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Reviewed 2/21/2023

Eating disorders: Myth or fact?

Anorexia. Bulimia. Binge-eating disorder. It's estimated that as many as 30 million people in the U.S. have some type of eating disorder. And these conditions can have a dramatic impact on health. In fact, out of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest rate of death. How much do you know about eating disorders?

Myth or fact: Having an eating disorder is a choice.

Myth. Eating disorders are complicated mental illnesses. There's a big difference between a person choosing a healthy diet to manage weight and a person whose urge to eat more or less spirals out of control. It's also important to note that not all eating disorders revolve around being thin.

Myth or fact: Eating disorders occur among both males and females.

Fact. Women are more likely to develop eating disorders than men. However, the number of males seeking treatment for eating disorders is on the rise. It's estimated that 20 million females and 10 million males in the U.S. will develop a significant eating disorder at some point in their lives.

Myth or fact: Anorexia and bulimia are basically the same thing.

Myth. People with anorexia usually are very thin but see themselves as overweight. They portion out small amounts of certain foods. People with bulimia, on the other hand, binge eat and then compensate for overeating by forced vomiting, exercising excessively, using laxatives or fasting. They're often of normal weight.

Myth or fact: Binge eating is always followed by purging, fasting or exercising excessively.

Myth. People who have binge-eating disorder can't control how much food they eat. However, they don't try to compensate for overeating by purging, fasting or exercising excessively. Many people with binge-eating disorder are overweight or obese.

Myth or fact: Eating disorders can't be treated.

Myth. Eating disorders often are treated with a mix of therapy, medical care and nutritional counseling. Antidepressants can be helpful for treating anxiety and depression, which often occur with eating disorders.

Eating disorders are serious conditions that require professional treatment. If you know someone living with an eating disorder, there are several steps you can take to help.

How to help

Sources: National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders; National Eating Disorders Association; National Institute of Mental Health

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