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3 Common Myths About Eating Disorders

Despite years of intense research, eating disorders (EDs) remain shrouded in misconception and half-truths. According to data from the National Institutes on Mental Health (NIMH), eating disorders are “real, treatable medical illnesses that frequently coexist with other illnesses such as depression, substance abuse or anxiety disorders.”

As with all health disorders, knowledge is power. If you want to prevent the development or progression of an eating disorder, having the ability to determine what’s myth and what’s fact is essential.

Here’s a look at three of the most common eating disorder myths and, of course, the truths behind them.

Myth #1 It’s a Choice

Rachael McBride, a dietitian, nutritional counselor and licensed chemical dependency counselor practicing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, says one of the most pervasive myths about eating disorders is that eating disorder is a choice.

“While it may seem this way because there is such a strong focus on body shape and weight loss (in our culture), there is usually so much more to it,” McBride explains.

“Often I see people wanting to control their bodies because they don’t feel that they can control anything else, or they may use eating disorder behaviors as a way to calm anxiety,” she reveals.

“Many people with eating disorders are chasing a moving target. They’re seeking a weight or body shape that will make them feel okay, when the actual problem really has nothing to do with weight at all.”

Myth #2 It’s a Girl Thing

Another common myth about eating disorders is that only women are affected. In reality, however, EDs simply do not discriminate. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) data, people of all age, race, socio-economic status and gender are impacted.

In truth, a large number of males struggle with eating disorders; rates among college-aged men range between four and 10 percent. A couple of the most concerning eating disorder statistics among males include:

  • Males are exponentially less likely to seek professional help for an eating disorder due to the perception that it is a “woman’s disease.”
  • Approximately 15 to 43 percent of men report unhappiness with their bodies
  • Among gay men, nearly 14 percent suffer from bulimia and over 20 percent suffer from anorexia.

Myth #3 Food is the Root of the Problem

Eating disorders can begin with dieting obsession, McBride says. “We talk a lot about food, weight, and diet in our culture, and many people praise each other for being ‘good’ for exercising or avoiding perceived ‘bad’ foods.

“I counsel people that if you feed yourself regularly and appropriately—treating food as nourishment and self-care—your body will naturally know what to do.”

Treating eating disorders requires a highly individualized plan – one that includes a combination of psychotherapy, nutritional counseling and medical care that involves monitoring – particularly when medications are involved.

Regardless of the treatment, getting to the underlying issues is crucial. McBride says that making food out to be the problem is the easy answer, while looking deeper is the harder part. But, make no mistake, uncovering the root of the problem is what saves lives.

Additional Reading: 5 Singers Who Are in Recovery from Eating Disorders

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