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Eating Disorder Myths

There are a number of myths surrounding eating disorders.

Here we look at the most common and give the real story.

Myth: Eating disorders are a choice

Fact: Eating disorders are complex illnesses – there is no single cause. Instead they are thought to be caused by a combination of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors. Eating disorders are extremely distressing for both the individual and their loved ones, and often are accompanied by feelings of shame. They require specialist treatment, but people can and do get better.

Eating disorders are mental health disorders and are never a personal choice.

Myth: Parents are to blame for their loved one’s eating disorder

Fact: There is often nothing a parent or other carer could have done to prevent the eating disorder, but they are often best placed to help to create an environment that promotes and supports recovery. Although treatment may involve families changing certain behaviours, this is often because families have inadvertently fallen into routines that accommodate the behaviours that have come from the eating disorder, as opposed to them being at fault.

It is crucial for parents and carers to receive support during the illness due to the demanding nature of supporting someone with an eating disorder.

Myth: Eating disorders are someone being vain and seeking attention

Fact: Although there is often an association between body dissatisfaction and eating disorders, eating disorders are not someone being vain or just wanting to look a certain way. Eating disorders are serious diagnosable illnesses; they are not a lifestyle choice, a phase, or someone being attention seeking.

Often people diagnosed with eating disorders go to great lengths to hide the eating disorder and to keep it secret.

Myth: Someone must be underweight to have an eating disorder

Fact: Often when people think of someone with an eating disorder, they think of someone who is significantly underweight. However, although weight loss is typical in anorexia nervosa, most people with an eating disorder stay at an apparently “healthy” weight or are “overweight”.

If the person does need to restore their weight, this is only one aspect of treatment, and being weight restored does not mean that the person is recovered. The thoughts and behaviours that come alongside the eating disorder also need to be addressed.

Myth: Eating disorders only happen to young girls

Fact: Research shows that eating disorders do not discriminate – they affect people of all genders, ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, weights, and socioeconomic statuses.

Myth: Eating disorders are a diet that has gone wrong

Fact: Although for some people, one trigger for an eating disorder may be that they have been dieting, eating disorders are not “a diet that has gone wrong”. They are serious mental health disorders.

Myth: People can't recover from the illness - it's in their genes

Fact: Although there is evidence that someone’s genes contribute to the risk of developing an eating disorder, this does not mean that they cannot recover. Genes are only one part of a complex mix of risk factors.

Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible with the right help and support.