Some common misconceptions about eating disorders include:
- Eating disorders are about vanity
- Eating disorders are a choice, not an illness
- Eating disorders are just a diet gone wrong
- Eating disorders are a cry for attention or a person ‘going through a phase’
- Eating disorders only affect adolescent girls
- Families, particularly mothers, are to blame for eating disorders
- Eating disorders only affect white, middle class females
These misconceptions occur amongst all age groups. The NEDC Youth Consultation identified significant levels of negative attitudes amongst 12–17 year olds:
- 51.3% of 12-17 year olds strongly agreed or agreed that a person with an eating disorder should “snap out of it, there are more important things in life to worry about”
These types of misconceptions are not limited to the general public. A person with an eating disorder may receive similar reactions and responses when presenting for help from a general practitioner or other health professional. This may lead to failure to detect and treat the eating disorder, as well as causing distress and shame to the person who is seeking help.
Research shows that adolescents are confused about eating disorders. Young people recognise that eating disorders are potentially harmful; however they also accept body ‘obsession’ and dieting as normal parts of growing up.
Research indicates that there is a generally low level of mental health literacy in the community. These general beliefs about mental health affect community responses to eating disorders.
In order to develop an appropriate level of understanding of eating disorders extensive community education is required. This would involve educating the public about eating disorders, the identification of symptoms, supporting prevention and early help-seeking.
Download a fact sheet on myths from Headspace