This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. While most of us think of body image as a weird, awkward subject, it is an issue that needs to be talked about. Almost everyone wants to change aspects of his or her physical appearance, but for some people, these desires can turn into a chronic obsession over eating, weight loss and exercise. The three main eating disorders are Anorexia Nervosa (characterized by drastically restricting caloric intake), Bulimia Nervosa (characterized by consuming large amounts of foods, then purging them by vomiting or through exercise), and Binge Eating Disorder, which is like bulimia, without the purging.

While people may joke about consuming extreme amounts of foods at once or trying to be “ano,” eating disorders are very serious, and often super misunderstood. To boost your understanding of eating disorders we have listed 10 myths debunked that may change what you think.

Myth #1: People with eating disorders are vain.

This is false. More often than not, people who develop eating disorders just want to try a new diet to improve themselves and for a select few, this unfortunately can turn into uncontrollable diseases. This does not mean people with eating disorders are obsessed with themselves or vain in any sense. In addition, depression, anxiety and mood disorders are extremely common for those with eating disorders, and usually they come about as a way to control other issues.

Myth #2: People choose to have eating disorders. They just need to snap out of it.

Just like you wouldn’t fault someone for having asthma or cancer, you shouldn’t blame someone for developing an eating disorder. Studies have shown that genetics account for up to 80% of the risk for developing eating disorders.

10 Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

Photo by Katherine Baker

Myth #3: People with anorexia should “just eat” already.

It may be impossible to comprehend how someone could pass up a plate of warm cookies, but anorexia literally changes the brain, making eating a very scary thing, and even blunts the taste buds. Food is no longer a source of pleasure.

Myth #4: Eating disorders aren’t serious. They’re just a phase.

Anorexia is the #1 psychiatric killer, claiming more victims than depression and suicide. Anorexia and bulimia can permanently damage bones, reproductive health and all major organs including the heart and brain.

Myth #5: Only girls can get eating disorders.

False! Although they are most common among college females, men and women of all backgrounds and ethnicities suffer from eating disorders and body image issues.

Myth #6: People who are anorexic never eat.

People with anorexia do eat. However, they drastically restrict the amount of calories they can consume and often exercise like crazy.  What’s most telling is the feelings of anxiety and fear related to controlling food intake.

Myth #7: Binge Eating Disorder isn’t a real thing.

Everyone overeats. But some people feel like they can’t control themselves and will stuff lots of food into their bodies in short amounts of time and feel unable to stop, even if they’re stuffed. This is a real disorder and shouldn’t be ignored.

Myth #8: My friend is obsessed with food. There’s no way she can have an eating disorder.

Actually, a red flag for an eating disorder is a sudden, extreme obsession with food, collecting recipes and watching food TV. The less food they eat, the more they want to study it.

10 Misconceptions About Eating Disorders

Photo by Katherine Baker

Myth #9: I know someone with really weird, obsessive eating habits, but they’re not too skinny, so they must be fine.

False again! Even if someone isn’t dangerously underweight, they may still have an illness that needs treatment. And because bulimics don’t purge most of the calories they consume, they are often of normal weight or may even gain some.

Myth #10: Eating disorders are awkward to talk about so it’s fine to ignore them.

While it’s true eating disorders are a touchy subject to discuss, if you or someone you know has signs or symptoms of disordered eating behavior, speaking up is the first step towards getting happier and healthier. Take a diagnostic quiz here, and find tons of helpful resources on the National Eating Disorders website, or seek help from your school’s health center.