8 Biggest Misconceptions about Eating Disorders.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve heard about eating disorders?

There are so many misconceptions about eating disorders and mental health, that it’s hard to believe that we’re moving forward in regards to reducing the stigma. Many will tell you we’re successful in our fight to break down barriers, while others tend to disagree. Although I assume we’ve come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, there is still a long way to go in order to break down unhelpful stigma and misjudgments. This is especially in regard to lessor known mental illnesses such as the various types of eating disorders.

I’ve been sharing misconceptions about eating disorders on both my Facebook and Instagram for a number of weeks now, so it’s perfect that my next guest blogger chose to discuss just that.


Top 8 Most Common Misconceptions About Eating Disorders.

By Tsvetty (Mental Health Memo).

1. It’s only about weight.

One of the biggest misconceptions about eating disorders is that it’s simply about losing weight or looking ‘thinner’. But the reality is that eating disorders are much more complex than that. There are many factors that can contribute to someone having an eating disorder that has nothing to do with weight.

Image by Jennifer Burk

For example, disordered eating can be a form of self-harm or self-destruction. In this case, the weight of the person isn’t necessarily the problem here but rather participating in self-punishing actions. Similarly, someone may partake in obsessive and disordered eating as a means of having control. This could be due to anxiety, depression, trauma, or other types of stressors.

Standard treatment for eating disorders focuses on weight restoration (where needed), and therapy which explores the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. However, many assume that once the individual has become weight restored, that treatment is complete. Although weight restoration can happen fairly quickly, it’s far from the end and it can take a number of years for recovery to fully take hold in the brain.

2. You can only have an eating disorder if you’re thin.

As a society we seem to have an image in our brains of what a person with an eating disorder should look like. This is typically a very frail and skinny person. However, this is far from the truth. There are many people who are overweight and relatively “normal” sized that have eating disorders.

Personally, I believe that the reason we have this perception of a skinny person is that we tend to always think of severe Anorexia as the only eating disorder out there. But there are many different types of eating disorders, and they don’t all necessarily lead to being thin.

For example, there’s Binge Eating Disorder. This disorder entails the individual struggling with severe and constant binging often triggered by stressors. The individual often feels tremendous guilt following the binge but doesn’t partake in compensatory behaviour. In this case, the person will actually end up GAINING weight, and they’ll likely either be overweight or of a larger build.

Another example is Orthorexia. A person with this diagnosis is extremely obsessive about eating healthy food to the point that it impacts their mental health and ability to partake in society. In this case, someone with this disorder may look incredibly healthy and fit, but they still have an eating disorder.

It’s so important to understand the spectrum of how people with eating disorders look because it can help us:

  • Not jump to conclusions.
  • Think before shaming someone for their size.
  • Identify who may have an eating disorder based on behaviours and verbal cues rather than appearances.
  • Become better allies.

3. Eating disorders are a female problem.

Similarly to how we think a person with an eating disorder needs to be incredibly skinny, we also seem to believe that only women have eating disorders.

This is not only incredibly false, but it creates a lot of stigma for men who may also be struggling. This then makes it terribly difficult for men to reach out for help and to find support.

Furthermore, it can blind us, leaving it that we don’t check up on the eating behaviours of the men in our lives. By turning a blind eye it’s possible that we’re missing potential indicators that they’re struggling. All simply because we don’t believe they could have an eating disorder.

Men absolutely suffer from poor body image, as well as eating disorders. It’s so important that we make sure to check in with them as well and help them just as we would with women.

Image by Nik Shuliahin

4. Eating disorders are only associated with restrictive eating.

Here we see yet another example of a very narrow understanding of what eating disorders are. Most people assume that there are only restrictive eating disorders such an Anorexia Nervosa. This assumption is likely due to the fact that restrictive eating disorders are the most commonly seen.

A few examples of restrictive eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder

As mentioned there are many different types of eating disorders that are not restrictive:

  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Pica
  • Compulsive Exercise
  • Rumination Disorder

While this is a lengthy list of eating disorders, there are still actually even more out there!

5. Eating disorders act alone.

Often times people with eating disorders also experience other types of mental illnesses. This is known as comorbidity. The most common comorbidities for eating disorders are anxiety and depression.

This makes it much more difficult to navigate through the diagnosis and really pinpoint why a person has disordered eating. It also impacts the course of treatment chosen.

For example, a person with Anorexia Nervosa may also experience depression. This individual realizes that when they go through a very bad depressive state, they want to restrict because they lose their appetite and want to self-destruct.

In this hypothetical situation, you can see how we can’t fix the Anorexia without also working on the depression. This results in much more complex therapy and support.

