10 myths about eating disorders

There are lots of myths around eating disorders and they can mean treatment is delayed or hindered. We look at the most common myths and put the facts straight.

Myth 1: People who get eating disorders are always troubled or have family problems

Wrong. Although an eating disorder is a serious mental health condition, it can happen to normal, happy people. It may be triggered by a psychological trauma or involve feelings of low self-esteem, but these are not necessary for the condition to arise.

Myth 2: An eating disorder is all about control

Wrong. An eating disorder is not caused by a desire to impose control or by controlling parents. It is a brain disorder. There is no evidence that parents cause eating disorders.

Myth 3: If someone is showing signs of an eating disorder you should back off and not make meals a battleground

Wrong. The longer you leave it the more severe the condition will become and inadequate nutrition will make things worse. If you think someone is developing an eating disorder, seek medical help immediately. In the meantime, do everything you can to get them to eat.

Myth 4: You can only get better from an eating disorder when you want to get better

Wrong. Treatment is not dependent on the patient wanting to get better. Therapy and resumption of a normal diet need to start irrespective of whether the sufferer wants to get well.

Myth 5: If a girl is still getting her periods she can't have an eating disorder

Wrong. Women can have an eating disorder, including anorexia, without ever losing their periods.

Myth 6: Only girls get eating disorders

Wrong. At least 10% of people with eating disorders are boys or men. That number is rising.

Myth 7: You can only have an eating disorder if you're very thin

Wrong. There are different types of eating disorder, not all of which involve being underweight.

Myth 8: You can only get an eating disorder by going on a diet

Wrong. Eating disorders are not always the result of a deliberate diet. People sometimes develop them after they lose weight because of an illness or even a well-intentioned fast.

Myth 9: If you've gained weight again you must be better

Wrong. Just because someone with an eating disorder has regained weight does not mean they are fully better. Mending the brain can take months or even years after weight restoration.

Myth 10: You can never get better from an eating disorder

Wrong. Not everyone with an eating disorder recovers completely, and the risk of relapse is great, but people can - and do - make a full and lasting recovery.

If you're worried about someone who may have an eating disorder, or if you are concerned about your own eating habits, there are lots of resources to help you. The UK charity B-eat is excellent for general information and helplines, and if you are a parent or carer of someone with an eating disorder check out the FEAST online forum, Around the Dinner Table.

Patricia Carswell is a freelance journalist and award-winning blogger specialising in health and fitness. She has written for the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, the Observer, the Independent, Times Online, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, Metro and a wide variety of national magazines and websites. She blogs at www.sportyoverforty.com and www.girlontheriver.com and has a particular interest in fitness for the over-40s.


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