Written by: Dr. Charlotte Markey

Eating disorders are among the deadliest of all mental health conditions (only less deadly than opioid addiction) and yet there are many misconceptions regarding what eating disorders are and how they develop.

First, it’s important to appreciate that there are different kinds of eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder.  Some people who suffer from an eating disorder restrict what they eat while others don’t.  Some people are very thin while others are relatively heavy.  Some people may appear to be healthy and fit while others don’t.  You can’t tell who has an eating disorder from merely looking at a person.

Second, everyone is at risk of developing an eating disorder.  These disorders do not only affect teenage girls or white women (as stereotypes tend to suggest).  About one-third of all eating disorder patients are boys and men and LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk of developing an eating disorder.

Third, it is not a person’s fault if they develop an eating disorder – or any mental illness!  No one wakes up one day and decides they need more suffering in their life.  No one truly wants to deprive themselves of enjoying one of life’s greatest pleasures – food!  Mental illnesses are real illnesses, and they require real treatments from a team of professionals including psychologists, physicians, and registered dietitians.

There are many reasons why someone might develop an eating disorder. Usually, people who develop eating disorders are concerned about their weight and don’t feel good about their bodies. Sometimes they’re overweight, but more often they’re not overweight, but are still worried about what they eat and how they look. It turns out that usually a person’s actual weight is much less relevant than is a person’s feelings about their weight in the development of eating disorders.

Many people who develop eating disorders live in families that talk a lot about food and dieting, or in which others have eating-disorder symptoms themselves. Sometimes family members may tease and make a person feel bad about their food choices or weight. Media influences are also relevant to individuals’ development of eating disorders.  We all see media messages that suggest the importance of looking a certain way—thin, toned, and fit.  It’s easy for people to believe that they’ll be happiest if they look this way, and to be willing to take drastic measures to achieve that look. Further, advice about what you eat or weigh is often disguised as health or medical information and is often wrong.  Many prescriptions for what you should eat are actually consistent with disordered eating (e.g., skipping meals or avoiding certain food groups).  These prescriptions may contribute to weight loss but will cause many other problems.

If you are concerned about your eating habits or are concerned about a friend’s habits, it is important to reach out for professional help.  These are complex disorders and they do not typically improve across time without treatment.  It is better to obtain help before an eating disorder becomes a long-term, serious health issue.  Everyone deserves to have a healthy relationship with food and positive sense of self.


This article was adapted from The Body Image Book for Girls:  Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless by Dr. Charlotte Markey.  For more information, go to the book’s webpage:  www.TheBodyImageBookforGirls.com