Guest Post – Eating disorders: myths, facts and unknowns.

February 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm 2 comments

Note: This guest post is very kindly contributed to PsychoHawks courtesy of Tara Miller (see the byline at the bottom of the post for further details). Any comments, feedback and issues you may have with this post therefore lie with the guest writer and not the normal blog author. If you have such comments, feel free to still leave them here, or for more direct feedback e-mail the address also in the byline. I’m sure, nevertheless, that you’ll find this post as brilliantly written and interesting as I did. Thanks, Sam.

Eating Disorders: Myths, Facts, and Unknowns

This week, February 20-26, is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. The campaign was established by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) in order to raise awareness about one of the most insidious mental  illnesses effecting especially (but not only) adolescents in Western cultures today. Despite the fact that we always hear about anorexic celebrities and models, ostensibly placing understanding of the illness in the spotlight, there are many public misconceptions. Here are a few misunderstandings, established facts, and areas in which more research is required.


1. A person should only seek treatment if they are seriously emaciated or underweight.

When we think of those who are affected by eating disorders, we usually have only extremely thin people in mind. However, many who are effected by eating disorders have normal or above average weights. In fact, especially when it comes to bulimia, patients are overweight.

2. Media images of the ultrathin cause eating disorders.

One myth that is very common about eating disorders is that it is an illness of the 21st century, caused by the glamorization of being extremely thin like models and Hollywood actors and actresses. While socio-cultural factors certainly serve to exacerbate the disorder, these popular images do not cause the disorder. Eating disorders have been well-documented in medical literature since the 1800s, long before the mass distribution of media and when the cultural standard for the ideal body type was much fuller than it is now.

3. People with eating disorders are only obsessed with beauty or are simply seeking attention.

Again, this is another myth that has been purveyed in popular media, but the fact of the matter is that many people who suffer from aneroxia, bulimia, or another eating disorder hold distorted ideas of their bodies in addition to having other problems like depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. Eating disorders are not skin deep they are far more complex than public perception makes them out to be.


1. Eating disorders are one of the most common mental disorders.

According to statistics gathered from various private researchers by the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, 1 in 5 women have an eating disorder in the United States, and as many as 24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, while as many 70 million suffer from such disorders around the world.

2. People who seek treatment for eating disorders have a generally favorable prognosis.

Although of all psychiatric illnesses, eating disorders have the most fatalities, long-term outcomes especially for those who seek treatment are quite good. Half of people with anorexia nervosa eventually recover completely, about 20% continue to have difficulties with their relationship with food, and 20% die from related long-term medical conditions.

3. Men suffer from eating disorders, too.

Although many think of eating disorders as only a female phenomenon, millions of men suffer from them as well. Ten percent of cases of patients with eating disorders that come to the attention of health professionals are male, but researchers suspect that men underreport.


1. The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown.

As mentioned before, eating disorders are very complex. Although researchers know that eating disorders are caused and triggered by a variety of factors, there is as yet no one definitive explanation. Researchers do know, however, that environment plays a large role in developing an eating disorder, as well as comorbid disorders like depression or OCD.

2. The role that genetics play in developing an eating disorder is also unknown.

The most exciting and new research to come out on eating disorders has been in the realm of genetics. Although researchers suspect that genes may play a factor in the development of eating disorders, they are still unsure to what extent this is true. Researchers are also looking for new frontiers in therapy through genetic research, like gene replacement therapy, although such advances are still far out on the horizon.


For more information on eating disorders, check out NEDAs website, here.


Common Myths about Eating Disorders. NEDA, 2008.

Eating Disorders 101: A Summary of Issues, Statistics, and Resources. Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders

A genetic link to anorexia nervosa. American Psychological Association, 2002.


This guest post is contributed by Tara Miller, who particularly enjoys writing about psychology degree.  Questions and comments can be sent to:


Entry filed under: Health.

Evaluating and comparing two theories of cognitive development. How to tell if someone is lying… maybe.

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Joe  |  August 4, 2011 at 10:34 pm

    regarding #2, another way to look at this is to talk about whether eating disorders are culturally bound syndromes. The thin ideal actually appears to be a very significant factor in the development of eating disorders, especially bulimia nervosa. The role of the media and thin models may be only a part of this, but that role is not insignificant simply because it is not a sufficient condition alone to bring about an eating disorder. Eating disorders are far more prevalent in modern countries that value the thin ideal!

    • 2. Sam Eddy  |  October 20, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks for your in-depth response Joe. As you probably realise, I didn’t write this post myself – but feel free to contact the author if you wish to debate some of the points made! Sam.


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