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The Three Most Common Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

Eating disorders and disordered eating together are estimated to affect over 16% of the Australian population. That is, more than one in six people suffer from an eating difficulty of some sort. These statistics are similar to the prevalence of depression in Australia. Yet, eating disorders fly under the radar: They often undiagnosed and the community at large struggles to understand eating disorders.

It is hard enough suffering from an eating disorder, let alone feeling isolated and misunderstood by others. For example, people with eating disorders are repetitively told by loved ones or professionals to either “stop eating” or “just eat more”. Obviously their intention is good, but their advice is misguided.

We discuss three of the most common misconceptions about Eating Disorders.

People with eating disorders are superficial.

It is a common misconception that an individual with an eating disorder uphold superficial values. That is, there is an assumption that the extreme effort that an individual takes to lose weight mean they overly value their appearance. In actual fact, while someone with an eating disorder may desperately work to change their body shape and weight, often their behaviour is not aligned with their true values. Yes, an eating disorder focuses on the body and “improving” appearance, but this is a way of coping with difficulty. For example, if someone experiences a controlling environment, they may focus on their food as a way of regaining control. An individual with an eating disorder will also experience low self-esteem – for example, they may believe they are “not good enough” – changing the body can then become a way of improving oneself. In these two examples of – a controlling environment and low self-esteem – there is suffering. An eating disorder may develop as a way of coping with this suffering.

An eating disorder means you are underweight.

There is a common misconception that people who suffer from an eating disorder are underweight. In fact most people with eating disorders are not underweight. While people who suffer anorexia are underweight, most other people who suffer from binge eating disorder and bulimia (and other types of the eating disorders/difficulties) often have a healthy body weight, or may be overweight or obese.

Only women suffer eating disorders.

Wrong! While eating disorders primarily affect females, males are also affected. Males with eating disorders show the same signs and symptoms as females, but for a variety of reasons, are less likely to be diagnosed. Males account for an estimated 5 percent to 15 percent of patients with anorexia or bulimia and an estimated 35 percent of those with binge eating disorder.

Similar to females with eating disorders, males also experience distorted body image. Often males’ distorted body image focuses on their muscle, called “muscular dysmorphia”. Therefore, males tend to be extremely concerned with “bulking up”, placing them at risk of using steroids or other dangerous drugs. However, a large proportion of males with an eating disorder want to lose weight and are not focused on muscle.

What is Peaceful Mind Psychology’s approach to Eating Disorders?

Our psychologists have specialised training in Eating Disorder treatment. We understand eating disorders well, but also know eating disorders differ between people. We work with clients with eating disorders in an individual way, adopting evidence-based therapies, such as CBT-E and DBT, to suit each person’s unique difficulties and personality. If you would like some professional assistance contact us at Peaceful Mind Psychology.