Many people are used to the media portrayal of a young, affluent, white girl suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, that causes her to rapidly lose a worrying amount of weight.
Although it is true that young, white women of higher socioeconomic status can suffer from eating disorders, it’s possible that this representation has led to the development of widespread misconceptions about eating disorders and those who suffer from them. Eating disorders are widespread among all demographics and may not always be visible – for example, someone who appears to be of a normal weight or overweight can be suffering from an eating disorder.
Read on to learn more about common eating disorder myths and misconceptions.
You can tell when someone has an eating disorder.
As mentioned previously, there aren’t always the stereotypical physical signs that someone is suffering from an eating disorder. Of course, some individuals with an eating disorder – particularly anorexia nervosa – may appear severely underweight, but it’s important to look out for other signs and symptoms as well.
People with eating disorders eat very little.
While this can be true, people suffering from bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder may actually eat large quantities of food. They then cope with the eating by purging in the case of bulimia, or dieting frequently or feeling an intense sense of shame in the case of binge-eating disorder. Restricting food intake is a symptom of anorexia nervosa, but it’s not the only symptom of an eating disorder.
Men don’t struggle with eating disorders.
Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on gender. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, 10 million males will be affected by an eating disorder at some point in their lives. While women often feel pressure to be excessively thin, men typically focus on achieving a lean but muscular physique that is commonly seen in the media but almost unattainable in the real world.
People choose to have an eating disorder.
Some believe that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice, presumably made with the ultimate goal of losing weight or achieving a desired body type. However, eating disorders are a medical illness, caused by a variety of biological, psychological, and social factors. They can be treated through a combination of medical and mental health care.
Eating disorders aren’t prevalent among people of color or people of lower socioeconomic status.
Just as eating disorders don’t discriminate based on gender, they also don’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomic status. The National Institute for Mental Health says that individuals of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can be affected by eating disorders. Studies also indicate that eating disorders have an equal impact among individuals of all socioeconomic statuses (Gibbons).
If you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, you may want to take an eating disorder assessment. We have a completely confidential assessment here on our website. If you would like to talk to someone about what you are experiencing, call our information line at 610-644-6464 to have a non-judgmental, friendly conversation.
Gibbons, P. (2001). The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Socioeconomic Status: It’s Not What You Think. Nutrition Noteworthy, 4(1). Retrieved from https://escholarship.org/uc/item/1k70k3fd