Eating Disorders: Separating Facts from Myths

Woman with anorexia Very few people truly understand eating disorders. While much more research is needed to pinpoint the exact cause of these illnesses, it is also important to refute misguided ideas about the conditions with accurate facts. To give patients the right treatment and help for these eating disorders, they need to know what are the myths that surround them.

The Myths

A common misconception is that eating disorders are choices people make, that people see models in magazines and intentionally starve themselves to get the same look.

Another false idea is that eating disorders only affect upper-middle class teenagers. Others blame the parents for causing the disorders while some carelessly throw the word “anorexic” around when they see someone who is “too thin”.

Eating disorders cannot be diagnosed by simply looking at someone. These misguided concepts not only take away the focus from the real problem but also hurt those who are suffering from these disorders.

The Facts

Eating disorders are serious fatal illnesses. They affect both genders, but female rates are two and a half times more than the males. There are three common types of eating disorders with anorexia nervosa having the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder.

People with anorexia see themselves as overweight even if they are dangerously underweight. They weigh themselves repeatedly, exercise compulsively and restrict the amount of food they eat, even refusing to eat in front of others. Some die due to complications of starvation and others commit suicide.

While anorexia patients restrict their food intake, individuals with bulimia nervosa have frequent uncontrollable episodes of consuming large amounts of food, followed by purging via forced vomiting, fasting and laxatives. People with bulimia usually maintain their normal weight.

Binge-eating disorder is also characterized by frequent and uncontrollable eating, but unlike bulimia, it is not followed by purging, causing overweight or obesity. It is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Cause and Treatment

The risks of developing eating disorders are multifaceted with the exact cause still unknown. Many believe that genetics, psychology and the environment all play a role. Low-esteem and depression have also been linked with these disorders.

Treatment and help for eating disorders are not completely out of reach. Medications and psychotherapy can help overcome these disorders.  The Maudsley approach involves the parents of suffering adolescents giving them the responsibility of feeding their child.

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been used to reduce binge eating and purging and helps the person identify harmful thinking patterns that augment the disorder. Medications can also be an option to help manage eating disorders and other illnesses that come with them such as anxiety and depression.

When it comes to understanding eating disorders, it is important to consider the facts and to disavow unsubstantiated claims. Misinformation can hinder the search for important data that may lead to more effective treatments and cure for an illness that is not only harmful but also fatal.