9 Essential Facts About Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorder Nine Truths Project

Portrait of woman on sofa
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In May 2015, 13 US-based eating disorder organizations, in collaboration with Cynthia Bulik, Ph.D., FAED, who serves as distinguished Professor of Eating Disorders in the School of Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Professor of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, published the “Nine Truths About Eating Disorders.” This document was inspired by Dr. Bulik’s 2014 “9 Eating Disorders Myths Busted” talk at the National Institute of Mental Health Alliance for Research Progress meeting.  

Eating disorders—including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder—have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Despite improved research on the topic, eating disorders are vastly misunderstood by the general population. The persistent myths surrounding eating disorders create barriers to treatment.   

The Nine Truths document was a historic collaboration and reflects the culmination of some of the most recent research on eating disorders. Because eating disorders are so often misunderstood and carry a great deal of stigma, it is hoped that the common messaging will challenge myths and stigma, increase understanding about and compassion for those with eating disorders, and help pave the way for greater access to adequate treatment.  

Dr. Bulik said, “The single best way to fight stigma is with truths. These consensus ‘Nine Truths’ are the new scaffold on which we will build our advocacy efforts for eating disorders. United around these principles, we can enlighten public understanding about eating disorders and advocate effectively for treatment access and resources.”

The Nine Truths (shown with their corresponding myths) follow:   

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Eating Disorder Truth 1

Myth # 1: You can tell by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder.

Truth #1: Many people with eating disorders look healthy yet may be extremely ill. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 2

Myth # 2: Families are to blame.

Truth #2: Families are not to blame; they can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 3

Myth # 3: Mothers are to blame.

Truth #3: An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 4

Myth # 4: Eating disorders are a choice.

Truth #4: Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 5

Myth # 5: Eating disorders are the province of white upper-middle class teenage girls.

Truth #5: Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 6

Myth # 6: Eating disorders are benign.

Truth #6: Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 7

Myth # 7: Society alone is to blame.

Truth #7: Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 8

Myth # 8: Genes are destiny.

Truth #8: Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders. 

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Eating Disorder Truth 9

Myth # 9: Eating disorders are for life.

Truth #9. Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.

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Nine Truths translations and collaborating organizations

The Nine Truths have already been translated into several languages including Spanish, Norwegian, Estonian, German, Swedish, and Finnish.  All are available on the AED website

The organizations that collaborated on the Nine Truths are:  Academy for Eating Disorders; Binge Eating Disorder Association; Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action; Eating Disorder Parent Support Group; Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders; International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals Foundation; International Eating Disorder Action; Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association; National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders; National Eating Disorders Association, Residential Eating Disorders Consortium; Project HEAL; and Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders.

In future posts, I will expand upon several of these truths. 

Sources:

Arcelus J, et al. Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. Archives of General Psychiatry, 68(7):724-731.

Stewart MC, Keel PK, Schiavo RS, Stigmatization of anorexia nervosa.  Int J Eat Disord. 2006 May; 39(4):320-5.

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