The Eating Disorders Mythbuster in Mind

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There can be a number of misconceptions when it comes to eating disorders. We help separate the myths from the facts.

“They don’t look like they have an eating disorder.”

The image portrayed of eating disorders is often one of somebody who is extremely thin with bones protruding from them. This is not how people with eating disorders look. In fact many can appear to be a healthy weight for their size.

As Ballari*, 21, who has recovered from anorexia nervosa, says, 

“you can be any weight, any shape, any form to be struggling with food. You don’t have to look a certain way to have an eating disorder at all."

Plus you can suffer from binge eating disorder, or EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified), and might either stay the same weight or put on weight.

“People with eating disorders don’t eat at all.”

There is a misconception that if a person has an eating disorder they simply don’t eat. This isn’t true. Not only does someone who is anorexic eat, so do people with bulimia, and those with binge eating and EDNOS. Somebody who has an eating disorder will eat, but they just have a very different system as to how they eat.

“Eating disorders only affect women.” 

Eating disorders affect men, women, young people, old people… everybody. As Ballari says,

“[eating disorders] don’t discriminate – eating disorders do not care. They just come for you basically.” 

And as Men Get Eating Disorders Too state on their website, "eating disorders have no gender, no age, no ethnicity, no religion, no sexuality and no social class."

 “Eating disorders are about vanity.”

Eating disorders are not always about being thin. They are a means by which to deal with other deep-rooted psychological issues. Like self-harming, eating disorders are seen by people as a way of coping with things. Ballari describes when her eating disorder first started at age ten, “my eating disorder was very much about control… there were events in my life that were outwith my control, so what I done was, I used food as crutch [to deal with it]”

Often those coping with eating disorders are trying to have some control over their lives at times when it feels like it is spiraling out of control.

Nineteen-year-old Nicole’s* eating disorder was triggered by the stress of her standard grade exams. She says,

“they’re not always body image related … I was stereotyped into a category for what I was going through by my doctors and that’s what I don’t think should happen, people just think you have an eating disorder and put you to a side. No one asks for an eating disorder.” 

“People choose to have an eating disorder – it’s for attention. They can stop any time they like.”

Eating disorders are a serious mental illness. Eating disorders are extremely complex and typically develop due to a wide range of varying factors. It’s about what is going on in people’s minds.

As Nicole explains,

“I didn’t want any attention, I was scared of the attention because that’s not the kind of attention I’d be craving for me personally.” 

“Just eat/just stop eating as much.”

Telling somebody to ‘just eat’ while they are struggling with an eating disorder is not as simple as it seems.

Nicole recounts the problems she had with this phrase when it came to eating with her family, saying,

“dinner times became a constant battle in the house – it resulted in screaming matches and tears... just because they were all unaware of what was happening to me physically and mentally.”

It might seem like a basic function or a simple instruction, for those who haven’t struggled with disordered eating, but when your world is centered around food, and routines or limits surrounding food, this can be a huge challenge. 

Ballari and Nicole are both Youth Ambassadors for eating disorders charity b-eat.