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8 Myths About Eating Disorders

Posted by Maggie Baumann, MFT, CEDS on September 24, 2013


Working in the eating disorder treatment field, I spend a lot of time educating about eating disorders not only to those struggling with the disorder, but also to their loved ones. I also spend time promoting awareness about eating disorders to the general public as well.

There are a number of myths about eating disorders circulating within our culture that many people consider as true facts.

I’d like to introduce eight of the most common myths that people come across and dispute these myths with the real truth.   

Myth 1
Eating Disorders are a choice.

People do not choose to have eating disorders. They develop over time and require appropriate treatment to address the complex medical/psychiatric symptoms and underlying issues.

Myth 2
A person who “always eats” does not have an eating disorder.

A person practicing an eating disorder may only play with their food, making it appear as though they have eaten a meal. They may eat at such a slow rate that they consume a few calories. They may even eat large amounts of food, but of insufficient variety to offer proper nutrition. They may secretly purge the food they have eaten.

Myth 3
You can tell if a person has an eating disorder simply by appearance.

You can’t. Anorexia may be easier to detect visually. Bulimia is harder to “see” because individuals often have normal weight or may be overweight. Some people may have obvious signs, such as sudden weight loss or gain; others may not. People with an eating disorder can become very effective at hiding the signs and symptoms. Thus, eating disorders can be undetected for months, years, or a lifetime.

Myth 4
Purging is only throwing up.

The definition of purging is to evacuate the contents of the stomach or bowels by any of several means. In bulimia, purging is used to compensate for excessive food intake. Methods of purging include vomiting, enemas and laxative abuse, insulin abuse, fasting and excessive exercise. Any of these behaviors can be dangerous and lead to serious medical emergencies or death. Purging by throwing up also can affect the teeth and esophagus because of the acidity of purged contents.

Myth 5
Laxatives are an effective way to prevent the absorption of calories.

The use/abuse of laxatives only depletes the body’s store of fluids. Laxatives react with the colon where no absorption of calories takes place. Laxative abuse can lead to extreme dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and additional medical complications up to and including the need for a colostomy.

Myth 6
Eating disorders are about appearance and beauty.

Eating disorders are complex medical/psychiatric illnesses and have little to do with food, eating, appearance or beauty. This is indicated by the continuation of the illness long after a person has reached his/her initial ‘target’ weight. Eating disorders are usually related to emotional issues such as control and low self esteem and often exist as part of a ‘dual’ diagnosis of major depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Myth 7
Achieving normal weight means the anorexia is cured.

Weight recovery is essential to enabling a person with anorexia to participate meaningful in further treatment, such as psychological therapy. Recovering to normal weight does not in and of itself signify a cure, because Eating disorders are complex medical/psychiatric illnesses.

Myth 8
You’re not sick until you’re emaciated.

Only a small % of people with eating disorders reach the state of emaciation often portrayed in the media. The common belief that a person is only truly ill if he/she becomes abnormally thin compounds the affected individuals’ perceptions of body image and not being “good” at being “sick enough.” This can interfere with treatment and can trigger intensification of self-destructive eating disorder behaviors.

Do you know of another common myth associated with eating disorders and what the true fact is?

maggie.pngMaggie Baumann

Maggie Baumann is a marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California, specializing in treating eating disorders, addictions and trauma. Maggie is a Certified Eating Disorder Specialist (CEDS) by the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals. As a woman in recovery from anorexia, she speaks on the topic of eating disorder prevention and treatment to a wide audience.

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