Anorexia Facts & Myths: What You Need to Know

Anorexia is a very serious eating disorder that is plagued by a lot of misinformation online. For instance, many people think of anorexia as a condition affecting only women. But that isn’t true.

We’ve outlined some important anorexia facts and myths below and cover some tips on the best ways to avoid further misinformation when doing your own research online.

Person with anorexia
TABLE OF CONTENTS | Myths | Facts | Find Accurate Information | Treatment

Common and Harmful Anorexia Myths

There are several “facts” about anorexia that people believe which aren’t true.

Myth #1: Only Women Develop Anorexia

While eating disorders (EDs) are somewhat more prevalent among women, a significant number of men also develop them.1

The idea that a particular eating disorder only occurs in one sex can be harmful, as it may lead to a person who develops an eating disorder that is not typically associated with their gender to feel ostracized and become less likely to seek help. People of all genders, races, ethnicities, ages, and weights can develop anorexia or any other eating disorder and deserve to feel safe in seeking help for their mental illness.

Myth #2: Fasting or Undereating is Safe

Some people incorrectly assume that fasting and undereating are safe behaviors. It’s somewhat easy to cherry-pick technically correct facts to support that point. However, fasting, undereating, dieting, eliminating certain food groups, foods, or ingredients, and restricting the amount of food eaten in any way are all considered disordered eating behaviors. These behaviors are risk factors for developing anorexia and other eating disorders and can result in serious physical and psychological harm if they progress untreated. The reality is that anorexia nervosa is associated with a significant increase in a person experiencing medical complications due to starvation and malnutrition.2The human body cannot sustain itself without the proper nutrients. The fasting practices many people with anorexia engage in can deprive the body of nutrients for all organ systems and bodily functions to operate properly.

Myth #3: People With EDs Should Just “Get Over It”

Eating disorders like anorexia are complex mental health disorders that do not go away on their own, especially without the help of a mental health professional and highly specialized treatment. Implying their mental health condition is just something they should “get over” is, unfortunately, somewhat familiar and can be harmful. 

Like a physical health condition, such as a broken arm, eating disorders often require the intervention of trained professionals before a person can begin to heal properly. There are effective ways to encourage a person to seek help. However, using shame or downplaying the nature of their condition can result in further harm and the development of associated disorders.

Myth #4: Things Will Improve After a Certain Amount of Weight Loss

People who have anorexia and many people who struggle with other eating disorders generally engage in the behaviors associated with their condition, such as restricting their food intake or overexercising, to change the shape of their body. These individuals and those around them often expect some improvement in their mental health as they lose weight because of the value our society places on thinness and fitness. 

However, the reality is that an eating disorder distorts the way a person perceives themselves, and many people with EDs “move the goalposts” as they lose weight, always seeking to lose more and prevent gaining weight. Even if a person with an ED has a particular body goal in mind, the goal they often set can be one that might put them at a dangerously low weight and result in severe malnutrition, which can result in very serious, sometimes fatal, complications. 

It is possible to recover from anorexia and its harmful effects and begin to perceive one’s body more positively. However, it generally requires a comprehensive treatment plan that entails working with a multidisciplinary team of eating disorder professionals who will address mental health concerns.

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Anorexia Facts to Remember

Below are some of the actual facts about anorexia nervosa.

Fact #1: Change Comes in Steps 

When a person seeks help for anorexia, it’s important to remember that mental health is a spectrum. A person with anorexia is unlikely to go from dangerously restricted eating habits and an extremely poor or distorted body image to fully recovering in only a few weeks. 

Instead, they will work with their treatment professional to improve their body image and develop a healthier relationship with food and eating. Progress is made in steps, and sometimes, a person may suffer setbacks, especially if triggering events happen in their life, such as occurrences that cause extreme stress. 

What’s important is that the person seeking help and those supporting them accept that positive change. Even when those changes are small on an individual level, each helps pave the path toward long-term recovery. 

Fact #2: There’s Significant Misinformation Online. 

Unfortunately, the internet is full of a great deal of dieting and nutritional advice that isn’t based on scientific evidence. Entire industries capitalize on diet culture and our society’s fixation on thinness and fitness, encouraging people to purchase a particular supplement or follow a specific diet trend by feeding into people’s insecurities and fatphobia and spreading destructive misinformation. 

