Eating Disorders: Myths and Facts


ED passes as soon as you reach the goal weight

Some underweight people have EDs while some obese people don't; clearly, excess body weight does not cause ED, and eliminating it does not heal ED either. Reaching the goal weight is impossible for someone with an ED just like acquiring enough canned food is impossible for a hoarder: the more you accommodate your disorder, the further away your goal shifts. ED is a psychological problem that requires a psychological solution, you can't cure it by changing your weight.

You can never exercise too much

2-3 hours of physical activity per week is required to keep your body functional. Anything beyond that is a hobby. There's nothing wrong with physical exercise, just like there's nothing wrong with playing piano or collecting baseball cards. However, it's possible for any harmless hobby to turn into a compulsion/addiction, where you engage in it so much that other areas of your life start to suffer, and exercise is no exception. I knew someone who ran on a treadmill till she broke both of her ankles - and still continued running.

Purging is a good way to lose weight

Excess weight is your body's way of storing energy; it received more than it needed, so it saved some for later. When you purge, your body isn't getting what it needs, assumes that current food source is unreliable, and slows down metabolism instead of using what it has stored. You feel tired, dizzy, or even start passing out - while your weight stays the same (or even increases). The good way to lose weight is to eat regularly, at predictable times. This way your body can trust that food is reliably available, and quits hoarding it. If you then add physical exercise, it spends what it has stored and you lose weight.

Dieting is a normal part of life

It might be normal for some people, but it's not necessary. Most people across the world have no idea how many calories they consume in a day, and yet maintain healthy weight without a problem, the same way animals do. There's no need to step on a scale daily, just like there's no need to run daily urine tests or take chest x-rays. Your doctor does these things once in a while and will let you know if anything is off and your health needs attention.

ED is a lifestyle choice

ED behaviors are caused by a mental health condition, and result in serious harm to physical health or even a danger to one's life. Whether this can be considered a lifestyle choice or not - could make for an interesting philosophical debate, similar to whether suicide is a choice. In practical life, however, both suicidal and ED patients are subject to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization if their life is in danger. We can agree or disagree with this approach, but that's what the legal arrangement currently is.

You can tell if someone has an ED by their looks

There are plenty of health conditions and socioeconomic factors that cause malnutrition, so when you see someone severely underweight, it doesn't necessarily mean they have an ED. Similarly, when you see someone with healthy weight or overweight, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have an ED. ED is a mental health condition, what goes on in someone's head doesn't always reflect on their looks. Some EDs involve alternating binging and purging, so the body can still be getting nutrients. Some people manage to keep their psychological struggle from affecting their physical health to such an extent that it would be glaringly obvious. Some people get involuntarily hospitalized and force-fed through the tube till their body weight returns to normal. You just can't tell by the looks.

People with ED do it for attention

ED is not an attention-seeking behavior: it's a disorder, something you suffer from, not something you do. Many people hide their ED from others because it's painful, very private, and embarrassing, like most mental health problems. On the other hand, it's rare that someone would have an ED while being perfectly happy and healthy otherwise, so an ED can be comorbid with some other condition that causes attention-seeking behaviors.

If you don't purge - you don't have an ED

ED is a psychological problem, and can manifest itself in various ways. Purging is one of them, but not the only one. It's a behavior characteristic of bulimia nervosa, where you alternate binge eating with purging what you ate. Other EDs might involve restricting your food intake (anorexia nervosa), eating during the night (NES), eating non-food items (pica), or binge eating without purging (BED).

Anorexia is the only serious ED

Different ED behaviors cause different health consequences, but all of them are equally serious. Anorexia can cause muscle loss, osteoporosis, kidney or heart failure. Bulimia can cause peptic ulcers, pancreatitis, esophagus or gastric rupture, heart failure. BED can cause diabetes, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure. Mortality rates are similar across EDs.

Men don't get EDs

Statistically EDs affect more women than men. Part of the reason could be that there's more cultural emphasis on looks for women than for men: women are typically praised for slim figure, while men are typically praised for high income. Another part of the reason could be that men respond to stress more aggressively than women; for example, they have higher stats on alcoholism and suicide. However, statistical differences are only relevant for research/educational purposes. In practical life both men and women develop EDs and both need and deserve support and help with it.

Only rich people get EDs

Frankly, rich people live longer and get more public attention. They can somewhat offset the damage caused to their bodies by EDs, because they have access to better health care: psychotherapists, gastroenterologists, dentists, etc. Poor people who suffer with EDs, on the other hand, just die sooner of various physical health complications. Plus, their struggle is less visible to the public.

Only teenagers get EDs

Teenagers and adults experience similar problems, but teenagers are under additional stress of going through puberty. It's a hard transition, both physically and emotionally. As a result, they have higher statistics on things like suicide, self injury, eating disorders, addictions, etc. However, many adults are also under additional stress of various types. For example, having to cope with the trauma of past abuse certainly adds stress, so adult abuse survivors struggle with EDs more often than adult population overall.

EDs are parents' fault

Parents are held responsible (legally or morally) for anything that happens to their child. When a 7yo falls down and breaks a leg, everyone looks at the mother, and she blames herself, thinking "if only I didn't let him climb that rock, if only I stood close enough to catch him, if only I enrolled him in climbing classes last year," etc, etc, etc. It's just a part of being a parent, blaming yourself for anything bad that happens to your child, whether it was your fault or not, because your job as a parent is to protect them from harm. However, there's only so much a parent can realistically do. Sometimes kids get hurt. And when they grow up they have no choice but take responsibility for their welfare, sort through past hurts, and repair the damage, regardless of whose fault the initial trauma was.