Refuting Common Eating Disorder Myths

Kate Fisch, LCSW
Written by Kate Fisch, LCSW – AVP of Clinical Partnerships, Eating Disorder Network

Not only are there several different types of eating disorders, but they also generally don’t look how they do in the textbooks and can present in various ways. Additionally, eating disorder myths are not only pervasive but can also be incredibly harmful. Read on to learn the truth behind some common myths about eating disorders.

Myth #1: You have to be thin/underweight and look sick to have an eating disorder

Eating disorders come in all different shapes and sizes. The health of an individual’s relationship with food has nothing to do with how they appear physically. Often, individuals struggling with an eating disorder are unaware of how sick they really are. Many variables contribute to this misperception and most eating disorder specialists and eating disorder treatment centers are equipped with the tools and experience necessary to determine if an individual needs help. Further, eating disorders are a biologically based psychiatric issue, meaning they have complicated medical component. Because of the complexity of eating disorders, it’s vital to seek an assessment if you or your loved one may be struggling.

Myth #2: Eating disorders are all about food

This myth couldn’t be further from the truth. The disordered relationship with food is the physical manifestation of the individual’s internal emotional suffering. Once the layer of disordered eating is peeled back, untreated depression, anxiety, trauma, or unresolved grief are often left.  Thinking about food, what to eat, what not to eat, or their body might serve as a distraction from experiencing and processing more distressing, difficult emotions. Although eating disorders may make individuals feel in control, it’s an illusion. Instead of fully participating in life and being present, they’re constantly distracted by damaging eating disorder-related thoughts.

Myth #3: Eating disorders aren’t treatable

 Although eating disorder patients have the highest mortality rate of any mental health disorder, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), eating disorders are treatable. A combination of nutrition therapy, teaching individuals about Intuitive Eating and helping repair their relationship with food, and psychotherapy is the best approach when it comes to treating eating disorders.

Some proven, evidence-based eating disorder therapy modalities include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Another vital part of treatment is the family’s participation. Parents and caregivers can be powerful and active agents of change for their children to help motivate sustained change. Additionally, medication may be prescribed during the treatment process to address co-occurring mental health disorders like anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and depression, which are commonly associated with an eating disorder diagnosis.

These are only a few of the prevalent eating disorder myths that are out there, so if you or your loved one may be struggling with disordered eating and need help, contact Toledo Center today to speak with a member of our compassionate team.

For additional resources on eating disorders, visit our extensive list here.