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Myths about eating disorders

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Only girls suffer from eating disorders

Often people think that only girls are affected by eating disorders: this is not true. It is estimated that around 10 to 20% of people experiencing eating disorders are male.

Achieving a normal weight means your eating disorder is cured

Recovering to normal weight does not in itself mean that the person is ‘cured’. Weight recovery is important to help a person benefit from ongoing treatment such as psychological therapy, but eating disorders are complex illnesses, and the thoughts and feelings associated with the eating disorder can still affect a person, even after they are a normal weight.

Eating disorders are a phase

This is a common myth associated with eating disorders, but we know this is not true. An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, and it is unlikely to resolve without specialist treatment and support.

People choose to have an eating disorder and/or are vain

Eating disorders can be very distressing for the person with the disorder, and there are many factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder (including biological, social, psychological and interpersonal factors). People don’t choose to have an eating disorder, in the same way that people don’t choose to have physical illnesses.

Eating disorders are usually caused by society and glamorous/photo-shopped images of celebrities in magazines or online

While it is true that young people are exposed to images of thin glamourous celebrities and many articles on diet and fitness, this fact tells us little about how these messages are affecting young people and the incidence of eating disorders.

The majority of these young people do not develop an eating disorder. There are many different factors that contribute to the development of an eating disorder which include our biology and social, psychological and interpersonal factors. There is no one direct cause of eating disorders.

You can tell by someone’s appearance that they have an eating disorder

Often people think that you have to be underweight to have an eating disorder, but not all eating disorders are determined by the size or weight of a person.

Not everyone with an eating disorder will be underweight: many people may be a normal weight, or overweight.

It is also true that not everyone who is underweight has an eating disorder.

So it is not possible to tell just by looking at someone whether or not they have an eating disorder.

Families are usually to blame

There is no evidence to suggest that families cause eating disorders. What we do know is that family support as part of treatment gives young people the best chance of recovery.

You don’t have to tell your parents everything/they don't have to attend appointments

Every young person has a right to confidentiality and this will be explained to you in your first appointment with our mental health services for children and young people. There are some instances where a right to confidentiality needs to be overridden for the safety and wellbeing of you and others. In this situation, some key information may need to be shared with those responsible for your safety and wellbeing. We always try and include young people in the process of sharing information as much as possible.

Because we know that family involvement can have a positive effect on outcome, we aim to include families in the assessment and treatment process. This does not mean that you will not have the opportunity to be seen alone, as there are many ways to do this.

Eating disorders are basically about food

While eating disorders appear to be centred around food, this is best understood as a way of managing difficulties or distress that are often unrelated to food.

More eating disorders are in single sex and or grammar schools

As an eating disorder service, we see young people from a wide range of educational backgrounds. Eating disorders are not limited to single sex or grammar schools.

People with eating disorders don’t eat at all

This is a common myth: you can eat a range of food and display a regular pattern of eating and still have an eating disorder. Eating disorders present themselves in different ways, and its important that as part of any assessment, we understand these individual differences.

Last updated: 7 March, 2018