Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental disorder (Arcelus, Mitchel, Wales & Nelson, 2011). Along with high mortality rates, less than half of sufferers fully recover, one-third improved and 20% remained chronically ill (Steinhausen, 2002). Despite these staggering statistics, eating disorders are extremely misunderstood, with common myths creating even more stigma for those suffering from eating disorders. Five common myths people with an eating disorder come across and fight against daily are:
1. Everyone with an eating disorder is underweight
Eating disorders can affect people of all shapes and sizes. People can be of a normal weight, or overweight and can have a life-threatening eating disorder (The Butterfly Foundation, 2019). This myth is commonly held as true by many misinformed members of the medical community, which can be detrimental for many people reaching out for help, particularly if they are reaching out of the first time.
2. People with eating disorders are looking for attention
Research has found that over 50% of 12-17 year olds strongly agreed that a person with an eating disorder ‘should just snap out of it’ (The Butterfly Foundation, 2019). These types of misconceptions are also typically reflected among some health professionals (The Butterfly Foundation, 2019). People with eating disorders are not seeking attention. Eating disorders are extremely secretive disorders, and sufferers typically go to extreme lengths to hide, disguise or deny their behaviour (The Butterfly Foundation, 2019).
3. Eating disorders can’t be that big a deal
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, with up to 20% of individuals with chronic anorexia nervosa dying as a result (NEDA, 2019). Studies of anorexia, bulimia and eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS), found that all eating disorders have similar mortality rates (NEDA, 2019).
Despite what is portrayed in the media, most people with eating disorders aren’t underweight, you can’t tell whether someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them (NEDA, 2019). These perceptions can cause significant stress for those with eating disorders, in fear of not being ‘sick enough’ or ‘good enough’ at their disorders to deserve treatment (NEDA, 2019).
5. Weight restoration = recovery
Perhaps the biggest misconception of eating disorders in once the person regains weight they are cured. Weight restoration and adequate nutrition are only the first steps in eating disorder recovery (NEDA, 2019). Once they have been returned to a healthy weight, they are then able to participate more fully and meaningfully in therapy (NEDA, 2019), which is where the real work at recovery begins.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, please don’t be scared to reach out. There are so many organisations that are willing and able to help you. The following pages provide resources for sufferers of eating disorders and their loved ones:
Arcelus, J., Mitchell, A. J., Wales, J., & Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with Anorexia Nervosa and other eating disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7), 724-731. doi: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74.
NEDA. (2019). Eating disorder myths. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/toolkit/parent-toolkit/eating-disorder-myths
The Butterfly Foundation. (2019). Myths about eating disorders. Retrieved from https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/understand-eating-disorders/eating-disorder-myths/
Steinhausen, H.C. (2002). The outcome of anorexia nervosa in the 20th century. American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(8), 1284-1293. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.159.8.1284