Eating Disorder Myths To Know

By AJ Sarbaugh, LMFT, CEDS-S

Eating disorder therapist

There are many myths about eating disorders. As a Health at Every Size therapist, there are many things I wish more people understood about eating disorders. Let’s break down the four most common myths about eating disorders that cause harm.

You Cannot Tell if Someone has an Eating Disorder by how They Look

Many people try to diagnose someone based on how they look or appear, or their body size and shape.

They think because someone appears very thin they have Anorexia or if their face is swollen, they may have Bulimia. Instead, get curious. We can tell ourselves the lie that we would know if “things were bad enough” and then we would say something. Don’t wait and don’t rely on appearance as your only indicator. You can’t be the expert on someone’s weight gain, weight loss, weight cycling, medical status, nutritional intake et. You are also only getting a small sliver of the picture by relying on this data.

If you feel concerned about a loved one’s relationship with food, get curious with them. Think about what resources could be available to them for support, and about how you can learn more.

Ask them, straight up. Utilize curious and nonjudgmental language that shows you’re interested.

“I’ve noticed ____, I know what kind of support would feel good to me in that situation, but want to make sure I give you the kind of support you need if you’re open to that. What support feels good to you? ”

“You shared with me the other day that you’re struggling with purging (insert behavior), and I’ve been thinking more about it and am so glad you told me. What kind of support do you need around it?”

Woman struggles to get out of bed

Eating Disorders are Not a Choice

People often make the assumption that eating disorders are choice based, and therefore should be “easy to get over” because people can learn to make different choices. This belief or assumption can feel isolating for those suffering. Eating disorders are complex mental health disorders. They can show up in many different ways, and for many different reasons, and serve many different functions.

They develop as a result of many different genetic, social, economic, environmental, familial, co-occurring mental health diagnoses, and medical factors. Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates. There are multiple kinds. There are very nuanced presentation of symptoms within those diagnoses. We make choices as we choose to recover.

Eating Disorders do not Discriminate

Eating disorders are not just a woman’s issue. They are not for only people in certain body types. There are many people who identify as male, non-binary, transgender that have clinically diagnosed eating disorders/disordered eating. All humans can struggle with eating disorders.

Food Does not Cause Disordered Eating

An eating disorder is not caused by sociocultural obsession with thinness. However, this can be a major factor in maintaining and stigmatizing disordered eating. 

Dieting (Formal dieting history) is a major risk factor in the development of an eating disorder, but not everyone who struggles with an eating disorder has engaged in formal dieting practices. 

Eating disorder behaviors and symptoms are often be disguised by dieting behaviors. We celebrate such behaviors in our society which makes it hard for people to ask for help.

If you are concerned someone you know has an eating disorder, you can reach out to National Eating Disorders Alliance for more support and resources.

To learn more about Therapy for Women Center’s approach to eating disorders, or book an appointment, click here!