There's still a tremendous amount of stigma attached to eating disorders, since they're such private, emotionally-charged matters.

According to Eating Disorder Hope, between 1% to 4.2% of women have suffered from anorexia at some point in their lives and up to 4% will suffer from bulimia. These numbers are likely inaccurate, as many people feel uncomfortable sharing that they have an eating disorder.

Since February 21 through the 27 marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we reached out to mental health experts to debunk the harmful "myths" people still believe about eating disorders.

Committing yourself to unlearning these prejudices will make you a better friend, family member, or support system to someone struggling:

MYTH: Eating disorders are just about food

Eating disorders are extremely complex, and distilling them down is harmful and fallacious. 

"Simply telling someone to eat more or less food doesn't address the real issues," Jeannie Elder, a mental health counselor practicing in New York, told Revelist. "Eating disorders have their origins in so many different parts of a person's life, and it varies from person to person."

Elder said that eating disorder behaviors might be a person's attempt at creating control in their lives, a way of punishing themselves for perceived failure, or a way of communicating when they don't feel they're being heard, among other things.

MYTH: Men don't have eating disorders

"Yes they do.  And more than you think," Kent Jarratt, a social worker in New York, said. "I find that, in general, men carry a lot more shame around it and are less likely to seek help.  Often I may be the first professional to identify it when they come in for help with another problem (anxiety, substance use, etc)."

It's important to remember that eating disorders can affect people of all genders, and that toxic masculinity can pressure men who are suffering into silence.


MYTH: There's a correlation between a person's sexuality and an eating disorder

Jarratt said he frequently gets asked if most of his male patients who struggle with eating disorders are gay.

"No, emphatically, they are not mostly gay," Jarratt said. "Gay men are represented in about the same proportion as we exist in the world. Most of my male clients developed their eating disorder from participating in high school, college, or professional sports, where they have to control their weight. For example, boxing, wrestling, weight lifting require strict weight limits and weigh-ins, and other sports of course require weight management (track and field, tennis, swimming, etc)."

"The majority of these clients are straight. But of course a smaller portion of clients are gay, and have developed the eating disorder in the same way," Jarratt added.

MYTH: Eating disorders are a white girl problem

This couldn't be further from the truth, and it actively erases people of color who are struggling with EDs.

"Eating disorders have historically been associated with young, white women of privilege. However, this is a myth — eating disorders do not discriminate," The National Eating Disorders Association writes on their website. "While more research is needed in this area, we do know that the prevalence of eating disorders is similar among Non-Hispanic Whites, Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians in the United States, with the exception that anorexia nervosa is more common among non-Hispanic whites."

MYTH: You can tell if a person has an eating disorder by their size

People of all sizes can be struggling with eating disorders, and it's impossible to tell just by looking at them.

"It is difficult to predict whether or not someone has an eating disorder because not all eating disorders are determined by the size and weight of a person," The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness writes on its site. "An eating disorder is not always easy to detect based on weight. Bulimics tend to be at an average, or even above average, weight. Compulsive overeaters are typically overweight rather than underweight."

Cover image: collective nouns/Flickr