National Eating Disorder Awareness Week: Common Misconceptions about Eating Disorders

As this National Eating Disorder Awareness week has progressed, HCTCNJ has discussed a lot about eating disorders. Now, it's time to disprove the many myths and misconceptions that are associated with eating disorders. The more we advocate for the truth, the more likely those with eating disorders will speak up and seek help.

1. Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice about vanity.

Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening mental illnesses; therefore they are not a "choice." A person with an eating disorder experiences severe disturbances in their behavior around eating, exercising and related self-harm because of distortions in their thoughts and emotions. Some experts even say eating disorders defy classification solely as mental illnesses because they not only involve considerable psychological impairment and distress, but they are also associated with major wide-ranging and serious medical complications, which can affect every organ in the body.

FACT: There are multiple factors that lead to eating disorders. While body image concerns may play a role in the development of an eating disorder, the development of the disorders are not related to body dissatisfaction.

2. Eating disorders are a cry for attention.

It's important for everyone to understand that people with eating disorders are not seeking attention. Eating disorders are a form of mental illness, and suffers are more likely to want to cover up their illness rather than talk about it. If someone in your life confides in you about their eating disorder(s), seek help for them immediately.

FACT: Due to the nature of an eating disorder, a person may go to great lengths to hide, disguise or deny their behavior, or even may not recognize that there is anything wrong.

3. People with eating disorders are just "going through a phase".

Regardless of the age of onset, there is often a considerable period of time between the onset of an eating disorder and treatment. Additionally, there is evidence that shows that early diagnosis and intervention can greatly reduce the duration and severity of an eating disorder. If the idea of a disorder being a "phase" is reduced, more disordered individuals will be able to get earlier help, and their mental illness will be overcame much sooner.

FACT: There is an average of approximately 4 years between the start of disordered eating behaviors and the first treatment.

4. Restricting food and dieting is a normal part of life.

Although moderate, sustainable changes in diet and exercise have been shown to be safe, significant mental and physical consequences may occur with extreme or unhealthy dieting practices. Eating disorders almost invariable occur in people who have engaged in dieting or distorted eating. Dieting is also associated with other health concerns including depression, anxiety, nutritional and metabolic problems, and, contrary to expectation, with an increase in weight.

FACT: Young people who diet moderately are six times more likely to develop an eating disorder.

5. Families and parents are to blame for eating disorders.

There is evidence that eating disorders have a genetic basis and people who have family members with an eating disorder may be at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder themselves. However, this genetic predisposition is not attributed to family behavior or environment. Genetics play a role in many illnesses; both mental and physical.

FACT: There is no evidence that particular parenting styles are a direct cause of eating disorders.

6. There is a particular type of person that is affected by eating disorders.

Eating disorders occur across all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, in both men and women, and among people of all ages, from children to the elderly.

FACT: Eating disorders can affect anyone.

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