There are many myths around eating disorders which create barriers for sufferers wishing to seek treatment.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, only 1 in 10 people with eating disorders receive treatment. Yet, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders.
Here are six commonly held myths about eating disorders.
1. Eating disorders only happen to adolescent girls. Eating disorders do not discriminate with regard to gender, age, ethnicity or sexual orientation. According to The Ranch, an eating disorder treatment center, there was a 42 percent increase of eating disorders among middle-aged women between 2001 and 2010. Binge eating disorder, the most common type of eating disorder, occurs almost equally between men and women.
2. To meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, the sufferer must be underweight. While it is true that those who suffer from anorexia nervosa are underweight, most people with eating disorders are of a normal weight. Body weight is not the only determinant of the seriousness of an eating disorder. Eating disorders affect all areas of the sufferer’s (and their family’s) life including relationships, family life, mood, cognition, occupation, and academics.
3. Eating disorders are about food. Eating disorders are not cured simply by eating and usually don’t go away without treatment. An eating disorder is purposeful and functional. That is to say, it helps the suffer cope with stress and emotions In order to recover, the suffer must learn healthier ways to cope.
4. Most people with eating disorders either have anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. According to The Binge Eating Disorder Association, binge eating disorder is the most common type of eating disorder. Another common type of eating disorder is called Otherwise Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OFSED). It was formerly called Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV.
Essentially, someone suffering from OFSED has eating disorder symptoms, but doesn’t meet the diagnostic criteria for a particular type of eating disorder. For example the suffer meets all of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, but their weight is considered to be in the normal range.
5. Eating disorders are a phase and usually one will just grow out of it. Eating disorders are a serious mental health disorder, usually co-occurring with another mental health diagnosis such as depression or anxiety. Most eating disorders don’t go away on their own. In fact, eating disorder treatment usually is conducted by a specialized treatment team (psychiatrist, psychotherapist, registered dietitian and a primary care doctor) and treatment settings can include inpatient treatment.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Related Disorders, the majority of those with eating disorders do not seek treatment or don’t get proper treatment. Unfortunately, untreated eating disorders can lead to a poor quality of life, including a lifelong battle with the disorder and sometimes death.
6. Anorexia nervosa is the only type of eating disorder that is fatal. All of the different types of eating disorders, if left untreated, can lead to premature death. One study found that the crude mortality rates of eating disorders are as follows: anorexia nervosa, four percent; bulimia nervosa, 3.9 percent; and eating disorder, not otherwise specified, 5.2 percent (American Journal of Psychiatry, 2009).
Recovery from eating disorders is possible. Visit www.neda.com for a free and confidential eating disorder screening tool.
Crow, S.J., Peterson, C.B., Swanson, S.A., Raymond, N.C., Specker, S., Eckert, E.D., Mitchell, J.E. Increased Mortality in Bulimia Nervosa and Other Eating Disorders. Am J Psychiatry, December 2009: 166(12).