Myths and Facts About Eating Disorders

There are many assumptions and misconceptions made about eating disorders. Here we dispel some of the most common ones:

Myth:  Only teenage girls suffer from eating disorders.

Fact:  Many eating disorders do begin in the teenage years, but children, older women, men, and just about anyone can fall victim to this terrible disorder.

Myth:  No one ever fully recovers from an eating disorder.

Fact:  Each individual is different and sadly about a third of sufferers never recover and some of these patients die from their illness. About another third ‘live’ with the illness but make some kind of recovery and manage to live a life that doesn’t revolve solely around their illness. A further third recover completely never to have problems again. So although recovery takes a long time, with hard work and the proper treatment, you can fully recover from your eating disorder.

Myth:  Eating disorders are solely a problem with food.

Fact:  All eating disorders involve controlling food and/or weight as the focus of life. By focusing on food, weight and calories, a person is able to block out or numb painful feelings and emotions. Some use food as a way to comfort themselves. Eating disorders are not a problem with food itself but what restricting food or overeating food can do for them in terms of blocking out emotions or providing a way of coping with life. Eating disorders are in fact only a symptom of underlying problems.

Myth:  Bulimics always purge by vomiting.

Fact:  Not all bulimics try to rid themselves of the calories they have consumed by vomiting. Purging can also take the form of abusing laxatives or diuretics, or by over exercising, or by fasting.

Myth:  You can always tell someone is anorexic by their appearance.

Fact:  Not all anorexics look like the extreme cases shown in the papers or in the media etc. Anorexia is officially classified as being at least 15% below what would be considered a normal weight for someone of that person’s height. Therefore someone with anorexia might be on the borderline for official diagnosis and be underweight, whereas someone else might be severely anorexic with a BMI which is life threatening, ie under 13. This is what society tends to consider the ‘anorexic’ look. However, just because someone does not look emaciated, does not mean they are not anorexic or that their health is not in danger.

Myth:  Anorexia sufferers do not eat sweets, chocolate, cakes or any other fattening food.

Fact:  Many anorexics do avoid such foods, but some do eat them on a regular basis. If someone with anorexia decides to only allow themselves 300 calories a day, some do choose to use those calories to eat one bar of chocolate or some other ‘treat’ that non sufferers would not imagine an anorexic would eat. However, the anorexia sufferer often experiences guilt at eating something considered ‘bad’ or ‘forbidden’ and restricts or takes other measure to make up for their lack or willpower.

Myth:  Anorexics do not binge or purge.

Fact:  Many anorexics do have occasional binges and purge in an attempt to compensate. Some anorexics can become so fearful of any food or drink that they will purge whatever they put into their system, in some cased this can even include water.

Myth:  You cannot die from bulimia.

Fact:  Bulimia sufferers are at a high risk for dying, especially if they are purging, using laxatives and doing excessive exercise. Many bulimics die from cardiac arrest, which is usually caused by low potassium or an electrolyte imbalance. Some die from a ruptured oesophagus due to repeated vomiting.

Myth:  People with eating disorders do this to hurt their family and friends.

Fact:  Eating disorders sufferers are doing this to themselves because it is their way of coping with their pain and distress. The last thing they want to do is to hurt other people and they are usually very upset when they know the people around them are worried or hurt by their eating disorder.

Myth:  Compulsive eating is not an eating disorder.

Fact:  This is very much an eating disorder and is just as serious as anorexia and bulimia.

Myth:  People cannot have more than one eating disorder.

Fact:  Many people have more than one eating disorder. It is very common for someone to experience anorexia with bulimic tendencies, or bulimia to experience anorexia symptoms at some point. Compulsive overeaters have sometimes experienced anorexia or bulimia at some point. This suggests that the eating behaviours themselves are merely the symptoms, not the problem and the underlying problems are what need to be addressed.