While, unfortunately, eating disorders are quite common, they’re not often spoken about openly. This silence means there’s a lot of misconceptions about the subject.
We spoke with Ranjani Utpala, Clinical Director at Butterfly Foundation to examine some of these beliefs.
1. Eating disorders are a lifestyle choice
“My response to that is a very emphatic no. By characterising them as lifestyle choices, it undermines and underplays their seriousness, while placing a lot of responsibility, judgement and even shame on the person experiencing these serious mental health conditions. Eating disorders are complex psychiatric illnesses with very serious medical and psychological consequences that people don't choose to have.”
2. Eating disorders only affect young women
“Historically, eating disorders have been more common in females. However, the more we understand mental health and reduce stigma associated with help-seeking for eating disorders, the more we are learning that eating disorders do present in males and non-binary individuals. Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, sex and sexual orientation – they don't discriminate, and they can develop or re-emerge at any age.”
3. Eating disorders are simply a form of ‘extreme dieting’
“While dieting is known to be a risk factor that predisposes people to develop an eating disorder, eating disorders can’t be characterised as ‘extreme dieting’. It is important to understand that they are serious illnesses that require timely and appropriate treatment.”
4. People who are of average weight can’t have an eating disorder
“This is a particularly dangerous myth – it leads to low rates of identification and intervention for many people diagnosed with eating disorders. In the general public, when people think of eating disorders, it usually evokes the image of anorexia nervosa, which often has an obvious and visible marker of being extremely low weight. However, it’s important to recognise that other eating disorders exist which affect different body sizes and their prevalence rates tend to be higher than those of anorexia nervosa.”
5. Genetics play a role in developing an eating disorder
“This is actually true. Research indicates genetics can play a substantial role in the development of eating disorders. The genes most implicated in passing on eating disorders are within biological systems related to food intake, appetite, metabolism, mood, and reward-pleasure responses. It’s been shown this genetic influence isn’t simply due to the inheritance of any one gene, but results from a more complicated interaction between genes and non-inherited genetic factors.”