Facts and Myths

Nine Truths about Eating Disorders

Truth #1: You can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have an eating disorder.

Truth #2: Families are not to blame.

Truth #3: Families can be the patients’ best allies in treatment.

Truth #4: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically-influenced mental illnesses

Truth #5: Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.

Truth #6: Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and physical/medical complications.

Truth #7: Genes play a role in eating disorders, but environment also influences their development

Truth #8: Genes are not destiny when it comes to eating disorders.

Truth #9: Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

Produced in collaboration with Dr. Cynthia Bulik, PhD, FAED, who serves as distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Nine Truths” is based on Dr. Bulik’s 2014 “9 Eating Disorders Myths Busted” talk at the National Institute of Mental Health.

Leading associations in the field of eating disorders also contributed their valuable input.

The Academy for Eating Disorders Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and
Associated Disorders, National Eating Disorders Association, Residential Eating Disorders Consortium, Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action, Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association, Binge Eating Disorder Association, Eating Disorder Parent Support Group, International Eating Disorder

Action, Project HEAL, and Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders) will be disseminating this document.

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Myth: Men are not at risk for eating disorders.

Fact: One of the first two cases of anorexia reported was in a male (Males with Eating Disorder, ix). In a study of 10,000 residents of Ontario, the University of Toronto researchers found that 1 of every 6 people who qualified for a full or partial diagnosis of anorexia was male — substantially more than the 1 in 10 usually reported in studies of patients in eating-disorder programs (New York Times, 2005).

Myth: Eating disorders do not affect young children.

Fact: The most common age of onset is between 14 and 25 years of age, though are increasingly seen in children as young as 10. The fear of being fat is so overwhelming that young girls have indicated in surveys that they are more afraid of becoming fat then they are of cancer, nuclear war or losing their parents. In a study of children ages 8 to 10, approximately half of the girls and one-third of the boys were dissatisfied with their size. Most dissatisfied girls wanted to be thinner, while about half of dissatisfied boys wanted to be heavier and/or more muscular.

Myth: There’s no such thing as too much exercise.

Fact: Compulsive exercising is a disorder and exercising too much can have serious physical and emotional effects. Exercise becomes a problem, or an addiction, when you prioritize it over most other parts of your life. You may feel anxious, guilty, unattractive or out of control when you are unable to exercise. You may continue to exercise even when it poses a risk to your health.

Myth: I want to look like a magazine model in real life.

Fact: You may want to look like a model, but it’s important to understand that even models don’t look like their pictures in real life. There are many tricks to “doctoring” pictures. Some techniques include airbrushing, computer alterations, special lighting to cast shadows in just the right places, or even black and white photography, especially on “muscular” men so that the definition of muscles is greater. All types of media trick us into thinking that there are people who look far more “perfect” than any person really ever does.

Myth: If I hate my body, there is nothing I can do about it.

Fact: There may be little you can do to change the body you have, but there are many things you can do to change your way of thinking about your body. To build your body-confidence, try new activities and find things that your body is good at doing. For every negative thought you have about your body come up with a positive one to counter it. Try not to break your body down into parts, but rather think of it as a whole, functional unit.

Myth: “Fattism” is nonexistent. Fat People have on one to blame but themselves.

Fact: Unfortunately, “fattism” is predominant in our society without our being aware of its existence. Like racism and sexism, fattism is a prejudice based on physical characteristics. Many of us consider fatness equivalent to laziness, dumbness, ugliness, self-indulgence, and lack of will power. Comments such as “Look at that disgusting fat slob with incredibly huge thighs!” or “If you could lose a few more pounds, you will look great!” are judgmental and unfair. “Fattism” implies narrow-mindedness and an inability to appreciate the variety of body shapes and sizes that are largely predetermined by biological factors such as age, gender, race, and heredity.

Myth: Eating disorders cannot be fatal

Fact: Many of you have heard about people, such as the singer, Karen Carpenter, who have died of anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and weakened immunity and heart function due to under nutrition. Based on the information provided by the American Anorexia/Bulimia Association, an estimated 1% of U.S. teenagers suffer from anorexia and up to 10% of these will die. Fatal dangers for both anorexics and bulimics include gastric ruptures; cardiac arrhythmias, and heart failure. Many other medical complications are not necessarily fatal, but can lead to permanent physical and neurological damages.