About Eating Disorders




Glasgow Centre for Eating Disorders

Therapy, Support, Training and Education for Eating Disorders in Scotland

Myths About Eating Disorders

The following are some of the myths surrounding eating disorders:


  • Eating disorders are a choice.
  • Eating disorders are uncommon.
  • Eating disorders are about appearance, beauty and looking a certain way.
  • Eating disorders only occur in young females.
  • Eating disorders are caused by the unhealthy body ideals that we see in the media.
  • Recovery from eating disorders in rare.
  • People with eating disorders are easy to spot because they are extremely thin.
  • Anorexia Nervosa is the only serious eating disorder.
  • A person cannot die from Bulimia Nervosa.
  • Eating disorders are solely a problem with food.
  • You’re not sick until you are emaciated.
  • You can’t suffer from more than one eating disorder at a time.


It is important to remember these are myths and stereotypes associated with eating disorders and do not accurately represent what eating disorders are or the experience of an eating disorder.


Factors Contributing to the Development of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health illnesses and the precise causes of such are not completely understood. It is very likely that eating disorders develop for a whole host of reasons, rather than being attributed to one single factor. Again, the causes will be different for each individual sufferer. Some people may know the causes of their eating disorder and so may not. The important point is to get help and support as soon as you can, despite what the potential causes might be. The following is a list of some of the causes that have been identified and which are associated with the development of eating disorders. It is likely that there are many more possible causes which have not yet been identified. Eating disorders may be caused by a combination of social, psychological, biological, interpersonal, genetic and environmental factors.


  • Linked with other medical conditions.
  • Bullying.
  • Change.
  • Perfectionistic personality.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Sexually-related traumas.
  • Genetics.
  • Western culture.
  • Media focus on certain body ideals.
  • Difficulty expressing thoughts, feelings and emotions.
  • Co-morbidity with, for example, clinical depression, anxiety disorder, personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other psychiatric conditions.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feelings of lack of control.
  • Identity crisis, poor sense of self.
  • Dissociative experiences.
  • Body image disturbances.
  • Biological factors, for example, biochemical disturbances, brain chemistry, function and structure.
  • Self-hatred, lack of self-acceptance.
  • Negative/painful memories.
  • Major life events, such as going to school/college, change of job, moving house, major illness, onset of puberty, bereavement, relationship breakup etc.
  • Troubled family and personal relationships.
  • Lack of independence and autonomy.
  • Fear of adulthood.
  • Feelings such as loneliness, helplessness, hopelessness, anger, confusion etc.


About Eating Disorders

We receive lots of enquiries from people asking if they have an eating disorder or if their eating and food behaviours, thoughts, feelings and experiences warrant them accessing services or receiving help and support. One of the best things about Glasgow Centre for Eating Disorders and everyone involved is that we never ever discriminate on whether someone has a ‘full-blown’ eating disorder; has been formally diagnosed; or meets certain ‘criteria’. We welcome anyone – men and women – who feel that their relationship with food and eating is affecting their life in some way. As far as we are concerned, if your relationship with food and eating is affecting your life in some way – socially, emotionally, psychologically, physically, occupationally etc – and if food is controlling your life in some way, then you deserve help and support with such difficulties.


We know that most people with eating disorders and disordered eating are not underweight or do not always display the full plethora of eating disorder 'symptoms' Having worked with 1000s of people over the years, we understand that one's eating disorder changes over time - in fact, some people display various 'types' of eating disorder all at one time. For us, it's not about sticking a label or name onto something or someone. If you have a difficult or distressful relationship with food and eating, regardless of what that may be or how often that may be, you deserve help, support and understanding that is empathic, non-judgemental and encouraging.


Diagnostic criteria, especially those for eating disorders, are there basically because there is a lack of resources. ‘Criteria’ therefore, limits the amount of people who can receive ‘formal’ treatment.


Eating disorders come in all forms and most people who experience such difficulties do not meet all of the diagnostic criteria, are deemed ‘ok’ and thus do not receive treatment. This can be dangerous as perhaps a ‘controllable’ range of behaviours can very easily turn into a very serious illness with devastating consequences.

Eating disorders are not a ‘diet’. Eating disorders are a mental health illness that can impact upon all areas of the sufferer’s life and have negative, often life-threatening, consequences. They are characterised by having a difficult, negative or dysfunctional relationship with food and eating. This changes their thoughts and feelings about food, and, consequently, their behaviours and habits surrounding food and eating. Eating disorders are not about beauty, appearance or looking a certain way. In fact, they have little to do with food, but lots to do with gaining control and finding a way of coping with life. Thoughts, feelings, emotions, memories and experiences are all controlled through one’s relationship with food. Control or non-control of eating and food provides a way of also coping with often painful, difficult or distressful thoughts, emotions, experiences or memories: by blocking them out, denying them, or dealing with them via one’s relationship with food and eating. For those with eating disorders, life seems easier to manage through the control or non-control of food. Eating disorders can often develop in response to what is going on inside of us. We can use food, eating, weight and exercise as a way of dealing with these powerful feelings and emotions.


Eating disorders can affect anyone and can become life-threatening if not treated appropriately. It is difficult to determine how many people actually experience persistent and debilitating food and eating difficulties. We will never know the exact extent of this problem for various reasons. This is also partly due to the secretive nature of eating disorders and the high level of denial often involved, especially during the early stages of the illness.


There is a serious lack of data demonstrating how many people in the UK, and Scotland specifically, experience significant food and eating problems. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, as highlighted above, the secretive nature of eating disorders means that many sufferers are reluctant to seek help and support. Many sufferers do not even acknowledge that they have a problem at all. Therefore, there is a whole population of people out there who are, in secret, suffering from significant eating and food difficulties and who we do not know about because they are, basically, suffering in silence.


Secondly, it is difficult to determine how many people do actually experience such difficulties because most of the data is based on hospital episode statistics. This only alerts us to the number of people being treated in an NHS hospital on an inpatient basis. As much as 50% of treatment for eating disorders is provided by private clinics, hospitals and therapists. There are also many sufferers who are seriously ill but not in contact with any medical, therapeutic or treatment services.


Many individuals experiencing eating and food difficulties also receive support on an outpatient basis. They are not reported in the statistics. The incidence of eating disorders in the UK is, therefore, based upon how many people receive inpatient hospital treatment. Hardly an accurate representation of eating disorders in the UK or, specifically, in Scotland! There is no data available for those who are not receiving inpatient treatment. It is a guessing game determining how many people do actually experience significant eating and food difficulties – a rather frightening thought to say the least!


The most comprehensive data in the UK is reported by NICE (2004). However, again, the data only highlights the number of people receiving inpatient hospital treatment for an eating disorder and the data is rather out-of-date. While this only focuses on a small percentage of eating disorder cases, it is widely suggested that approximately 1.6 million people in the UK are affected by eating disorders, 10-25% of which are men. It is very likely that the incidence of eating disorders and disordered eating is significnatly higher than this estimate.


So it seems that a significant number of people do experience eating disorders. These statistics should not be taken lightly given that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental health illness. With this data, eating disorders are clearly a cause for concern.


For more information about types of eating disorders and some of the symptoms associated with a range of eating disorders/disordered eating, please see the section 'Do I Have an Eating Disorder?'

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