It’s hard to distinguish facts from false information. This requires disentangling ourselves from society’s deeply ingrained belief systems about what constitutes health and wellness. Educating ourselves about diet culture, healthism, weight stigma, and fatphobia–which exists at home, in school, at work, and even in the healthcare profession, can cause genuine harm and contribute to serious physical problems, other mental health disorders, and can lead to developing eating disorders.

We must learn how to be informed consumers, seek out reputable resources and evidence-based research, question prevailing claims, call out conflicts of interest, and read between the lines. Our health and well-being truly are at stake. 

Fact #3: Eating Disorders Have Many Biopsychosocial Risk Factors

Eating disorders are very complex, with many biological, psychological, and social–or biopsychosocial–risk factors that play a role in the development of eating disorders. Neurobiology plays an integral part in whether a person develops eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa.3 Genetics, certain personality traits, and a history of eating disorders in the family are some biological factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing an eating disorder. Psychological factors can include co-occurring mental health issues such as obsessive-compulsive disorders, perfectionism, rigidity, and anxiety.

Culture and environment, also called social determinants of health, also impact a person’s health and risk of developing an eating disorder. These can include where people live, work, and go to school; ableism, ageism, classism, racism, sexism, weight stigma, and other systems of oppression; level of education, socioeconomic status, and access to health care.

Finding Accurate and Useful Information About Anorexia

Whether doing research for yourself or someone you care about, it’s important to seek out information on anorexia carefully and read with a discerning eye. Again, many sources, even well-intentioned, may contain outdated, inaccurate, biased, or outright dangerous information. 

For example, the following sources are often referenced, but they can be extremely biased, have conflicts of interest, and flawed research methodology:

  • Government sources (.gov)
  • Academic sources (.edu)
  • Well-reputed scientific journals

Eating disorder treatment providers and nonprofit associations that provide eating disorder information are generally good resources. However, they can also have implicit biases that can impact the quality of care and accuracy of information. 

Diagnosing and Treating Anorexia

A medical or mental health professional can diagnose anorexia.4 Receiving a diagnosis is a significant first step toward recovery, as many people with anorexia struggle to recognize they have an eating disorder. 

A comprehensive diagnostic evaluation includes psychological assessments and medical tests to gauge an individual’s mental and physical health.5 Common tests that are conducted include:

  • Albumin
  • Bone density test
  • CBC
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)
  • Electrolytes
  • Kidney function tests
  • Liver function tests
  • Total protein
  • Thyroid function tests
  • Urinalysis

Treatment of anorexia is multifaceted and can take a long time.6 It is best to enter treatment with realistic expectations. Improvements will be incremental, and some backsliding is possible. It may also be necessary to try multiple therapies to see which works best for a given individual’s needs. 

The initial goal is to help a person achieve a level of nutrition intake to address any serious, potentially life-threatening medical complications and stabilize the individual. A significant focus in therapy will be on helping the individual improve their sense of self-worth and how they perceive their body.


Medicines can sometimes help an individual gain control over some of the symptoms and co-occurring disorders associated with anorexia.7 These are common medications used in anorexia treatment:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood stabilizers

Some cases may require hospitalization if a person dealing with anorexia is experiencing health complications as a result of severe malnutrition or other medical complications caused by undereating. 

But recovery is possible. The earlier someone seeks treatment, the better their chances of a full recovery.


  1. Striegel-Moore RH, Rosselli F, Perrin N, DeBar L, Wilson GT, May A, Kraemer HC. (2009). Gender difference in the prevalence of eating disorder symptoms. International Journal of Eating Disorders; 42(5):471-4.
  2. Eating Disorders. (2021, December). National Institute of Mental Health.Retrieved August 18, 2022.
  3. Weir K. (2016). New Insights on Eating Disorders. American Psychological Association. 
  4. MedlinePlus. (2020). Anorexia. National Institutes of Health.
  5. Sidiropoulos M. Anorexia nervosa: The physiological consequences of starvation and the need for primary prevention efforts. McGill Journal of Medicine; 10(1):20-5.
  6. Leigh S. (2019). Many Patients with Anorexia Nervosa Get Better, but Complete Recovery Elusive to Most. University of California San Francisco.
  7. Schirmer S. (2018).What the Specialists Want Us to Know: Prevention, Identification and Treatment of Eating Disorders. Kentucky Eating Disorder Council.

Last Update | 11 - 4 - 2022

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