start consuming more balanced meals, then eating disorders would not feel so arduous to recover from ("Anorexia: Why We Can't 'Just Eat'"). But addressing the physical issues of weight, calories, or food rituals are just symptomatic of the deeper-rooted emotions of shame, fear, grief, and self-doubt underneath.
- Pike, K.M., & Dunne, P.E. "The Rise of Eating Disorders in Asia: A Review." Journal of Eating Disorders, 2015.
Wassenaar, D., Grange, D. L., Winship, J., & Lachenicht, L. "The Prevalence of Eating Disorder Pathology in a Cross-Ethnic Population of Female Students in South Africa." European Eating Disorders Review, 2000.
Schurrer, M. (2018, October 31). 5 Eating Disorder Myths Debunked, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 31 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivinged/2018/10/5-eating-disorder-myths-debunked
Author: Mary-Elizabeth Schurrer
In terms of debunking myths to eating disorders, I find it of great importance to elaborate on the five observations made here. Nutritious food and balanced eating habits can indicate a crucial step in global health welfare. Each person with an eating disorder has specific psycho-social and socio-cultural conditions or circumstances which determine that individual's eating pattern. When combined with the body-centric messages from electronic media, this issue becomes even more complicated and exacerbated. So the necessity to debunk these and many others myths on eating disorders should promote the principles of healthy eating and take into account the bio-psycho-social attributes of where a person lives and works.
Hi there, Dr. Ferati. Thank you for offering this perspective on the addressing the social, cultural and biological aspects of eating disorders. I absolutely agree these factors need to be taken into account when talking about eating disorders, as well as addressing them from a treatment and recovery standpoint. Your insight is much appreciated!