Myths About Eating Disorders

Myth: Only teenage girls suffer from eating disorders.
Reality: Although the onset of most eating disorders is in adolescence (95% of people with eating disorders are between the ages of 12 and 25), this is not to say that eating disorders are not seen in both very young children and older adults. In fact, it may be due to a lack of diagnosis that more people are not being recorded with eating disorders in the other age ranges. Boys and men also suffer eating disorders, an estimated 10- 15% of sufferers are male. A person of any age or gender can suffer an eating disorder.

Myth: Eating Disorders are caused by parents.
Reality: Eating disorders may be biologically based, but parents cannot cause an eating disorder in their child via their behavior. Child abuse is often linked to eating disorders as an environmental trigger in the same way that dieting can be, but this does not mean that child abuse or bad parenting can cause an eating disorder. (Read more about the causes of eating disorders)

Myth: Eating Disorders are about wanting to be thin.
Reality: Eating disorders have a biological base and can occur in individuals that do not wish to be thinner than they are. Due to the fear of gaining weight that many eating disorder sufferers have, it is common for eating disorders to be mistaken for extreme dieting behavior.

Myth: Eating disorders are just an extreme form of dieting.
Reality: Eating disorders are not like dieting. Many sufferers do not restrict food in order to lose weight. Eating disorders may look similar to dieting, but the reality is that the sufferer often has very little control and feels unable to eat rather than choosing not to eat because he or she wants to lose weight. Eating disorders are complicated and no two sufferers have exactly the same experience, however, they are very far removed from dieting.

Myth: Eating disorders are solely a problem with food.
Reality: Eating disorders are most commonly expressed via distorted behavior around food. However, this is only one of the symptoms of an eating disorder. Exercise is often also affected with sufferers tending to over-exercise to great extents. A distorted body image is another effect and every sufferer will experience slightly different symptoms alongside the food-related behaviors.

Myth: People with bulimia always purge by vomiting.
Reality: Not all bulimics try to rid themselves of the calories they have consumed by vomiting. Purging can take the form of laxatives, diuretics, exercising, or fasting.

Myth: You can always tell someone is anorexic by their appearance.
Reality: Not all people with anorexia look like the extreme cases shown on talk shows, etc. Some people with anorexia may be anywhere from 5 to 15 lbs. underweight. They look thin, but they do not have what society considers to be the “anorexic” look. Just because someone does not look emaciated, does not mean they are not anorexic or that their health is not in danger.

Myth: People with anorexia do not eat candy, chocolate, etc.
Reality: Many people with anorexia do avoid such foods, but some do eat them on a regular basis. If a person with anorexia decides to only allow him/herself 300 calories a day, they may very well choose to eat a chocolate bar, candy, etc.

Myth: People with anorexia do not binge or purge.
Reality: Many people with anorexia will go on occasional binges and purge. Some anorexics can become so fearful of any food or drink that they will purge whatever they put into their system, including water.

Myth: You cannot die from bulimia.
Reality: People with bulimia are at a high risk for dying, especially if they are purging, using laxatives and doing excessive exercise. Many people with bulimia have died from cardiac arrest which is usually caused by low potassium or an electrolyte imbalance. Others have died from a ruptured esophagus. Read more about the dangers of bulimia.

Myth: People with eating disorders do this to hurt family and friends.
Reality: Nobody chooses an eating disorder. The sufferer is not trying to hurt anyone including themself. Eating disorders are a mental health problem and therefore have no intended consequence; they are not conspired or planned.

Myth: Compulsive eating is not an eating disorder.
Reality: It is very much an eating disorder and is just as serious as anorexia and bulimia. Information on compulsive eating.

Myth: Compulsive eaters are just lazy people.
Reality: Compulsive eating is a way to cope just like anorexia and bulimia are. A person uses food as a way to comfort or numb themselves, block out feelings and emotions, etc. They are not lazy! They are people in emotional pain trying to cope using the only way they know how. Like anorexia and bulimia, they need proper treatment to overcome it. They do not need to be sent to health spas and diet clinics.

Myth: People cannot have more than one eating disorder.
Reality: Many people have more than one eating disorder. It is very common for someone to suffer with more than one eating disorder. That just proves that the eating behaviors are only the symptoms, not the problem.


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Additional Reading:

Nine Truths about Eating Disorders
Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Eating Disorders


Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Carlat, D.J., Camargo. Review of Bulimia Nervosa in Males. American Journal of Psychiatry, 154, 1997.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, South Carolina Department of Mental Health, Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children

National Institute of Mental Health

Updated By Tabitha Farrar – 2014
Written By Colleen Thompson – 2001