4 Myths About Eating Disorders That it’s Time to do Away With

We pay close attention to the ways that eating disorders are represented in the media, in popular entertainment, and on social media. In our field, these representations can shape public perceptions, complicate personal experiences, and impact treatment for clients with eating disorders.

We see a lot of discussion about food, and weight, and (consequently) eating disorders around the first of the year, as toxic diet culture gets tied to New Year’s resolutions. To help those that need help most, we’ve identified 4 myths about eating disorders that we’d like to do away with once and for all.

Myth 1: Men can’t have eating disorders

One of the most pervasive myths is that eating disorders are somehow tied to gender identity. As we’ve discussed before, this is patently false. In fact, statistics show that at least 25% of those diagnosed with an eating disorder are male or transmasculine, and those figures are almost certainly low. It’s clear that many who struggle with disordered eating don’t report it or seek treatment, in part because of this particular myth.

Trans and non-binary folks also wrestle with eating disorders, and many are at an increased risk. Research reported by the University of Pennsylvania found that “transgender college students were more than four times more likely than their cisgender female counterparts to report an eating disorder diagnosis such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and two times more likely to report eating disorder symptoms such as purging.”

Fact: Eating disorders can impact anyone, regardless of gender.

Myth 2: Eating disorders are always about body image

Eating disorders aren’t always about body image. While body image distress or a fear of gain weight is a marker of some diagnoses like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and OSFED, there are others such as ARFID that don’t present this way.

ARFID stands for Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. The Mayo Clinic describes the disorder as “characterized by failing to meet your minimum daily nutrition requirements because you don’t have an interest in eating; you avoid food with certain sensory characteristics, such as color, texture, smell or taste; or you’re concerned about the consequences of eating, such as fear of choking. Food is not avoided because of fear of gaining weight.”

Those with ARFID experience an extremely limited range of safe food options. There are ARFID subtypes that include having had a food related trauma such as a choking incident that leads to severely restrictive behaviors, sensory issues and the subsequent difficulty trying new things or expanding variety, or a seemingly inherent disinterest in food that stems from a very young age.

While these eating disorders are not tied to body image, it’s important to me understand that these ARE eating disorders, and can be appropriately and effectively treated in centers with staff who have the proper training and understanding

Fact: Eating disorders can develop from any number of life experiences

Myth 3: Someone with an eating disorder will always have issues with food, even when “recovered”

The majority of people with a history of an eating disorder can and will find full recovery and food freedom.

In fact, many people who have recovered from and ED express that the self-awareness and work they did during the recovery process led them to having a healthier relationship with food and their body than they felt they ever would have even prior to their diagnosis.

At the same time, it is important to give grace and acceptance to those who feel most comfortable identifying recovery as a life-long practice rather than an end goal, which bears similarities to the approach many who are in recovery from substance use disorders take. Autonomy and self-determination always take precedence, and there is no one right way to recover.

Fact: Many people who have recovered from eating disorders have a very healthy relationship with food, and with their bodies.

Myth 4: “You don’t LOOK like you have an eating disorder”

No matter how pervasive this myth is, it simply isn’t true that you can tell if someone has an eating disorder by their appearance.

People can have eating disorders in any size body, and can recover in any size body. Not everyone with anorexia is visibly emaciated/underweight and malnourished looks very different in different people.

A recent article in the New York Times looked specifically at atypical anorexia nervosa, in which a person “can lose significant amounts of weight but still have a medium or large body size. Others, because of their body’s metabolism, hardly lose any weight at all. To the outside world, they appear ‘overweight.’” They explain that

This group now comprises up to half of all patients hospitalized in eating-disorder programs. Studies suggest that the same number of people, even as many as three times as many, will develop atypical anorexia as traditional anorexia in their lifetimes.

Additionally, there are other types of eating disorders (like binge eating disorder, for example) that are equally incongruent with the idea that those with eating disorders have a particular “look.”

The simple fact is that you cannot tell how healthy someone is by judging their body type, and this type of thinking prevents folks from seeking treatment they need to recover.

Fact: People can have eating disorders, and recover from them, in any size body.

THE ROAD TO WELLNESS STARTS BY SEEKING HELP. TODAY.

Built on the principles of assertive community treatment, Galen Hope is an eating disorder and mental health treatment center offering individualized treatment options that include Intensive Outpatient (IOP), supported housing, and Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP). As a “Community of Integrated Wellness,” we pride ourselves in fostering a thoughtful and meaningful care experience that can guide our clients on their road to recovery and increased quality of life, regardless of diagnosis. Galen Hope currently offers separate, age-specific programming for female and transfeminine adolescents ages 12-17 and adults 18 and up, as well as gender-specific programming for males and transmasculine individuals with eating disorders and primary mental health diagnoses.

To learn more, or to join our community for integrated wellness, please contact us today.

Belong. Heal. Grow.

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