Dispelling some myths around eating disorders

5 eating disorder myths that need to be dispelled

Part of the challenge of dealing with an eating disorder is the amount of misinformation in the community. Everyone you talk to about eating disorders has an opinion. The trouble is that often these opinions are informed by eating disorder myths that can be incredibly damaging.

At Eating Disorders Families Australia (EDFA), we’re passionate about supporting the families and carers of people of all ages with eating disorders. Through sharing our lived experiences, expert voices and helpful resources, we want to break down myths about eating disorders.

Myth 1: Eating disorders are a choice or a sign of attention-seeking behaviour

Incorrect.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses. They are serious and can be life threatening. They are most definitely not a choice that someone makes. Nor is an eating disorder a ‘phase’ or a cry for attention.

In fact, people with eating disorders will often go to quite extreme lengths to hide their disordered eating or other symptoms.

The source of many eating disorder myths stems back to a misunderstanding about what eating disorders are and what causes them. The truth is, there’s no one cause of eating disorders but often a combination of social, biological and psychological factors or triggers.

Myth 2: Eating disorders only affect women and teenage girls

Wrong.

Many people assume that only women suffer from eating disorders. While it’s true that women, young women in particular, account for a large proportion of eating disorder cases, research is increasingly showing the impact on men.

It is estimated that 1 million Australians suffer from eating disorders. Of those that suffer from Bulimia Nervosa, researchers say that 1 in 10 are men. For Binge Eating Disorder, men may account for as many as 1 in 3 sufferers.

It’s dangerous to assume that men don’t suffer from eating disorders as this can prevent men from seeking help or diagnosis.

Myth 3: Families are to blame for eating disorders

False.

Please know that you are not the cause of your loved one’s eating disorder. There are many reasons people develop eating disorders.

While genetics can play a role in the development of eating disorders, these are complex mental health issues that usually have more than one cause – biological, psychological and social. They can be triggered by trauma, another mental health issue or a combination of different factors.

One of the treatments that is often used for eating disorders actually involves the family. That’s because family support can play a crucial role in eating disorder recovery.

Myth 4: Eating disorders are just extreme diets.

Untrue.

Diet culture is so rampant in our modern society. And it is so incredibly damaging.

Eating disorders can be many things. But they are not diets, extreme or otherwise. Not all eating disorders even involve restricting food. 

Eating disorders aren’t diets. However, dieting may increase a young person’s risk of developing an eating disorder. Dieting behaviours, such as counting calories, skipping meals or fasting, may also be a symptom of an eating disorder.

It’s important to differentiate between dieting and disordered eating as they are vastly different.

Myth 5: You can’t recover from an eating disorder

Just no.

The road to recovery for people with eating disorders is not an easy one. But there is support available and recovery is absolutely possible.

There are a number of different treatment options available including counselling, medication and nutrition education, among others. The treatment path depends on a number of different factors.

It’s not an easy path for your loved one and nor is it easy for you as you support them on their recovery. One thing that we do know is that support and love are crucial.

Supporting you while you support your loved one

Whether you need tips, education and information on eating disorders or lived experience support while  caring for your loved ones, we’re here to help.

Learn more about EDFA or tap into our resources designed to support you and your family.