6. Eating disorders only develop in teenagers and young adults.

Unfortunately, children are not spared from mental illnesses. Many kids have eating disorders that bleed into their adult lives. This is why we have to pay attention to children’s behaviours and the cues they’re giving us about how they feel about themselves.

Whether you have children, nephews or nieces, or work with them, it’s incredibly important to pay attention because children are resilient. It’s much more likely that a child will recover from an eating disorder in comparison to an adult, due to the fact that children are still very impressionable.

It’s also much more helpful to nip a self-esteem issue right from the start so it doesn’t snowball into something worse.

7. If the person is getting help for it, then you don’t need to worry.

There are incredible eating disorder programs out there, and a lot of people do come out of it recovered or close to it. The bad news is that eating disorders have one of the highest relapse statistics out of all the mental illnesses out there. This is simply due to the nature of the disorders and how often our perceptions of ourselves change.

If you’re someone struggling with an eating disorder, don’t take this as something to worry about because it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get better.

Image by Kate Kalvach.

However, bear in mind, that just because someone is in a program or getting treatment doesn’t mean you don’t have to continue supporting the person. Even if the person seems healed or is doing well, it doesn’t mean they can’t relapse or aren’t still suffering.

Eating disorders often tend to last a long time in some shape or manner, so it’s important to continue being a good friend/partner/family member to the person struggling.

8. Complimenting a person struggling with an eating disorder on their weight loss or weight gain will help motivate them.

This one may be hard to swallow because I know everyone who does this is doing it with good intentions.

But that “you look so good now” after someone has gained a few pounds is not helpful. In fact, you probably just made that person feel worse because now they’re thinking that they were ugly before. I know it may feel a bit weird but keeping your comments to yourself about the person’s weight is going to be much more beneficial.

This doesn’t mean avoid the topic of the eating disorder. You can still talk to them about what they’re going through (and I strongly encourage you to) without making a comment on their appearance. I’m sure you offering an ear and genuinely asking them about what’s going on will make them feel much more loved and supported than “you look so much better now”.

If you really want to compliment them, maybe try doing so on something different. For example, their makeup, their clothing, their hair, how nice their smile is, or even something like the perfume they’re wearing.

Final thoughts.

I think the first step in being able to properly help and understand others is to be educated. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about eating disorders, and while I tried to cover as much as I could, there are certainly many more out there than the ones on this list.

But I hope that at the very least you have gained a new perspective and new knowledge of eating disorders and how they work.

All my love,
T

About the author:

Hi everyone! My name is Tsvetty and I run a blog called Mental Health Memo. I’m a Social Work and Psychology student and have also suffered from mental illness since I was a child. This has made me incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about the subject, which is why I created my blog. My hope is to help advocate for mental health, educate about the topic, and provide support and guidance to those experiencing it. Thank you to Nyxie for having me on her blog, and I hope y’all enjoy my post and check
out what else I have to offer!

52 thoughts on “8 Biggest Misconceptions about Eating Disorders.

  1. Yes to all of this! I actually don’t even like how I look when I’m thin, my ED is a coping mechanism for my life being out of control, and I soothe myself via ED behaviours. A friend of mine with a life long struggle with bulimia was told “therest no need to worry about her having an esttin disorder once because of her weight! I’m so happy to see posts like this because the misconceptions are so harmful!

    Ash | thisdreamsalive.com

    1. I don’t like myself when thin because nothing fits me, but I hate myself even more when stable, and it’s killing me to think of myself as weight restored. But it’s a reality I need to face.

      Thank you so much for reading.

  2. Love this! I agree with you, a lot of people think eating disorders are due to people being insecure with their weight and that it’s all about being thin. It’s also the opposite and binge eating is a huge epidemic that we don’t always think about. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. I have always struggled with food. I can’t even remember a time in my fifty+ years of life that I didn’t. It is extremely difficult for my hubby, who has never had a problem with food or known someone who did, to understand and be a positive influence in my battle.

    1. My partner is the same but he’s trying. He doesn’t necessarily get it, but it’s nice he sticks by me and tries to understand. I’m sorry you’ve been dealing with these issues, they are truly horrible.

  4. This is a really great myth busting post! Im a man…with an eating disorder…..we exist! And yes, my ED had nothing to do with weight at all, initially it was. a way to control something in my life, whilst everything else was out of my control. Later, I came to realize, that a large part of my ED was to do with gender dysphoria, I was not female, but male. Although I no longer under eat, I still have a lot of issues around food. It takes a long time to unlearn these behaviors. I comfort eat and dealing with this is a constant work in progress. Thank you for a great post!

    1. Thank you so much for reading Finn! MHM did an excellent job on this one and I know it’ll be a hit on EDAwareness Week in Feb/March! I found that it was largely about control and perfectionism for me too. I have a type-A personality, people pleaser, can’t say no, don’t want to disappoint but yet I so desperately wanted something of my own to cling to. I mean, I still do but I’m learning to let it go.

