themighty logo

5 Eating Disorder Myths We Need to Stop Believing

This summer, I was admitted to an inpatient facility for anorexia nervosa. I was there for 50 days, and over that time, I learned a lot about myself and about the illness. I’ve come to realize many people are not aware of the true reality of eating disorders.

Here are five myths about eating disorders I’d like to dispel:

1. Everyone with an eating disorder is thin.

At my treatment center, there were people of all shapes and sizes. Keep in mind, this was an inpatient facility (the highest level of care possible). You don’t have to be thin to have an eating disorder, and you certainly don’t have to be thin to be really sick. At any weight, your overall quality of life can be significantly impaired by eating disorder behaviors.

2. It’s as simple as “just eating.”

This is one of the worst things I’ve heard about eating disorders, and it stems from a lack of understanding about what a person with an eating disorder is thinking, feeling and dealing with. To someone without an eating disorder, eating comes easily — maybe you hardly even think about it. But to someone with an eating disorder, eating is ridiculously hard.

Take eating a cookie. In order to manage to even take a single bite, you have to fight through all the voices telling you that you have no right to enjoy the cookie, that it has too many calories and that you’re going to get fat. And even if you manage to eat the food, you have to deal with the incredible guilt that follows. It’s not as simple as “just eating.”

3. Eating disorders are glamorous.

A lot of people seem to believe that eating disorders — in particular, anorexia — are a quick, easy way to get thin. I’ve heard of individuals who wish they had the “willpower” and “strength” to have anorexia, because all they see is that anorexia means skinny. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, you might be thin, but your heart’s a wreck, you’re freezing all the time, your hair is falling out, you can’t concentrate and in the process, you might have lost meaningful relationships. Not glamorous.

4. Eating disorders are a choice.

A lot of people believe this myth. But current research is showing that eating disorders have a genetic component. While environment and societal factors do play a part — no one “chooses” to have an eating disorder. An eating disorder controls you, not the other way around.

5. There are only two eating disorders: anorexia and bulimia.

There are actually more types of eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder. While anorexia and bulimia are more well-known, all types can have life-threatening consequences.

At only 16, I have a disorder people are taught to be ashamed of. But anorexia, or any other eating disorder, isn’t something to keep quiet about. It’s an illness, just like any other, and the voices of those fighting it deserve to be heard.