Media Monday: People Don’t Choose to Have Eating Disorders & Other Misconceptions about Eating Disorders

TEPF Volunteer

“You know there are people who choose not to have eating disorders,” said my close friend after a conversation that arose from excerpts from the book, Gaining. This comment really took me aback. OK. Pause. It took a lot of strength not to speak harshly with a retort, because as someone in recovery, I felt angry and hurt by this comment. So I mustered all my strength and just said, “I’m sorry but you are wrong. People don’t choose to have eating disorders.”

And this topic: misconceptions about eating disorders, was brought up again this week when I read an article written about a recent blog by Temimah Zucker, an anorexia survivor and eating disorder prevention advocate, titled “Excuse me Doc, this was not a teenage phase.”

She was moved to write this blog as a letter to her doctor because during her annual physical he asked how she was doing with her eating disorder. After telling him she was OK, he said, “You know these eating disorders are just a teen phase for young girls.” Now, if you suffer from an eating disorder, or are in recovery, or know someone who is, or just know the facts about eating disorders—you’d know that this is a major misconception and that a comment like this can be very damaging to someone who is recovering (or still struggling).

In retrospect, I know my friends comment was not meant to hurt me—he just had some misconceptions. And we can’t blame people for ignorance, but we can speak up and get the facts out there. So in the spirit of taking action, I’m writing a list of a couple of the top myths about eating disorders based upon an article written in the Huffington Post and the Alliance for Eating Disorders website. Maybe you’ll be inspired to share them with others you feel might be receptive. Debunking these myths help individuals, families, and professionals to better recognize a disorder so they can seek appropriate treatment for themselves and others.

Myth: Eating disorders are about food.

Truth: “Eating disorders generally stem from issues beyond food and body size. They also signify an attempt to control something of substance in an individual’s life. The mistaken belief that eating disorders are about food compels friends and loved ones to encourage individuals to ‘just eat,’ when in fact, the disorder from which they’re suffering is incredibly complex” (Source).


Myth: Eating disorders are a choice.

Truth: No one chooses to have an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a complicated illness that has both genetic and environmental causes. Recently, they have even found a correlation between low serotonin levels in bulimia and high serotonin levels in anorexia, as well as the specific chromosomes linked to anorexia and bulimia (Source)(Source) (Source).”Between 40 and 50 percent of the risk of developing an eating disorder is genetic, and a woman with a mother or sister who has anorexia is 12 times more likely than the general population to develop the disease and four times more likely to develop bulimia nervosa. Those that develop an eating disorder likely had a latent genetic predisposition toward the illness and a precipitating event, such as going on a diet, a traumatic event or significant life change, triggered their anorexia, bulimia or related disorder” (Source).


Myth: Eating disorders aren’t serious.

Truth: Eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of any other mental illness. “Even for patients whose eating disorders don’t prove fatal, there are often severe medical complications associated with starvation and purging, including bone disease, cardiac complications, gastrointestinal distress, organ failure and infertility” (Source).


Myth: Only people who are underweight have eating disorders.

Truth: You cannot tell if an individual has an eating disorder by looking at them. Many people think of eating disorders as individuals who are underweight, but “bulimics tend to be at an average, or even above average, weight. Compulsive overeaters are typically overweight rather than underweight” (Source).


Myth: Only adolescent girls suffer from eating disorders—”It’s a teen phase.”

Truth: “Eating disorders do not discriminate between age and gender. One in every four eating disorder cases are male. Also, the most rapidly growing group of individuals developing eating disorders are women in midlife” (Source).


Myth: An eating disorder is cured after achieving normal weight.

Truth: Attaining a normal weight does not in and of itself signify a cure, because eating disorders are a complex medical/psychiatric illnesses (Source).


Good sites to direct people to:


Another good related article: