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Everyone thinks they know an eating disorder. But the reality could be very different to what you think.

You probably think you could spot a person with an eating disorder in any crowd. They're the super-skinny Caucasian teenage girls, with skin like wax-paper, and super-rich parents, right? She takes dance classes, gets straight-As in school, and can be found at lunchtime, painstakingly slicing an apple into thirty identical slices.

That's the stereotypical view of the individual with an eating disorder, and it couldn't be further from the truth.

Why don't you take a look at the Top Seven Myths about Eating Disorders and learn how to separate the fact from the fiction of these devastating diseases.

In Brief: What are Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are a type of mental health disorder, typified by the individual's disordered relationship with food. The individual may routinely eat more or less than is necessary to survive. Eating disorders are very serious and may coexist with substance abuse problems, depression, or anxiety.

There are three general diagnoses. Anorexia Nervosa (the individual sees themselves as extremely overweight and may severely restrict their food or exercise excessively), Bulimia Nervosa (episodes of binge eating, followed by periods of purging), and Binge-Eating Disorder (uncontrolled periods of bingeing). All these disorders can be treated once diagnosed.

Myth One: Eating disorders are a white teenage girls' disease

That is a myth. Eating Disorders are found in ethnic minorities, in men, and in older populations. In ethnic minorities, a study by Striegel-Moore reported that African Americans may be particularly prone to Eating Disorders with binge-eating elements. Meanwhile a study of 7th grade girls by Robinson et al (1996) reported that Hispanic and Asian girls feel less satisfied with their bodies than Caucasian girls. A further study of minority women by Villarosa (1994) found that 71.5% of the women were preoccupied by a desire to be thinner.

In men, it's been reported that 25% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are men, while 36% of those with Binge-Eating Disorder are male (Hudson, 2007). This shows that a huge percentage of eating-disordered individuals are make.

Additionally, Eating Disorders are not limited to teenagers and young adults. In 2003, one-third of all admissions to specialist units for Eating Disorder treatment were for individuals over thirty-years-old. Body worries don't cease when individuals are in their later years. A study of women over the age of seventy-years-old found that 20% of the women were trying to be slimmer, though such dieting could be harmful at that age.

Myth Two: Eating Disorders are just a lifestyle choice

That is false! Eating Disorders are a serious mental illness and require treatment. Not only are Eating Disorders linked to social factors, such as a society that glorified thinness and cause pressure to work towards "the body beautiful", they are also caused by many other factors.

Emotional factors are often present, including low self-esteem, depression and anxiety.

However, Eating Disorders also have biological causes. They are likely to run in families and are believed to have a possible biochemical cause. Certain chemicals in the brain cause hunger, and it has been found that, in some eating-disordered individuals, these chemicals become imbalanced. This is still under investigation.

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