• Lauren Feder

Debunking Eating Disorder Myths

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month I thought it would be fitting to shed light on eating disorder (ED) myths and illuminate the harm stereotypes can have on those suffering.


Myth #1: A person needs to look sick to have an eating disorder.

A very problematic belief that exists around eating disorders is that one is not “sick enough” to receive help. So often, the media chooses emaciated females to play the role of a clinical patient with an ED. This recurrent look problematically influences viewers to believe that in order to have an ED you have to be skin and bones. Clinically, those who suffer from the signs and symptoms of anorexia, but are not medically underweight, are labeled with “atypical anorexia.” Ironically, atypical anorexia is more typical than anorexia, with less than 6% of people with EDs being medically diagnosed as “underweight.” To clarify, one’s weight is unable to measure the mental distress one may have around food. If your relationship with food is causing distress in your life, that is enough to seek professional help. Do not feel like you have to wait until you reach a media-represented version of an ED to seek support.


Myth #2: Eating disorders only occur in White Women.

The media is not only guilty of depicting individuals with EDs as inextricably thin but also as exclusively White. Numerous films that come to mind feature the life of someone with an ED as a thin, wealthy, White woman who uses an ED to control her seemingly perfect life. This narrative is extremely problematic in creating a stereotype that does not fit most ED cases. These stereotypes may be the reason why BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are less likely to seek treatment for EDs, despite experiencing similar rates to White people.

Examples from ANAD (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders):

  • Compared to White people, Black people are less likely to be diagnosed with anorexia despite often experiencing the condition for a longer period of time. Black people are 50% more likely to exhibit bulimic behavior, such as binge-eating and purging.

  • Hispanic people are significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than their non-Hispanic peers.

  • Asian American college students report higher rates of restriction, purging, muscle building, and cognitive restraint than their white or non-Asian, BIPOC peers.

  • Regarding gender minorities and the LGBTQ+ community, gay men are seven times more likely to report binge-eating and twelve times more likely to report purging than heterosexual men. Transgender college students report disordered eating at approximately four times the rate of their cisgender classmates.

I offer these statistics in hope of individuals suffering to understand that there is no singular “look” to an eating disorder, and everyone is deserving of treatment.


Myth #3: Eating disorders = Anorexia

As expressed above, thinness is not the only marker of an ED. Accordingly, anorexia and restrictive food behaviors are not the only manifestations of a disordered relationship with food.

Examples:

  • Bulimia: Compensating for food choices through fasting, forced vomiting, excessive exercise, laxatives, or other medications.

  • Binge Eating Disorder: Consuming large quantities of food, often rapidly with dissociation, and later overcome with feelings of guilt.

  • Orthorexia: Abiding by their own rigid guidelines of health, which go as far as cutting out food groups, not allowing themselves to eat out at restaurants, and attaching morality to their food choices.

  • Rumination Disorder: Repeated regurgitation of food.

  • Pica: Eating inedible substances such as clay.

I acknowledge I gave merely a brief introduction to these disorders. That being said, if any of these experiences resonate with you, I still recommend seeking support.


Myth #4: Eating Disorders Are “Lucky” Or To Be Romanticized

Because the media often displays false looks of eating disorders, individuals who do not suffer from an ED may romanticize their ability to lose weight, resist food, etc.

To debunk this insulting notion that someone is lucky to have their restrictive food behaviors, I will share common symptoms of EDs that are often left out of the romanticized picture.

  • Physical symptoms: fatigue, brain fog, bloating, heartburn, insomnia, night sweats, constipation, stomach pain, hair loss, loss of menstruation, infertility, and dry skin.

  • EDs not only affect looks but one’s cognition. Starvation syndrome encompasses a lack of ability to focus, develop, or think about anything besides food. Individuals often experience a loss of personality, and therefore isolation and mood swings from no longer feeling like themselves.

  • Body dysmorphia is often experienced, distorting the perception of one’s body.

  • Behavioral symptoms: isolation, obsessively watching food videos, body checking, using small cutlery, comparing yourself to others, fear of eating in public, obsessive calorie counting, looking up restaurant menus before eating out, and eating at specific times.

Sadly, these are just a handful of symptoms that one may experience with an ED.


I hope this blog can serve as a “public service announcement” that encourages compassion and expansion of our assumptions about EDs. Eating disorders do not discriminate and can affect any human being. It is our responsibility to speak up against these harmful stereotypes as they risk holding back our loved ones from seeking the help they deserve.


Recommended Instagram posts and accounts: https://www.instagram.com/p/CYi68H6qXzM/, https://www.instagram.com/p/CdUWHDpghP9/, https://www.instagram.com/p/CdEK_LvO_eD/, https://www.instagram.com/p/CcV4NqoqDMb/, https://www.instagram.com/p/CdJSCKxpBna/, https://www.instagram.com/p/Cc-r4xxqS_4/


Cover Image by Cristobella Durrette

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