  5. Such amazing points that I agree with, and it’s so important in breaking down these kinds of dangerous misconceptions. It’s also important to raise awareness of the different types of eating disorders (I’d add chew & spit) and how they can vary. You can also have ongoing disordered thinking and anxiety around food/eating/weight/control, such as after overcoming eating disordered behaviour, that stays with you for the long term; it’s a daily battle, and sadly for many people it’s a lifelong one. Fantastic post!!  ♥
    Caz xx

    1. Thank you so much! MHM did an excellent job portraying these to us. As someone with Anorexia Nervosa, and who has had it for over 13 years, I can confirm all of these and many more.

  6. Those are amazing and all true. For having a mom who struggled with eating disorder her whole life, it is such a tricky disorder to deal with…

  7. What an awesome read. It’s interesting to know these facts, and the different types of eating disorder. I agree, wee should never shame anyone for their size, and it’s really important to simply jump to conclusions, which often lead to misconceptions. ~ Ola @ WanderWithOla

  8. great info you have here. it’s true that eating disorders are not only for thin people. it doesn’t mean that one has more weight, he is already healthy… thanks for pointing all of these out. 🙂

    cha @ littlemisadvencha.com

  9. Such wonderful points to keep in mind for ourselves and those around us. As a mother of 3 small children, I think about this alot… will forcing them to clear their plates create some sort of eating disorder. Will any comment about weight or looks encourage them to question their body and feel conscious? Will bribing them or rewarding them with sweets or junk food lead to an unhealthy relationship with food? Will putting my girls in ballet do more harm than good? It’s a constant question in my head, double guessing everything I do and say! So hard!! More than anything I hope they will always know I am there for them, with love and support, no matter what.

    1. It’s so difficult to know. I think a lot about how we can actually instill confidence and peace around food in the younger generation, and I honestly don’t know the best solution. It’s something I plan to look into and write about in the future, however, as someone who has no kids I feel that I can’t make a comment because I don’t know what it’s like to be a mum.

      I think love and support are essential. And correct communication and openness.

  10. I use restrictive eating as a form of control over my body. A very interesting post showing that anorexia isn’t the only eating disorder

  11. This was a real eye opener of a post. I don’t know anyone who has, or has had, an eating disorder, but reading this makes you realise there’s still so much we all don’t know.

  12. Very informative post! My sister suffered for years with anorexia. It is difficult to watch a loved one go through something like that. Luckily, she was able to recover. So many do not.

  13. Very informative post! I remember being told as a child to clean my plate. I told my kids that too. We spend more time worrying about what my special needs daughter eats — hopefully, we don’t cause any issues with her. It’s really challenging!

  14. Very detailed and informative. There’s a lot of stuff that I wasn’t aware of. You are right, there’s a lot of misinformation and we need to learn more about eating disorders. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Health is not measured by weight or BMI, yet people still put too much emphasis on the ‘perfect’ body. Yeah, you can have a flat stomach or rock hard abs, but if you’re underweight and suffering for it then why do it?

      Thank you so much for stopping in and reading.

    1. If you ever want to talk about it pet, I’m only a DM away. I have experienced binge eating in my childhood, but not since (although, anorexia would try and convince me otherwise).

  15. Thank you for writing about this topic. I could connect with this post on so many of your points. I am in recovery for binge eating and I also had BDD with anxiety and depression. There have been many times when people judged me for my weight and size. It was, and sometimes still is, hurtful. I am so happy that I checked myself into therapy so I could get the help I needed.

    1. Of course, it’s hurtful. People are judging you based on weight, which is often fluctuating and out of our control overall. I’m so sorry you had to go through that love. x

  16. I find it so difficult to try and differentiate between what are ED behaviours and what are Autistic behaviours because of the overlap – especially when it comes to being restrictive with foods and part of that being sensory led.

    Although I do fall into the stereotype of dieting gone too far and focus on weight – I also know that the scales telling me a lower number doesn’t translate into a happier me. I know that as I become more restrictive because everything else in my life feels so out of my control, I also start to become unhappier – especially when I’m not allowing myself my favourite foods.

    I wish I hadn’t been introduced to dieting at such a young age and that we weren’t brought up in a culture of thin = good, competent, in control.

    I wish there wasn’t the undercurrent within Mental Health that prescribes “healthy eating and exercise” to mentally ill people within the service and then praises a patient as they drop half their bodyweight in a matter of months because “surely you must be feeling less depressed now”.

    I’m not saying that exercise can’t be helpful with the happy chemicals, but a part of the reason I can’t let the obsessive exercise go is because I can’t face being told that it’s my fault I’m mentally ill because I’m not working out again.

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