Despite the prevalence and serious nature of eating disorders, many individuals hold myths surrounding their diagnosis, occurrence, and treatment. Such misconceptions can be dangerous for individuals who are in dire need of help but feel that they do not fit the various stereotypes or preconceived notions of eating disorders, as well as for individuals trying to support loved ones with such illnesses. Below you will find various myths associated with eating disorders and information that explains why they are false.
Myth #1: You can tell that someone has an eating disorder from their appearance.
There is a common misconception that individuals with an eating disorder must be extremely thin (for those who restrict/compensate for eating) or overweight (for those who tend to binge). In actuality, eating disorders do not have a particular appearance. People struggling with such disorders represent a multitude of body types and sizes, body mass indices, weights, and musculature. The obsessions and behaviors of an eating disorder signify an internal struggle which may or may not be visible in the person’s appearance. Thus, next time someone tells you that they think they may have an eating disorder, try to look past their physical appearance and understand their mental/emotional suffering.
Myth #2: Eating disorders affect only White teenage females.
This is a common stereotype. Eating disorders do not discriminate against any race, ethnicity, age, disability status, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or gender identity. Any individual can struggle with an eating disorder, and unfortunately, people who do not fit the White teenage female prototype may not be properly assessed, diagnosed, or treated.
Myth #3: You have to be diagnosed with either anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder to have an eating disorder.
While these three disorders are diagnoses, eating disorders come in various presentations that may or may not fit all the criteria of either or a combination of these illnesses. Another less widely-known diagnosis is Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED), which is just as severe and life-threatening as the more well-known disorders. Individuals with OSFED may exhibit a combination of various disordered behaviors with eating, exercise, and other compensatory behaviors characteristic of the different eating disorders. Regardless of the specific behaviors, what matters is whether the individual has an unhealthy and challenging relationship with food, body image, and/or exercise, and how this impacts their overall functioning.
Myth # 4: Individuals with eating disorders just need to change their diet to recover.
This is absolutely false. Eating disorders are complex psychological illnesses in which behaviors around food and body image are used to cope with much deeper, underlying issues. A common saying in eating disorder recovery is “it’s not about the food.” Although nutritional guidance is an imperative part of recovery, much cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and social restructuring needs to take place to facilitate the individual’s recovery. This entails intensive psychotherapy, psychiatric services, skill development, and social support.
Myth #5: Eating disorders are incurable.
For anyone reading this who thinks they may be struggling with an eating disorder, please know that there is hope. Eating disorders can be cured, but require a commitment that involves a physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioral, and even spiritual investment. The recovery process is gradual and may involve lapses, but living a life in recovery is possible. Psychotherapy interventions are essential to recovery, including cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, and mindfulness, as well as dietetic guidance, a support system, and psychotropic medications, as needed.
Every individual with an eating disorder will have their own unique experience. Please remember that regardless of how your eating disorder shows up, including the types and frequency of your behaviors, the duration of your illness, and the severity of your situation, your struggle is valid and you deserve help.
Bio: Bahar Moheban, M.A. is a registered psychological assistant in Torrance under the supervision of Dr. Nazanin Moali and a clinical psychology doctoral candidate. She provides psychotherapy in individual and group settings to adults and adolescents working through disordered eating, body dissatisfaction, and cormorbid disorders. Bahar has experience providing mentorship to individuals in recovery from eating disorders and facilitating support groups on improving one’s body image and relationship with food. Call us today to book a consultation with Bahar.