Common Eating Disorder Myths and Facts To Know for Eating Disorder Awareness Week

Feb 27, 2024

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Nearly 10% of the U.S. population will have an eating disorder in their lifetime.¹ While nearly 1 in 10 people will be personally affected by an eating disorder, there are still so many misconceptions and things people don’t know about them!

That’s why National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW) exists — to shed light on eating disorders, break down some common misconceptions, and share hope for people to walk the road to recovery.

This year, National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is from February 26 to March 3. This is the perfect time to learn more about eating disorders and show support for loved ones and strangers who may be struggling!

Read on to learn some common eating disorder myths and facts in this week of visibility.

Common Myths About Eating Disorders

When people hear the words “eating disorders,” they often have a preconceived idea of what someone who struggles with an eating disorder looks like, or they make incorrect assumptions about why they have an eating disorder.

However, eating disorders are a mental illness, and like any other, they are complex and can be incredibly difficult for those who have them.

It’s important to understand myths about eating disorders so we can help raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding them.

Myth #1 Eating Disorders Only Affect People With Specific or Smaller Bodies

While many people think only those in smaller bodies have eating disorders, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, less than 6% of those with eating disorders are even classified as underweight.²

Eating disorders do not discriminate. People of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and ages have eating disorders.

Myth #2 Eating Disorders Are a Choice

Eating disorders are not a choice, and they are not something people do for attention.

They are a mental illness, and a large number of factors — including biological, psychological, social, sociocultural, genetic, and behavioral factors — can contribute to them.³

Myth #3 People Develop Eating Disorders Because They Want To Lose Weight

People often think that eating disorders are all about a desire to be in a smaller body. However, that’s not the case.

While once the eating disorder develops, a focus on thinness, weight, or body shape and size is often a sign or symptom, it’s never the sole cause. That desire for a smaller body may only show up once the eating disorder becomes stronger.

Remember: There are many factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder, and it’s harmful to think it’s only about wanting a body that looks a specific way.

Eating Disorder Facts and Statistics

Now that you know some of the common myths, here are a few important facts about eating disorders:

Fact #1 Eating Disorders Are Among the Deadliest Mental Illnesses

Of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have some of the highest mortality rates.⁴ Suicide is also among the leading causes of death in those with an eating disorder.⁵

The struggle with eating disorders is very real. However, it’s important to know that if you are struggling, you are not alone — and there is hope.

Fact #2 You Can’t Tell Someone Has an Eating Disorder by Looking at Them

Just as you can’t tell someone has depression, anxiety, or another mental illness by looking at them, the same goes for eating disorders.

Even if someone looks completely healthy, that does not mean they are not struggling. Remember how less than 6% of those with eating disorders are underweight? People of all sizes can be affected.

There are also many different kinds of eating disorders — including anorexia, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), bulimia, binge eating disorder, other specified feeding and eating disorder (OSFED).⁶

Fact #3 Eating Disorder Recovery Is Possible

One small study following those with eating disorders over a 22-year period found that 62.8% of patients with anorexia recovered, and 68.2% of those with bulimia recovered.⁷

Other research shows that around 46% of patients with anorexia recover fully, and another 33% improve.⁸

Some of the barriers to recovery can be that those with eating disorders may not even receive treatment:⁹

  • Anorexia: 33% receive treatment
  • Binge eating: 43% receive treatment
  • Bulimia: 6% receive treatment

Regardless of the specific numbers, one thing is true: Eating disorder recovery is possible, and individuals can walk the road to a life of food freedom!

Show Your Support For a Loved One in National Eating Disorder Awareness Week — and Every Week

If you’re curious how you can show support and bring awareness for eating disorders — not just during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, but every week — here are a few places to start:

  1. Bring awareness: Many people are unaware or misguided about the realities of eating disorders. Taking time to educate yourself and others is one way we can continue to break down harmful stigmas about these mental health disorders so people can get the care and support they need.
  2. Advocate for accessibility to treatment: Financial barriers and inaccessibility can hinder people’s ability to get eating disorder treatment and recover. Advocating for affordable and accessible treatment options is an amazing way to show your support.
  3. Check-in and show up for loved ones: If someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, one of the best things you can do is be there for them. Ask them what you can do to support them in their recovery.

And most of all, remember that recovery is possible!

If you know someone in need of support, we have registered dietitian nutritionists at Life Cycle Nutrition that specialize in the treatment of eating disorders.  Getting professional guidance and help improves rates of recovery.  Learn more on our website at https://lcnutritionomaha.com/nutrition-support-for-disordered-eating/

Citations

  1. Deloitte Access Economics, STRIPED, and Academy for Eating Disorders (AED). 2020. “The Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America: A Report for the Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders and the Academy for Eating Disorders.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/striped/report-economic-costs-of-eating-disorders/.
  2. Duncan, Alexis E., Hannah N. Ziobrowski, and Ginger Nicol. 2017. “The Prevalence of Past 12‐Month and Lifetime DSM‐IV Eating Disorders by BMI Category in US Men and Women.” European Eating Disorders Review 25, no. 3 (January): 165-171. 10.1002/erv.2503.
  3. Culbert, Kristen M., Sarah E. Racine, and Kelly L. Klump. 2015. “Research Review: What we have learned about the causes of eating disorders – a synthesis of sociocultural, psychological, and biological research.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 56, no. 11 (June): 1141-1164. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12441.
  4. ANAD. 2023. “Eating Disorder Statistics | General & Diversity Stats.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders. https://anad.org/eating-disorders-statistics/.
  5. Book, Kirsten. 2022. “Suicide and Eating Disorders.” National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/eating-disorders-and-suicide/.
  6. National Eating Disorders Association. 2023. “Eating Disorders 101.” National Eating Disorders Association. https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/Eating-Disorders-101.pdf.
  7. Eddy, Kamryn T., Nassim Tabri, Jennifer J. Thomas, et al. 2015. “Recovery From Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa at 22-Year Follow-Up.” The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 78, no. 2 (February): 184-189. https://doi.org/10.4088/JCP.15m10393.
  8. Beat Eating disorders. 2024. “STATISTICS FOR JOURNALISTS.” Beat Eating disorders. https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/media-centre/eating-disorder-statistics/.
  9. Eating Disorder Hope. 2024. “Eating Disorder Demographic Statistics.” Eating Disorder Hope. https://www.eatingdisorderhope.com/information/eating-disorder/statistics-demographics.

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